The following article on Dusko Popov is an excerpt from John Koster’s Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor. Using recently declassified evidence from U.S. archives and newly translated sources from Japan and Russia, it presents new theories on the causes of the Pearl Harbor attack. It is available to order now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
On August 10, 1941, Dusko Popov flew on the Atlantic Clipper from London to New York. The son of a Yugoslav father and a German mother, Popov was a secret agent for the Abwehr, the German Army’s espionage service. He was also an agent for Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6. Popov had despised Hitler even before the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. He now gleefully but covertly accepted salaries and expenses from both German and British intelligence. He was a double agent. Popov—one of the inspirations for the fictional James Bond—spent his fees on the pursuit of actresses, models, and female spies recruited for their sexual allure. Dusko Popov’s code name was “Tricycle”—not, as some have suggested, because he liked two girls at one time, but because he was the “big wheel” of an espionage team that included another man and a woman as the “little wheels.”
Dusko Popov’s mission from the Abwehr was to bring back a laundry list of data about American military defenses and industrial capacity. His mission from the British—eager to have America in the war and eager for American help should Japan attack British and Dutch colonies—was to tip off the Americans about Japan’s sinister interest in Pearl Harbor. In practical terms, Britain was even less ready for a war in the Pacific than the United States was. British propagandists, invoking a crude Darwinism, assured the public that the Japanese would never be formidable airmen—their slanty eyes interfered with peripheral vision, they lost all sense of balance by being carried on their mother’s backs as children, and the same lack of imagination that made them fearless foot soldiers made them incapable of becoming quickthinking pilots. The British had everything to gain, however, by warning the Americans who were supplying much of their military equipment and most of their food, about the possibility of a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Popov was initially unable to gain an audience with J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, who did not like British intelligence operating in the United States or Popov’s playboy reputation. To the FBI agent who met him at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, Popov showed off a newly invented German microdot technology by which hundreds of words could be printed in the space of a period. Then, with the knowledge of MI6 but not of the Abwehr, Popov handed the agent an English translation of the Japanese request for information about Pearl Harbor and the Abwehr’s request for military and economic information.
Dusko Popov’s Attempts to Prevent Pearl Harbor
The MI6 translation of the Abwehr list was two pages long, and Pearl Harbor dominated the first page:
Hawaii—ammunition dumps and mine depots.
Details about Naval ammunition and mine depot on the Isle of Kushua [sic] (Pearl Harbour). If possible sketch.
Naval ammunition depot Lualuelei, Exact position. Is there a railway line [junction]?
The total ammunition reserve of the Army is supposed to be in the rock of the crater Aliamanu. Position?
Is the Crater Punchbowl [Honolulu] being used as ammunition dump? If not, are there other military works?
Aerodrome Lukefield—details. Sketch (if possible.) regarding the situation of the hangars (number?) workshops, bomb depots, and petrol depots. Are there underground petrol installations?—Exact position of the seaplane station? Occupation?
Naval air arm strong point Kaneche—Exact report regarding position, number of hangars, depots and workshops. [sketch] Occupation?
Army aerodromes Wicham [sic] Field and Wheeler Field—Exact position? Reports regarding exact number of hangars, depots and workshops. Underground installations? [Sketch].
Rodger’s Airport—in case of war, will this place be taken over by the Army or the Navy? What preparations have been made? Number of hangars? Are there landing possibilities for seaplanes?
Airport of the Panamerican airways.—Exact position? (If possible sketch.) Is this airport possibly identical with Rodger’s Airport or a part thereof? (A wireless station of the Panamerican Airways is on the Peninsula Mohapuu.) Naval Strong Point Pearl Harbour
Exact details and sketch about the situation of the state wharf, of the pier installations, workshops, petrol installations, situations of dry dock No. 1 and of the new dry dock which is being built.
Details about the submarine station (plan of situation). What land installations are in existence?
Where is the station for mine search formations [Minensuchverbände]? How far has the dredge work progressed at the entrance and in the east and southeast lock? Depth of water?
Number of anchorages. [Liegeplätze]?
Is there a floating dock in Pearl Harbour or is the transfer of such a dock to this place intended?
Special tasks.—Reports about torpedo protection nets newly introduced in the British and U.S.A. Navy. How far are they already in existence in the merchant and Naval fleet? Use during voyage? Average speed reduction when in use. Details of construction and others.
The second page of the list contained questions of more interest to the German Army, then fighting the British for North Africa, than to the Japanese Navy, but the whole first page, minus the introductory paragraph, was a request for military data about Pearl Harbor.
Dusko Popov, who had supplied this storm warning of a serious Japanese interest in attacking Pearl Harbor, was kept cooling his heels in New York City for two weeks. When Hoover finally came from Washington to see him, he insulted Popov as a sexcrazed scoundrel and threatened to have him arrested for violation of the Mann Act. (The woman in question was a British national and very much a consenting adult. Popov soon abandoned her for Simone Simon, a French actress then making a film in America.) Dusko Popov had hoped to follow his usual practice—visit Hawaii and send the Abwehr a few fragments of good information along with whatever misinformation MI6 or the FBI wanted the Abwehr to receive. He never got permission to visit Hawaii. From the German-Japanese viewpoint, Popov’s mission was a dismal failure.
Dusko Popov’s list of questions clearly indicated that Pearl Harbor was the key target. It also indicated that the attack would be primarily by air rather than Naval bombardment and would involve both bombs (the Punchbowl question) and torpedoes (the torpedo net question and the anchorage question). Common sense suggested that the American aircraft would be neutralized at the outset and that the Japanese would attempt to destroy the oil tanks as well as the dry docks needed for repairs. The only information missing was the date. When Dusko Popov dropped off the Abwehr document in August, the Japanese were still hoping for terms that would head off a war.
This article on Dusko Popov is part of our larger selection of posts about the Pearl Harbor attack. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Pearl Harbor.
This article is from the book Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor © 2012 by John Koster. Please use this data for any reference citations. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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