Reassessing the Intelligence Failure at Pearl Harbor

38 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 17 Dec 2011

Date Written: 2011


The intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor is perhaps the most widely studied intelligence failure in American history. The lessons of that failure included the belief that warnings are invariably available before such a disaster, but missed, and that a major part of the solution is to improve the ability of analysis to find the key signals amid the background noise. These lessons have become conventional wisdom, and have been often reaffirmed since then, including after the 9/11 attacks and the Christmas Day 2009 airline bombing attempt. But this paper argues that the conventional wisdom about what went wrong with intelligence prior to Pearl Harbor is incorrect, and that this misconception has contributed to continuing intelligence failures today. This paper proposes a new model that better explains the failure of Pearl Harbor, and which can help improve intelligence performance today.

Keywords: Intelligence, Pearl Harbor

Suggested Citation

Dahl, Erik J, Reassessing the Intelligence Failure at Pearl Harbor (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Erik J Dahl (Contact Author)

Naval Postgraduate School ( email )

1 University Circle
Monterey, CA 93943-5001
United States

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