A History of the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1882-1942

The following is not meant as a definitive history of ONI, but instead is focused on those events relevant to the DELTA GREEN background. This is not meant as a historical work in any sense, but merely a review of various notes taken while reading through secondary sources on the subject.


  1. The Birth of Naval Intelligence
  2. Naval Intelligence Before the First World War
  3. Wartime Expansion
  4. Armistice and Demobilization
  5. The Japanese Mandated Islands
  6. The Rise of Domestic Intelligence
  7. Roosevelt and Naval Intelligence
  8. Neutrality and Espionage
  9. Pearl Harbor and Naval Intelligence
  10. Endnotes
  11. Directors of Naval Intelligence 1882-1942
  12. Bibliography


On March 23, 1882, the Department of the Navy issued General Order No. 292, which established an office of intelligence within the Bureau of Navigation. The order defined the fundamental purpose of this new agency, a purpose that would remain the same for the next sixty years: to collect and record such information as may be useful to the Navy Department in both war and peace. While "information" was implied to mean the maritime technology, strategy, and policy of foreign navies, the Office of Naval Intelligence(ONI) would broaden that definition to include any information that might involve the security of the naval establishment and the nation at large. This broader definition would eventually involve ONI in all manner of espionage, both at home and abroad, against far more than just foreign navies, to include civil rights groups, labor unions, and peace movements, among many others with the most tenuous of links to naval matters1.

Before the creation of ONI, American naval intelligence relied on information gathered by ad-hoc spy networks or during routine exploration expeditions. After the Civil War, the Navy directed its foreign-bound vessels to report back on any maritime-related matters, especially in the field of naval science then active in Europe. Some bureaus of the Navy even sent individual officers to investigate specific topics, and observers were dispatched to witness foreign naval operations during fighting in South America and Egypt. All this information from such a variety of sources, many of it contradictory, proved difficult for the Navy Department to analyze properly. Therefore, the Office of Naval Intelligence was established, and placed under the command of Lieutenant Theodorus Bailey Myers Mason, the first Chief Intelligence Officer.

A veteran of the Hydrographic Office2, Mason had traveled throughout Europe as a naval observer collecting ideas on naval intelligence systems, having been most impressed by the French Ministry of Marine. Mason was from amongst those naval officers pushing for appropriations to create a strong, modernized navy in the face of widespread naval development in Europe, and he used his new office to promote this political agenda, designing ONI around the popular idea of a naval institute that would disseminate such ideas.

A month after taking command, Mason was issued a directive that specified the fourteen categories of naval intelligence to be collected, compiled, recorded, and corrected by ONI:

  1. The cruising fleets of foreign powers.
  2. The war material of foreign powers.
  3. The nautical personnel of foreign powers.
  4. The armament of foreign ports including their lines of communication.
  5. The facilities of foreign governments for transporting troops and material.
  6. The facilities of foreign governments for improving torpedo boats and torpedo defenses.
  7. The facilities on foreign coasts and in foreign ports for landing men and supplies.
  8. The facilities of obtaining coal and supplies in all quarters of the globe.
  9. The actual capabilities of foreign merchant steamers and the true routes followed by regular steamship lines.
  10. Information in regard to our own Navy.
  11. Information in regard to our own mercantile marine.
  12. Information in regard to our coast defenses.
  13. Information which may be of use to our officers in their professional studies.
  14. Information which may be of use to our mercantile marine.

Mason was assigned a staff of officers to carry out this duty through the ONI headquarters in the State, War, and Navy Building in Washington. According to the directive, these men would come from "the younger officers of the service" with an aptitude in foreign languages, drawing, or in "writing original articles on naval subjects".

Such kind of officers would also make up the "corps of correspondents" to gather intelligence for ONI in foreign lands, either in the post of Naval Attache within the American legation or as "special aids" to the attache. Diplomats had long been considered "honorable spies", and now naval attaches would join this gentlemanly trade of intelligence. These attaches learned their information by on a quid pro quo basis with the diplomatic staff and military and naval officers of foreign nations, exchanging intelligence through practiced dialogue over meetings both formal and informal. The naval attache could garner much better information from seeing how their opposite numbers interacted and answered leading questions during social functions than from any outright espionage; however, this trade in information could also be blocked by a host country at their whim, as often happened when ONI was most interested in a certain subject. The attaches were also hampered by inadequate salaries and stipends, as they were required to maintain a proper social footing in carrying out both military and diplomatic duties, attending functions like teas, dinners, court receptions, balls, and military reviews and constantly circulating amongst the upper tier of government personalities3. Nevertheless, the attache system of intelligence-gathering would serve as the backbone of ONI well into the First World War, by which time most of other nations had abandoned the obsolete practice for more effective means.

Another avenue for intelligence came from the vessels of the Navy itself, as each ship assigned an officer to conduct investigations for ONI, besides carrying out his regular duties. But a vague definition of what information was valuable and little oversight resulted in the reports of these officers being haphazard, unfocused, and often not forthcoming at all, as they could pretty much report on any conditions in the area, not matter what their use as naval intelligence, and consider their duty fufilled4.

Besides naval attaches and shipborne intelligence officers, ONI could call upon the nascent U.S. Naval Institute, as well as the eighteen naval officers that were assigned to the Smithsonian to investigate economic and strategic potential in foreign nations. Finally, the Navy Department Library was also placed under the command of ONI, and each bureau of the Navy was ordered to hand over the foreign information they had gathered, thus placing a plethora of data in the hands of the office5. ONI was even in charge of investigating army warfare matters until the War Department established its own intelligence agency in 1885.


Despite all these resources, ONI remained a tiny office, subsisting on an average staff of ten officers in the Washington headquarters, three naval attaches in London, Paris, and Rome to cover all of Europe, one or two borrowed clerks, and virtually no budget outside of the nominal funds allocated by the Bureau of Navigation. This situation remained unchanged until the Spanish-American War, though the duties of ONI expanded significantly during these twenty years.

Lieutenant Raymond Perry Rodgers, who succeeded Mason as Chief Intelligence Officer in April 1885, strengthened ties between naval intelligence and the State Department, as they shared a mutual interest in Panama, Samoa, and Hawaii. Rodgers also involved ONI in cryptography, and the office took on the task of finding useful inventions for the Navy, receiving a flood of letters detailing all manner of odd devices6. Rodgers' command was among the best in ONI history, as young, vigorous officers flocked to the office, setting the tone for ONI operations throughout the rest of the century, as naval attaches in Europe searched out advances in naval technology, while in Latin America ONI kept a close watch over European colonial interests. Despite this new drive, a transfer of ONI from the Bureau of Navigation to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy in 1890 increased the demand on ONI for more information, and a weakness in intelligence-gathering would be revealed by the Spanish-American War.

Though ONI had focused on gathering intelligence on the Spanish Navy since revolution broke out in Cuba in 1895, the outbreak of hostilities following the Maine incident in February 1898 and subsequent demands by the Naval War Board for information on Spanish naval movements and strength revealed a severe lack of useful intelligence within ONI. This situation was made worse as several ONI staff officers were transferred to sea duty without replacement, including the Chief Intelligence Officer, leaving ONI in the hands of Captain John R. Bartlett and a mere four officers, including Lieutenant Humes Houston Whittlesey7, an aide to the Naval War Board that donated his time manning the cipher room that was the hub of naval intelligence activity. Overwhelmed and undermanned, ONI looked beyond traditional sources and experimented with espionage for the first time, setting up a "Secret Service Emergency Fund" for naval attaches to pay for the agents and bribes necessary for a spy network. ONI even assigned naval officers as secret agents to track Spanish naval movements; but, little information of use was collected, and naval commanders had to rely on dispatching their own junior officers into the field to gain the much-needed operational intelligence ONI could not provide. Counterintelligence was also a major issue for ONI, as several departments of the government had been infiltrated by Spanish agents; nevertheless, ONI's effort amounted to leaking false information among its informers.

The end of the Spanish-American War brought many changes to ONI. In April 1898, the office returned to the aegis of the Bureau of Navigation, and in the following year, Congress officially recognized the Office of Naval Intelligence, its own funds, enough to employ five clerks, one translator, one assistant draftsman, and one laborer. ONI was reorganized into six branches or divisions: ordnance, personnel, communications, steam engineering, ship card indexing, and attache correspondence. Also around this time, women were first allowed to become permanent employees of the ONI, though mostly as clerical personnel only. The ad-hoc espionage networks established by the naval attaches during the war were quickly disbanded, though several agents continued to send in information, some of it manufactured, in an attempt to retain their pay.

American success against Spain also brought new duties for ONI, who were tasked with providing surveys of the newly-won colonial possessions of Guam and the Philippines. Naval intelligence officers, including future head of ONI Albert P. Niblack, performed reconnaissance for coastal, riverine, and landing operations, and conducted surveys of sites for proposed naval bases8. American forces in the Philippines found peace with Spain quickly followed by three years of warfare with the guerilla army of Filipino nationalist Emilio Aquinaldo9. ONI maintained surveillance over arms shipments from European ports that could be headed for Aquinaldo's forces (or the Boers in South Africa or the Boxers in China, thus potentially entangling ONI in those affairs).

The Spanish-American War marked a turning point for ONI. On the one hand, the reform-minded officers of naval intelligence saw the success of their campaign for naval development, as a strong American navy used modern technology to soundly defeat the obsolete Spanish navy. The Roosevelt Administration was keen on progressing this trend, and, as he had while Assistant Secretary of the Navy, President Roosevelt sought the advice of ONI and used the office to its full advantage. But the success of the naval movement saw none of its credit going to those young officers who had spearheaded its cause through ONI, and the war seemed to only make clear the weakness of ONI in regards to operational intelligence, which became of paramount importance with the development of radio communication. A neglected stepchild of the naval movement, ONI faded away into inertia and disarray till it would again be called into service with American entry into the First World War.

In spite of the ennui plaguing the office, ONI did undergo several changes in the period before the First World War, including a 1903 move of their Washington headquarters from the State, War, and Navy Building into the Mills Building Naval Annex on the corner of Seventeenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. ONI continued to focus on Latin America, where they assigned the fourth of their naval attaches. Attention was particularly paid to German involvement in the Caribbean, as ONI had come to recognize the importance of Germany as a naval power and began keeping dossiers on German espionage in the United States in 1907. Naval intelligence in Latin America was marred by entanglement with the "dollar diplomacy" of the Taft Administration, a policy whereby the duty of the legation was as much to promote American business as to carry out the national foreign policy. ONI saw their naval attaches conscripted to peddle American manufactures, as several assignments were made based solely on their benefit to certain markets.

Besides Latin America, ONI also investigated developments in East Asia, where hostility was growing between Russia and Japan over spheres of influence in China. Lieutenant Newton A. McCully was made assistant naval attache in St. Petersburg, trying to gain permission to sail with the Russian fleet as a naval observer. With scant official approval, McCully journeyed along the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Port Arthur in mid-1904, where he was rebuffed by the Russian authorities due to widespread belief that President Roosevelt favored the Japanese. Nevertheless, McCully was able to gain important information on how new developments in naval technology fared on the battlefield experiment of the Russo-Japanese War. Among the most influential intelligence McCully gathered was on the strength of the modernized Japanese navy and its new place as a potential adversary of the United States in East Asian affairs.

This new information compelled ONI to send Lieutenant Irving Gillis into China as naval attache for East Asia. Gillis was expected to create a spy network, but little intelligence was gathered after much traveling and socializing, and Gillis was recalled in 1908. Naval attaches in Europe also sought to gather information on Japan, but agents in Germany only reported the kind of typical "yellow peril" rumors cultivated in Wilhelmine Germany that bordered on the fantastic10. The ONI staff in Washington sought to hire a Japanese translator, a task that lasted over a year due to suspicion that Asian-Americans could not be trusted for the job. Finally, ONI hired "eccentric" Berkeley student Tamura Hilworth, a Caucasian who changed his name from Hilworth T.B. Jones shortly before he started his new job.

A major restructuring of the Navy in 1909 moved ONI from the Bureau of Navigation back to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, under the command of the Aid for Naval Operations. The General Board would assign those nations for which ONI would provide political, military, and economic intelligence, which would be passed on to the Naval War College for their development of war plans. As part of this restructuring, the title of the Chief of Naval Intelligence was changed to Director of Naval Intelligence(DNI). ONI also became responsible for censoring articles written by naval personnel or Navy Department employees, the first introduction of ONI to domestic intelligence. The new system was first put into effect in Nicaragua in 1910, where ONI intelligence officers, including future DNIs James H. Oliver and Albert P. Niblack, conducted reconnaissance throughout the region11 to prepare invasion strategies for the Nicaraguan Expeditionary Force.


When Captain James Oliver became DNI in January 1914, he took over a staff of eight officers and eight civilians whose efforts concentrated on clipping and filing newspaper articles. More naval attaches had been assigned, in Petrograd, Tokyo, and Peking; but, with the outbreak of war, the gentlemanly trade in information had broken down due to mutual suspicion. As ONI moved again in April 1914 to a new headquarters in the Navy Building at 1734 New York Avenue NW in Washington, Oliver moved the office into the twentieth century, recruiting activist officers that were encouraged to follow new ideas. Among these dynamic young officers was Lieutenant Commander Dudley Wright Knox, who would spend most of his career in ONI, first in naval intelligence and then as a naval librarian. Knox worked with DNI Oliver as part of a larger campaign to create a Chief of Naval Operations that would oversee the nine divisions of the Office of Naval Operations (OPNAV), which included ONI under the redesignated title of the Division of Naval Intelligence (OP-16). Not until another restructuring in April 1945 would ONI officially be referred to as the Office of Naval Intelligence. With its new title came a reorganization by Knox and Major John H. Russell that divided ONI into the following four sections:

Division A
Organization and Control of Agencies for the Collecting of Information
Division B
Coding and Decoding
Division C
Collating All Information for Statistical Study
Division D
Dissemination and Archives

Fueling this reorganization were new funds appropriated from Congress, including $50,000 for collecting information "at home". In 1916, these new funds were used to create the War Information Service, which provided agents for undercover intelligence work abroad and investigators for domestic and counter- intelligence work at home. Until this time, the Navy had relied on either the Secret Service or private detectives for the few occasions this kind of work required , and, as ONI had no legal powers to make arrests, they had to rely on agencies such as the FBI or the Secret Service to conclude investigations into espionage for them. Wartime concerns and the ensuing Red Scare made domestic intelligence a popular issue, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed ONI to make it a top priority; because of this, ONI was the first federal agency during the First World War to have undercover agents. The drive for domestic intelligence stimulated the new aggressive mood in ONI and saw the office grow into a full-fledged agency; but, domestic intelligence would also come to dominate all other concerns, including those that could have proved more useful to the Navy, leading ONI far away from its original mission to provide technical and operational intelligence on naval matters.

The War Information Service was split between Division A, responsible for counterintelligence and domestic intelligence, and Division B, responsible for foreign intelligence and where it was known as the Naval Information Service. The Naval Information Service dispatched businessmen, journalists, and other civilians as secret agents, under their own semiofficial capacity or incognito, to supplement the efforts of the naval attaches abroad. Focused on foreign intrigue in Latin America, the Naval Information Service soon uncovered a great deal of intelligence, some of it questionable such as reports that nearly 3,000 Japanese had infiltrated Mexico and that the Japanese had planted a colony deep in Guatemala. Other intelligence was more valuable, as the agents discovered hundreds of German agents roaming Latin America, where they were establishing wireless stations, building secret docking facilities for warships and submarines, mixing in local politics, and even constructing a secret U-boat base on the Yucatan Peninsula.

In Division A, the War Information Service was known as the Naval District Information Service, which established in each of the naval districts12 an Aid for Information office. These offices were supervised by a District Intelligence Officer(DIO), who, after receiving brief training in Washington, would organize a network of local informants with the assistance of the Secret Service. This network would gather information regarded as necessary to protect shipping against agents or sympathizers of the Central Powers through ship inspection, shipboard informants, naval port guards, and special investigations among waterfronts, navy yards, and the more than five thousand factories with naval contracts.

Even with the War Information Service, ONI still found itself lacking the personnel needed to fill the increasing demand for domestic intelligence. In early 1916, ONI hired Spencer Fayette Eddy, a wealthy New York socialite and close friend of Assistant Secretary Roosevelt, to work as an undercover agent to gather domestic intelligence in New York City, where he quickly set up his own spy network. Eddy recruited agents from the Naval Reserve Force created by Roosevelt and himself, a naval militia of patriotic New England "old money" aristocracy, sons of the East Coast's oldest and most influential families that shared a common background of Ivy League educations, common social spheres, and pastimes such as yachting, golfing, tennis, and anti-Semitism. Through the Naval Reserve Force, these men were made officers with temporary commissions and served as "volunteer agents" for ONI, setting up networks in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. These networks carried out much the same duties as the Aid for Information offices, but unlike those offices where ONI shared control with the local naval district commandant, ONI had direct command over these semiofficial intelligence offices.

A few days before America entered the war on April 7, 1917, Captain Roger Welles replaced Oliver as Director of Naval Intelligence, earning a quick promotion to Rear Admiral after the declaration of hostilities. Welles had long sought assignment with ONI after his interesting experiences as an intelligence officer in the 1890s, when Welles traveled through the North Pacific cataloging Alaskan resources and in Venezuela conducted a mineralogical survey in the unchartered Orinoco region, collected rare monkeys, parrots, and other creatures for the World Columbian Exposition, and became involved in political intrigues with the mysterious American diplomat William Lindsay Scruggs13. These events might shed some light on why, sometime in 1917, either during the command of Captain Oliver or Captain Welles as DNI, the Parapsychology, Paranormal, and Psychic Phenomena Division was established by ONI to investigate bizarre and inexplicable phenomena.

Faced with an overload of new duties, ONI returned to service a number of retired officers, including 56-year old Lieutenant Commander Whittlesey, who, despite failing eyesight and other health problems, took over the collating section which filed and distributed information collected by the office. The Naval Reserve Force also became a source of intelligence officers for Welles, who opened the gates to these well-to-do patriotic young men that soon flooded the ONI during the war years. Meanwhile, the semiofficial clandestine spy networks run by Eddy and his other "volunteer agents" became official Branch Intelligence Offices, responsible for locating illegal radio transmitters, investigating acts of sabotage, censorship, clearing "alien enemies or those with a destructive propensity" out factories with naval contracts, and much the same duties as the Aid for Information offices. The Branch Intelligence Offices also stepped on the toes of the Justice Department and the Military Intelligence Division, all of whom were searching for enemy saboteurs in the heydays of America's first "Red Scare".

The search for "those with a destructive propensity" soon deteriorated from surveillance using wiretaps, dictographs, checking personal papers, and eavesdropping into the harassment and often imprisonment or deportation of foreign-born Americans, labor activists, pacificists, and members of civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples. In the task of protecting naval property threatened by "aliens of Teutonic sympathies", ONI took a broad view of what constituted a threat and what constituted naval property. This was most endemic in protecting the more than five thousand manufacturing plants under naval contract, where ONI went from investigating employees with anti-American, pacifist or radical leanings to rooting out troublemakers, loafers, and disloyal workers who ignored the Liberty Loan and Red Cross fund drives. ONI was most vigorous against leftist organizations like the International Workers of the World(IWW), that ONI believed "disruptive" to the shipbuilding industry in Seattle and other American ports; and, Eddy's spies in New York maintained clandestine surveillance over socialists John Reed and Morris Hillquit, going so far as to breaking into apartments and stealing documents considered "Bolshevik propaganda". The hunt for "alien enemies" likewise became twisted by the naval intelligence officers brought in from the Naval Reserve Force, as they went from pursuing naturalized Germans to going after Jews for no apparent reason other than the anti-semitism endemic to the Ivy League WASP clique that had taken over ONI.

By the end of the war, domestic surveillance had amounted to fifteen thousand cases per week, and ONI was forced to employ hundreds of civilian and naval detectives to investigate them. This secured the position of ONI within the Navy, just as they faced competition from the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department. MID had itself seen a large growth in operations and personnel, such that it could now rival ONI as the leader in military intelligence and had surpassed ONI's capability for domestic intelligence. ONI had come to rely on MID for intelligence in the Philippines, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal Zone, and MID was their most productive source for information on internal suspects and subversives. Nevertheless, cooperation between the two agencies was always strained, particularly between the office and the Army's cryptography unit, Section Eight of Military Intelligence, more ominously known as "the Black Chamber." The Black Chamber was under the command of Herbert Osborne Yardley, to whom ONI was forced to turn over all deciphering and decoding to in mid-1918.

While ONI in Washington was obsessed with domestic intelligence, the naval attache in London had been busy abusing his authority to take over all American naval intelligence operations in Europe and set himself up as a second DNI. Admiral William S. Sims was that naval attache, and it was his staff(which included the ubiquitous Lieutenant Commander Knox) that analyzed the intelligence they collected (a job that was supposed to be handled by ONI in Washington), and prepared reports for Navy command on the military, political, and economic conditions of the situation in Europe. Among these reports were monographs on the impact of labor, religion, socialism, and propaganda on fighting morale14. Sims also enjoyed a close relationship with British intelligence, who opened their archives of suspected enemy aliens and subversives, expanding ONI files to include the names of IRA rebels, Hindu revolutionaries, and Bolshevik agitators.

In Italy, naval attache Commander Charles R. Train had a staff of seven reserve and retired officers collecting intelligence on waterfront cities, where female enemy agents were pumping American sailors for shipping information that would be sent via carrier pigeon to Austrian U-Boats 15. In Russia, Captain McCully served as naval attache in Petrograd, a post he had held in some capacity since his adventures during the Russo-Japanese War. McCully was replaced as attache shortly after the invasion of Archangel by Allied troops and shortly before the post was vacated entirely as the United States severed relations with the chaotic Russian government. McCully became Commander of Naval Forces in Murmansk, and still the naval intelligence officer, traveled throughout southern Russia during the civil war. He was joined by Lieutenant Commander Hugo W. Koehler in May 1921, who journeyed around the Ukraine in disguise, obtaining an unusual understanding of the people, politics, and conditions, and, in 1922, was sent to Warsaw to aid the State Department in monitoring the opening relations between Russia and Poland16.

East Asia was under the watch of the naval attache in Peking, Commander Irving Gillis, who had failed to create a spy network for ONI back in 1908 and now failed to coordinate intelligence operations during the Allied occupation of Siberia. Gillis was obsessed with Japanese plots to conquer China, Manchuria, and Siberia, and, although he requested much money from ONI, he rarely received it due to spurious reports by his sources that failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation there, such as that the Bolsheviks were mere terrorist bands run by "Jews and former convicts"17.

Latin America continued to be the focus for ONI's foreign operations, where nine of the eighteen new naval attaches were assigned by ONI during the war. Efforts were made to uncover German espionage, which was found as an agent provocateur behind revolts in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Oriente Province of Cuba. This espionage was traced back home when ONI discovered a spy network based in Havana under Herman and Albert Uppmann, German-born businessmen with financial control over a bank in New Orleans, a chemical company in St Louis, and a steel firm in Pennsylvania. This silent war went on to involve ONI in Mexico's turbulent political scene, as naval intelligence offered support for provincial factions to overthrow other factions friendly to Germany or Japan. Nevertheless, the main duty of ONI in Latin America was to man the twelve district stations along Mexico's Caribbean coast, where agents watched for signs of U-Boat support or clandestine enemy wireless stations.

It was to carry out this duty that ONI sent Agent No. 94 in early 1917 to Guatemala undercover, as an intermediary of the United Fruit Company. But in the course of his duties, Agent No. 94 broke cover and entered into a private arrangement with the President of Guatamela to purchase arms and radios in the United States and ship them back there. While on such a shopping excursion, ONI had the Justice Department detain Agent No. 94. In their custody, the agent claimed that he was only acting under orders, but ONI maintained that "he was not all there", and confined him in St. Elizabeth's Asylum for the Insane. On two separate occasions, Agent No. 94 escaped from the asylum, once to his family in Massachusetts. Both times armed ONI personnel hunted him down and returned him to the asylum, where Agent No. 94 continually claimed that he was not mentally disturbed. There is some evidence that the agent might have been telling the truth, as letters written by him in the official dossier are lucid, and, upon the end of the war, the agent was quickly released from the asylum.18

In 1918, the Washington headquarters of ONI was moved twice, first in February from the Mills Naval Annex to a temporary building on New York Avenue called Corcoran Court, and then in September to the new Main Navy Building in Potomac Park on the south side of Constitution Avenue between Seventeenth and Nineteenth Streets. That year also saw a major reorganization of ONI, which remained divided along functional subjects but would now have subdivisions devoted to geographical regions as well. The new structure of ONI was as follows:

Division I: Collecting
Division II: Legal Matters for Interdepartmental Matters, Internments and Allied Matters
Division III: Direction of Aids for Information, Branch Offices of ONI, and Branches in Alaska
Division IV: Trading with Enemy, Ship Inspection, Mail and Cable Censorship, Enemy Goods in Storage, and Unauthorized Radio
Division V: Investigation
Division VI: Plants and Contracts
Division VII: Intelligence Service in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Curacao
Division VIII: Intelligence Service in South America, except Venezuela and Colombia
Division IX: Intelligence Service in Europe
Division X: Intelligence Service in the Far East
Division XI: Technical Investigative Methods
Division I: Collating
Division II: Information on All Navies, Operations, Strategic Subjects, Records of Naval Officers
Division III: Mercantile Collations
(There was no Section J)
Section K: MAIL

In addition, there was supposedly an "Aviation Section" composed of a whopping sixty-five naval intelligence officers (more than half the full complement in ONI) and three officers from the British Royal Navy. However, this section was not listed in the Naval Intelligence Office Organization of 1918, nor in any other known reports19.


By the end of the war, ONI had expanded from a dozen officers, a few clerks, six naval attaches, and a handful of "volunteer agents" to include over ninety naval intelligence officers, twenty-four naval attaches, and over three thousand reserve officers, volunteers, and enlisted personnel in ONI headquarters, Aid for Information and Branch Intelligence Offices, American legations, and on special missions in the United States and throughout the world. ONI had grown from an information clearinghouse for naval war planning to an intelligence agency equal to the Military Intelligence Division, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Investigation. But ONI had not realized this growth by supplying strategic intelligence(of which they gathered little,) to war planners in the Navy Department, nor by providing operational intelligence(of which they had none) to naval commanders in the field. Instead, ONI exploited the wartime paranoia and the loose legal interpretation of civil rights by the Wilson Administration to carry out wiretaps, open private mail, break up public gatherings, censor the news, search and seize property, and, in general, harass and intimidate anyone considered an enemy of the state. The elite circle of wealthy East Coast patricians that had taken over ONI during the war naturally defined as an enemy any group that seemed at odds with their common background, including civil rights and labor groups that seemed far removed from German spies and saboteurs. This obsession with domestic intelligence secured a place for ONI within the naval hierarchy, but it was a position that would lead to attitudes like that of a flag officer of the interwar Navy, who, when asked about the relevance of ONI to his operations, answered: “We don’t need any intelligence work. There are no Communists on our ships.”

The long reign of Admiral Welles, unusual in ONI before the Second World War, came to an end in May 1919, when he was replaced by the veteran naval attache, Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack20. Though Welles had closed the Branch Intelligence Offices in late November 1918, their files were turned over to the Aid for Information offices, which remained the hub for domestic intelligence operations in ONI. A traditionalist who supported the old-guard Navy establishment even in postwar decay, Niblack abhorred the wartime trend of ONI towards domestic intelligence, espionage, and "anything savoring of 'gumshoe' methods". When in 1920, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt assigned ONI to the investigation of the "morals" scandal (homosexuality) in Newport, Niblack protested that ONI should not be involved in this kind of matter "except in great emergency."

Such a "great emergency" seemed at hand as the nation was gripped with the fear that the kind of revolution raging in Russia and Germany would spread to engulf the United States. On the very day Niblack took command of ONI, newspapers revealed an assassination plot on Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer(whose Bureau of Investigation agents had deported thousands of Americans on the flimsiest of charges as "enemy aliens") as well as several other prominent Americans. Overwhelmed by domestic intelligence reports pouring into Washington, handicapped by a failing memory, and stuck in a post he never sought, the aged Niblack failed to return ONI to its roots in strategic information, blocked by the headstrong reservists brought in by Welles and pressure from the Navy Department, who forced Niblack to continue investigations like the Newport scandal and that of subversion of the Marine Transport Workers union by "Bolsheviki and Sinn Feiners." Eventually, Niblack himself was infected by the rampant suspicion of a Bolshevik menace when he submitted a December 1919 report prepared from MID data. The report made fantastic allegations about a nationwide plot called "the Terror" led by Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Mollie Steiner, Jake Abrams, and "several other Anarchists" which would carry out a terrorist campaign supported by a group straight out of a pulp magazine, a combination of German and Russian Jews, Mexican bandits, the IWW, and a Japanese master spy named Kato Kamato. In his conclusion, Niblack claimed: "The Terror will surpass anything that ever happened in this country, and the brains of the plot are already on the Pacific Coast, but it may be January or February before anything will be attempted."

February came and went without hint of "The Terror" warned of by Niblack, and, in May 1920, Niblack was shipped off as naval attache to England, the victim of his own hubris after he made a failed attempt to defend the stagnant U.S. Navy before Congressional hearings on naval reform. His replacement, Rear Admiral Andrew Theodore Long found ONI in its worst shape since the turn of century. ONI had atrophied to a mere eighteen officers and twenty-four reservists by July 1920, which were thinly spread between the conflicting duties of gathering domestic intelligence and strategic information. Funding had become as scarce as personnel, as ONI dipped into the remains of their secret wartime fund to give the naval attaches the money they needed to pay for the agents, bribes, and other expenses needed to maintain their spy networks.

Naval intelligence remained in this state throughout the interwar period. Strategic and technical information on foreign navies was collected by from either open sources like newspapers, magazines, and public radio broadcasts or from the intelligence reports made by naval attaches, confidential agents, and the occasional account of American travelers sympathetic to ONI. Later in the decade, ONI found success with radio intercepts, using small vessels(naval and commercial) to get within the vicinity of foreign naval maneuvers where they could receive transmissions that revealed much about enemy strategy and capabilities21. Foreign intelligence was filed in monographs devoted to specific countries, bound in looseleaf folios that grew to unmanageable sizes, as a mass of undigested, unclassified material was filed away, much of it on non-naval matters22. Of little use to other branches and unresponsive to their needs, foreign intelligence once again deteriorated into the stepchild of the Navy, receiving neither the interest nor the resources necessary to carry out its role, a situation described by Ellis M. Zacharias, who served in naval intelligence during this period:

The whole Far Eastern Section of ONI occupied just one room, holding one officer and one stenographer. ONI itself comprised a handful of officers and a few yeomen, filing the occasional reports of naval attaches about naval appropriations of the countries to which they were attached, a few notes on vessels building or projected, most of them clipped from local newspapers, and descriptions of parties given in honor of some visiting American celebrity. The last-named usually represented the most illuminating and comprehensive of these so-called intelligence reports.

Zacharias noted that naval intelligence officers could pursue their own investigations in “the spare time which a naval career abundantly provides,”23 but these kind of assertive attitudes were few and far between in the ONI of the twenties and thirties. As all naval officers had to maintain a routine cycle of ship-to-shore assignments, those officers interested in naval intelligence often themselves assigned out of ONI just as they developed some expertise in their duties. This policy also regularly brought men into ONI with little grasp of what the duty entailed and less interest in carrying it out, and this was hardest on naval intelligence when these kind of apathetic officers were made DNI.

Lucky for ONI, both DNI Long and the man who replaced him in September 1921, Captain Luke McNamee, were energetic officers that sought to correct the weakness of ONI. However, the lack of resources brought on by the naval demobilization of the Harding Administration saw to it that the structure of ONI would undergo little change until the mid-thirties. This naval demobilization, a part of the "return to normalcy" movement popular in the twenties, would also result in naval limitation conferences that would require the attention of ONI throughout the decade and into the next.

The first of these accords was the Washington Naval Limitation Conference of 1921, which brought the naval powers of the world together to discuss restricting naval construction to prevent the kind of arms race that had precipitated the First World War. ONI was tasked with providing the technical and strategic information needed by American delegates, as well as preparing biographies of the foreign delegates24 and uncovering their attitudes on naval mobilization. This project revealed a widespread distrust of the Japanese among the delegates, which lead American delegates to push for unequal limitations to be placed on the size of the Japanese Navy in comparison to that of the United States and Great Britain25. Further information on Japanese intentions was gathered by "The Black Chamber," a codebreaking unit of the War Department that intercepted messages between the Japanese delegation and their home government. This practice would later lead to the unit's downfall, just as they completed an important assignment for P Division.

While the 1921 conference enacted several limitations that weakened the already-vulnerable postwar Navy, ONI presented information to the delegates fairly and without comment. But when the depth of the restrictions were revealed, ONI launched an unofficial propaganda campaign, arguing that treaties like those created during the conference would emasculate the Navy while foreign navies could be developed surreptitiously or through loopholes. DNI McNamee defined this political action as "a big fight against the pacifists"26, and he was joined in the struggle by retired naval intelligence officer Dudley Knox, who continued to serve as head of the Office of Naval Records and Library within ONI. Knox wrote a book that he hoped would have the same kind of effect that Alfred T. Mahan's seminal work did at the turn of the century, but his and other efforts toward curtailing naval limitations were ill-received in the peaceful days of the 1920s. ONI even went so far as to conduct domestic surveillance on university professors they considered "anti-navy", while creating their own network of professors friendly to ONI's ambitions.

ONI regarded the best propaganda to be evidence of violations of the treaty, which would justify the claim that the American navy was declining as foreign nations secretly built up their navies. But the European intelligence networks set up by ONI, MID, and the State Department had dried up since the armistice, and ONI failed to follow through with the M-Plan to set up a network in Japan. Some naval attaches acted on their own initiative, such as the former DNI Admiral Niblack, then serving as the London attache. Having inexplicably come a long way from his disgust with "gumshoe methods," Niblack gathered up a suspicious bunch of former spies lead by an ex-British intelligence agent named Whepley and a well-to-do Parisian private detective named Louis Thenoz to root out treaty violations. Initially tolerated by DNI McNamee, he eventually ordered its disbandment when pressured by budgetary reasons. Niblack claimed his agents had found "evidence of astounding Japanese secret purchases from European arsenals and shipyards", but with his funds cut off by McNamee, Niblack's agents faded away in search of gainful employment.

Back in the States, McNamee used the widespread resources of the domestic intelligence apparatus to find information on treaty violations. The search went beyond simple surveillance of those suspected of Japanese espionage to include ransacking the luggage of foreign visitors and conducting break-in and safecracking into private offices in New York, San Francisco, South America, and the Panama Canal Zone, where the Japanese placed espionage considerations over those in Pearl Harbor or the west coast of the United States. For most of the twenties and thirties, the Kaigun-Sho (Japanese naval ministry) considered a strategic attack on the Panama Canal was considered as the first move in conducting war upon the United States.

Besides outright illegal methods as break-ins and safecracking without search warrants, ONI also resorted to the oldest profession to gain foreign intelligence. In October 1920, naval intelligence officer Ellis M. Zacharias found himself in the same apartment building as the Japanese naval attache Captain Yoshitake Uyeda, a dashing figure on the Washington social scene and long suspected by ONI to be an agent of the Joho Kyoko (Japanese Naval Intelligence). Noting the numbers of young women frequenting Uyeda's apartment, Zacharias found out that many were secretaries in the Navy Department. Not only did ONI have these women transferred to other departments, but even provided well-briefed "replacements" for Uyeda.

It was through the investigations of Zacharias that ONI became aware of the extent that the Black Dragon Society had infiltrated the Imperial Army and Navy of Japan. During his time in Tokyo as a "language student" in 1922, Zacharias became friends with a high-ranking Japanese official that revealed that it was the "Koku-Ryu-Dan” that was the “group who guide the military objectives” of Japan. This view became so prevalent within ONI, that, following the Washington Naval Limitation Conference, the naval attaché in Japan, Captain Edward H. Watson, summarized their new priorities as follows:

We now have three major problems to solve, and the solution of each one is by itself a full-time job. The first problem, of course, is to observe the Japanese in their adherence to the Washington agreement. In brief, we have to find out whether they are going to do what they promised in Washington; to scrap their quota of supernumerary vessels. The second problem is to find out whether the Japanese are going to observe the conditions under which the League of Nations assigned to them the mandate over several islands in the Pacific. The third problem is to find out the intentions of the Japanese naval command, their geographical orientation, and especially how they intend to implement in practice the chauvinistic policy of the Black Dragon hotheads.

ONI believed that they could use their naval attaches and domestic intelligence networks to solve the first and third problems, but they would have no recourse but to dispatch undercover agents into the Pacific to find the secrets of the mysterious mandate islands. These agents would find little more than death and madness.


Scattered over a thousand miles between the Hawaiian and Phillipine islands are the coral atolls and volcanic islets of the Caroline, Marshall, and Mariana Islands. When these strategically-located islands are fortified with naval bases and air strips, they can control the approaches to Southeast Asia and the passage to the Indian Ocean27. Since the turn of the century, both Japan and the United States had been interested in holding the islands, and in 1914, Japan seized the islands from Germany and retained them as colonial mandates under the League of Nations, despite American objections. The League of Nations mandate prohibited their fortification, but ONI had received reports of Japanese merchantmen offloading materials obviously meant for the construction of gun emplacements, bunkers, and underground passages, and that Japanese naval vessels were delivering heavy-caliber coastal guns and boatloads of Japanese laborers. Convinced of the threat, ONI put the highest-priority on gathering information over these suspected fortifications, dockyards, and airfields.

The infiltration of the islands by secret agents delivered by submarine was considered and rejected by ONI command, as was sending observers undercover as businessmen or missionaries, and staffing naval vessels with intelligence officers to visit the islands on courtesy calls. An original means presented itself when a California college professor requested assistance from the Navy Department in marking the graves of American sailors lost during Commodore Perry's voyages to Japan in the 1850s. ONI packed the expedition with naval intelligence agents who would use it as an opportunity to survey the islands of Okinawajima and Amani-o-shima; but, while they allowed the expedition to hold services over known gravesites on Naha and Kirun, the Japanese barred them from probing those islands where the most valuable information could be found.28

Successfully putting an agent into the meteorological station on Yap, ONI found that they would have to penetrate the inner islands in order to determine the existence and extent of Japanese fortifications. This mission was assigned to Major Earl "Pete" Hancock Ellis, a Marine Corps reservist fluent in Japanese that had worked as a translator for the codebreaking section of ONI and was a veteran of several intelligence operations in Latin America. Considered a "mystery" within ONI, Ellis suffered from a nervous disorder and was rumored to be an alcoholic. In 1920, he was again recruited by ONI, first to review the monographs on Latin America, and then to accompany scientific and photographic expeditions in the Pacific. Ellis was shuttling back and forth between the Office of the Marine Corps Commandant where he used ONI information to work on war plans and the local Washington hospital where he treated his disorder, when ONI put him on the short list of "live wires" to send into the mandated islands. Soon after, Ellis traveled to Australia posing as a merchant for the Hughes Trading Company of New York, from which he made several attempts to infiltrate the mandated islands, and then disappeared.

Ellis reappeared in Yokohama in 1922, when Lyman Atkinson Cotten, the naval attache in Tokyo, heard rumors of a drunken American frequenting shabby bars and geisha houses and brazenly letting it known that he had been sent by naval intelligence into the mandated islands to "find out what the hell was going on down there." Cotten had never been informed about Ellis' mission into the islands, and ONI headquarters simply directed him to keep Ellis under surveillance. While Cotten initially suspected that Ellis' "alcoholism" may have simply been part of his cover, by August, Ellis had deteriorated to such a point that Cotten felt he must take action. Naval intelligence in Japan arranged for Ellis to be picked up by ambulance and transported to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokohoma, where he was placed under the care of Chief Pharmacist Lawrence Zembsh, his nurse and jailor.

The chief doctor diagnosed Ellis as having severe nervous exhaustion, thought to be brought on by an acute alcoholism that was never confirmed. After a period of recuperation, Major Ellis was to be transported back the States; but, one week later, Ellis escaped from the naval hospital. Searches by Cotten and his staff, the hospital staff, and the Japanese Missing Persons Bureau turned up nothing, until, two months later, the Kaigun-Sho informed Cotten that they had found Ellis on Jaluit, one of the mandated islands. The Kaigun-Sho also informed the attache that Ellis was ill, and that "the doctors don't expect him to live much longer."

Cotten did not expect that the Japanese would ever return Major Ellis alive, and his suspicions were confirmed when, on the morning following their announcement, the Kaigun-Sho informed the naval attache that Ellis had died the night before and been immediately cremated over the protests of Germany missionaries on the island. The cremation ended any question of an autopsy; but, it also gave ONI a great opportunity, as Cotten got the Kaigun-Sho to agree to allow Chief Pharmacist Zembsh to travel to Jaluit and retrieve the major's remains. Zembsh was well-briefed by ONI to conduct his own survey of the islands for strategic intelligence. The sailor traveled to Jaluit and returned to Yokohama on a Japanese vessel, but ONI was able to remain informed of his whereabouts. Then, two weeks after his arrival on the island, naval intelligence lost contact with Zembsh.

Seven weeks after Zembsh left Yokohama, the Kaigun-Sho announced that he would return the next morning. Cotten and his attache staff met the transport at the pier, where they found Zembsh bed-ridden in a cabin below decks, "unshaven, unkempt, deranged in mind as well as appearance." He didn't seem to recognize the naval officers who had sent him to Jaluit, but was muttering incoherently, clutching a white box to his breast as though it were a priceless treasure. In the white box was the urn that contained the remains of Major Earl Hancock Ellis.

Before his journey to Jaluit shattered his mind, Zembsh was considered to be "a fine man, energetic and enthusiastic." Though the doctors at the U.S. Naval Hospital at Yokohama found no evidence of drugs, there was little else to explain his mental collapse other than a strong shock accompanied morphine or powerful doses of opium. After four days of mental treatment, Zembsh began to become more articulate, though there reigned a strange amnesia over his memory of events on Jaluit. It was hoped that, in time, his memories would return; but, then on September 1, 1923, a massive earthquake struck the region, destroying the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokohama and killing Zembsh and his wife. The only man who could answer the questions surrounding the death of Major Ellis, the madness of Zembsh, and the mystery of the mandated islands was dead.

Further investigations by Cotten and his staff provided some clues to what might have happened to Ellis. There were rumors that the major's passage to Jaluit had been arranged by the Japanese, where they believed it would be easier to liquidate the American than in Japan. Knowing the man's weakness, alcohol was freely provided to Major Ellis throughout his voyage to Jaluit, and his schedule on the island was occupied with drinking parties where ONI believed the Japanese slipped him the drugs that killed him.

ONI finally determined to its own satisfaction the question of fortifications on the Japanese mandated islands during the 1922-23 shakedown voyage of the cruiser Milwaukee. As the new ship would be venturing close to the islands, ONI staffed the vessel with naval intelligence officers and fitted her with the latest equipment, including two scout planes that returned a large collection of aerial photographs. The data accumulated by the Milwaukee revealed extensive harbor dredging by the Japanese but no construction of fortifications or gun emplacements. This satisfied ONI, though they maintained watch over the islands to revise naval war plans. Despite the loss of personnel and the resource expended on the Japanese mandated islands, ONI still had learned less about Japanese treaty violations than all the other nations involved in the limitation treaties combined. The failure of the naval attaches, radio reconnaisance, information-gathering, and secret missions lead ONI to rely more on the clandestine surveillance and secret operations of domestic intelligence to provide accurate data on the threat posed by Japan.


Captain McNamee ended his stint as DNI in December 1923, and, during the rest of the decade, those officers that followed him in the position of DNI continued to move ONI into secret intelligence. Naval intelligence burglarized the offices of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ of America (a pacifist organization), pressured commercial telephone and telegraph companies like Western Union to allow them to eavesdrop on private international communiques, conducted break-ins against Japanese consular offices in New York City and along the West Coast, vandalized the offices of the Communist Party of America and plant false evidence that ONI hoped would lead the Communists to believe another radical party had been to blame, and, forty years before Watergate, broke into the Democratic Party offices in New York on a personal mission for President Hoover. Even as ONI was kept busy preparing strategic and technical data for several naval limitation conferences, naval intelligence considered using these surreptitious methods learned at home, not to gather intelligence but to sabotage the conference itself. ONI had seemed to have become a force unto itself.

The closing of the Branch Intelligence Offices after the war left ONI with only the Aid for Information offices as an apparatus for domestic investigations. The District Intelligence Officers (DIO) in charge of these offices had relied upon agencies such as MID and FBI to carry out such investigations for them. Then, in February 1925, the creation of the Naval Intelligence Volunteer Service provided the DIOs with their own agents, reserve officers who by virtue of education, experience, or training in civilian life, would be available for national emergency. Most of these reservists fit the profile of the socialites and dilettantes that flocked to ONI during the war years, and many were veterans recruited into naval intelligence by Roosevelt and Eddy and now returned to ONI as volunteer agents. In the era of naval conferences, ONI headquarters in Washington was under such pressure to analyze information that the DIOs were urged to bring in more and more of these volunteer agents, and ONI came to rely on the wealthy and influential businessmen like W.K. Vanderbilt and William Vincent Astor that served in the Naval Intelligence Volunteer Service.

In January 1928, Captain Alfred W. Johnson took over as DNI. Johnson was a veteran of several naval intelligence operations, including an assignment as naval attache to Chile. He found the office in danger of having one of its most vital functions stripped away: the evaluation of incoming data. Several high-ranking naval officers argued that ONI should merely be responsible for gathering and distributing information for the bureaus of the Navy Department, and should leave the analysis and evaluation of that information to the Naval War College and the War Plans Division. Johnson successfully lobbied to keep this function in ONI by asserting that all information had to be evaluated before it could be deemed "intelligence". However, this view that ONI was merely a clearinghouse for information and was not to be consulted for true naval intelligence simply contributed to its weakness in strategic and operational intelligence, as naval commanders ignored ONI as a source of this kind of information and ONI failed to concentrate on gathering this kind of intelligence in the absence of pressure to do so. It was this situation that directly lead to the failure of naval intelligence at Pearl Harbor.

Recognizing the problem, Johnson was adamant that ONI restrict its activities to naval matters. He amended the instruction sheet for naval attaches, ordering them to abandon undercover operations that wasted their resources and duplicated, if not interfered, with the activities of other American intelligence agencies. In particular, Johnson railed against "the use of immoral women as agents", stating that "women of this type exert a very demoralizing effect upon the men under whom they are placed". Johnson directed ONI to concentrate on information about submarines, radio communications, and fleet tactics - material of direct and unquestionable naval interest. Later in his command, Johnson would be further pressured to eliminate marginal and unnecessary duties by budget-tightening in the Navy brought on by the stock market crash of 1929, subsequent treaties that limited naval development, and the appointment of money-conscious Hooverite Admiral William Pratt as Chief of Naval Operations.

Nevertheless, Johnson was no more successful in turning the focus away from domestic intelligence than any other DNI during the interwar period. It was both the nature of the times and the structure of ONI that worked against reform, as the arms limitation conferences popular during the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover Administrations occupied ONI headquarters in preparing data on foreign navies and biographies of attending delegates, leaving the naval attaches, district intelligence officers, and volunteer agents a wide latitude to carry out whatever secret missions they deemed necessary. Then, in early 1928, the Supreme Court validated government use of wiretapping and other clandestine methods in the Olmstead case decision. The Olmstead decision ushered in a whole new era in America of government espionage against its own citizens, as federal and military intelligence agencies now used these methods that were before considered at best semi-legal with total authority. It was in this atmosphere that a combined force of naval intelligence officers, Treasury agents, and Marines descended upon the town of Innsmouth in February 1928.

Johnson was replaced as DNI in July 1930 by Captain Harry A. Baldridge, a man of ill health that left the usually-wandering ONI with no direction whatsoever. During either the command of Johnson or Baldridge in 1930, P Division raided a cult of the Esoteric Order of Dagon on Piedra Negro island in the Philippines, capturing 500 prisoners and several artifacts.

Around this time, ONI in East Asia began to hear rumors that the Japanese were mobilizing troops to occupy Manchuria. ONI increased the naval attache staff in Peking and Tokyo, and monitored developments on-the-scene through reports sent by intelligence officers of the 4th Marine Regiment in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Patrol. While the number of ONI personnel was still pathetic compared to the size of Japanese Naval Intelligence, whose American section alone equaled the size of ONI in its entirety, these reports made plain how deeply the Japanese had infiltrated the political, economic, and social structure of China through the soldiers of the Kwantung Army and the spies of the Black Dragon Society. ONI submitted this information to the Hoover Administration, who ignored these warnings as simply more of the kind of paranoid ramblings many had come to expect from naval intelligence. A month later, the Japanese mobilized their troops and occupied Manchuria.

Despite ONI's warnings, Japanese aggression in Manchuria shocked the Hoover Administration, provoking them to maintain a closer watch both at home and abroad that often bordered on paranoia. This new hysteria against "subversives" was exacerbated by the Bonus March on Washington, and ONI took part by increasing domestic intelligence operations against the Bonus Marchers, the American Communist Party, the National Council For the Prevention of War, the National Federation of Churches, and the Women's League for Peace and Freedom. With a mere eighteen officers and thirty-eight civilians on the ONI staff in Washington, the district intelligence officers and their volunteer agents were given even more discretion to carry out this task, and they recruited a whole new class of informants from radical vigilante-style organizations29. To reflect the rise of domestic intelligence in ONI, the office was again reorganized in 1931 with the Intelligence Branch was divided in the Domestic Section(B-2 commanding B-3 to B-7) and the Foreign Sections(B-9 commanding B-10 through B-17).

A-1: Foreign Liaison
A-2: Personnel
A-3: Mail, Filing and Archives
A-4: Supply and Accounting
A-5: Legal
A-6: Translating
A-7: Photo and Drafting
B-1: Dissemination
B-2: Domestic Intelligence Section
B-3: Investigations
B-4: Security
B-5: Commerce and Travel
B-6: Plant Protection
B-7: Developments and Patents
B-8: (Not identified)30
B-9: Foreign Intelligence Section
B-10: British Empire
B-11: Far East
B-12: Western Europe
B-13: Central Europe
B-14: Eastern Europe
B-15: Balkans and the Near East
B-16: Latin America
B-17: Enemy Trade
C-1: Public Information
C-2: Press
C-3: Propaganda
E-1: Library and Archives
E-2: War Records

With a few minor additions, this would remain the organizational structure of ONI well into the Second World War. However, despite what was listed on paper, a number of the units (Legal, Commerce & Travel, Plant Protection, Developments & Patents, Enemy Trade, and others) would remain inactive due to lack of personnel, including several even after full naval mobilization in the early 1940s.

Captain Hayne Ellis became DNI during these turbulent events. Besides those in domestic intelligence, Ellis also responded to new concerns over counterintelligence, sparked by the burglary of an office in the Navy Department building and an attempt by an ONI employee to sell secret naval data. Counterintelligence was also a factor when Ellis moved to preserve the integrity of ONI's code and code-breaking capabilities, especially after Yardley's Black Chamber was shut down31. Ultimately, this concern for security did more to paralyze ONI operations than prevent the passing of secrets, as ONI officers squirreled information away in their files rather than share it with other bureaus; and, ONI headquarters became loathe to reveal official policy, so much so that agents acted upon their own cognizance rather wait for clarification from Washington.

While the Japanese aggression in Manchuria provoked the Hoover administration to action at home, it did little to change the widespread ambivalence towards foreign policy. Nevertheless, ONI rightly believed the nation headed towards war, and gathering data for War Plan ORANGE focused naval intelligence on Japan. An aerial reconnaisance was made of the Aleutian islands, Japanese visitors in the States were kept under surveillance, the search for Japanese translators was intensified (still hampered by racist distrust of Asian-Americans), and efforts were again made towards penetrating the Japanese mandated islands. Information collected on foreign navies revealed to ONI that Japan might not be the only threat looming on the horizon, as naval intelligence uncovered wide-scale armament projects in Italy, Czechoslovakia, and especially Germany. Alarmed by German rearmament, ONI instructed Kenneth G. Castleman, the naval attache in Berlin, to finish his study of the Nazi party.

Naval intelligence in Latin America focused on unrest in Nicaragua, where U.S. Marines were on the hunt for Cesar Augusto Sandino and his rebels. The naval attache for Central America was Marine Corps aviator Major Harold S. Fassett, who would fly patrols out of Tegulcigapa in an unarmed biplane searching for political unrest, anti-American sentiment, and "communist bandits" to add to his Red File. Major Fassett left with the Marines when they were withdrawn from Nicaragua in 1933, and the post of naval attache to that region was deactivated, as were several others in Latin America during the thirties. Also during 1933, P Division raided the fishing village of Agua Verde on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, with no prisoners taken nor any other tangible results. It would mark the final large-scale operation conducted by P Division until the Second World War.


The postwar era of naval limitation and demobilization began to end in 1933 with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Although the first years of his administration would be occupied with New Deal legislation, Roosevelt involvement in military and foreign affairs would be far more active than his predecessors, and the avid yachtsman and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy was thought to be an advocate of a strong Navy. As the twin concerns of international affairs and military preparedness mounted with the rise of fascist aggression and communist intrigue, Roosevelt knew that he would need the best intelligence possible to make the many critical decisions called for by a world sliding towards war. ONI should have been at the forefront of providing Roosevelt with this kind of intelligence, and it often did live up to his expectations. But by the decisive months leading up to Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt had come to see ONI as much of the Navy Department had, as inefficient and obsolete, good only for hunting Communists.

In the early years of his administration, Roosevelt maintained a close relationship with ONI, following its operations on an almost daily basis through his aide and ONI staff officer Lieutenant Lucien Ragonnet. However, ONI was not Roosevelt's only source of naval intelligence. While he considered cooperation between his intelligence services as a priority, he also utilized their departmental rivalries to produce different viewpoints and sources on vital subjects. In matters of naval intelligence, Roosevelt could supplement information provided by ONI by turning to a group of old friends with close ties of their own to ONI, an unofficial clandestine spy network called ROOM.

ROOM was created in 1927 from among those wealthy and powerful New Yorkers that sailed aboard the yacht Nourmahal to watch the yacht races in Newport, to fish on Long Island Sound, and cruise down through the Caribbean. Founded by Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and William Vincent Astor, the ROOM was a monthly meeting place for an impressive group of Harvard alumni that had served or were currently serving in naval intelligence, including Kermit Roosevelt, Judge Frank Kernochan, explorer C. Suydam Cutting, banker Winthrop Aldrich of Chase Manhattan, journalist and world traveler Marshall Field III, and inventor Charles Lanier Lawrence32. But by far the most prominent member of ROOM was its chief, William Vincent Astor, a multimillionaire, Roosevelt's neighbor in Hyde Park, owner of the Nourmahal, and a volunteer agent for ONI. In his role for naval intelligence, Astor had several contacts in the Third Naval District, and had sailed his yacht on several undercover missions for ONI in the Caribbean and Pacific in 1930. The Nourmahal provided a sanctuary for Roosevelt following the presidential campaign of 1932 and the assassination attempt on his life, and it was there that Roosevelt learned of ROOM and was offered its services to supply the kind of intelligence the president couldn't get through legal channels.

Roosevelt had long used private individuals for personal and professional intelligence matters, first as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the First World War and then as president. So, though he never formally became a member of ROOM(which he knew as "the Club"), Roosevelt did call upon Astor and his network of well-to-do spies on several occasions. In 1938, FDR dispatched Astor to sail the Nourmahal into the Japanese mandated islands, where he gained useful information on the Marshall Islands without actually landing. Astor's position as managing director of the Western Union Telegraph Company allowed him to illegally intercept communications for Roosevelt, and along with Aldrich's position at the Chase National Bank, ROOM was able to carry out several missions for both the president and British intelligence in the United States, blocking attempts by the Vichy French government from setting up a communications systems in Newfoundland for Axis agents, and using "cafe society" contacts to investigate the theft of the Norden bombsight. Astor was so successful that in March 1941 Roosevelt had ONI create for him the position for Area Controller, which would coordinate the intelligence activities of the Departments of State, War, Navy, and Justice in the New York region. In this position, Astor came into conflict with the secret intelligence network run by Wallace B. Phillips for ONI, and exacerbated by ill health in October 1941, Astor's operations as Area Controller deteriorated. Soon after, his career as Roosevelt's private spy came to an end when syndicated Washington journalist and Roosevelt intelligence asset John Franklin Carter investigated Astor as part of his regular duties and found the Area Controller to be overworked and confused. Carter's report resulted in Roosevelt scaling back his use of Astor, and after his cover was accidentally blown, Astor remained Area Controller till 1944 but with limited powers.

Besides the influence of the Roosevelt Administration, the tone naval intelligence in the prewar years would be set by the popular and aggressive leadership of Captain William Dilworth Puleston. Puleston became DNI in June 1934, when the officer allowance for ONI was barely adequate at sixteen active duty naval officers, two retired officers called to active duty, and three Marine Corps officers. The permanent civilian staff in ONI was even smaller, which made proper information analysis impossible. Puleston helped rectify the situation with the $16,200 appropriation made by Congress in 1935, hiring civilian assistant naval research analysts from academics attracted by a steady paycheck in Depression-era America.

More funds were to follow, and Puleston authorized several creative projects that invigorated the moribund Foreign Intelligence Section. The resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union opened that country to naval intelligence for the first time since 1922. In 1934, ONI was involved in setting up the new American embassy in Moscow, and intelligence officers were sent as "language students" to Riga, Latvia in 1935. Puleston also sent observers into Spain to obtain information on the new aircraft and anti-aircraft ordnance technology being used in that country's civil war, as well as into Ethopia to observe Italian operations. However, foreign intelligence was hindered by the State Department, who saw all espionage as a violation of the Neutrality Act of 1935 and was loathe to allow ONI to operate outside their most official capacity as naval attaches.

The State Department was less of a hindrance on foreign intelligence operations in Latin America, where ONI noted the growth of fascist involvement as the Germans set up military missions in Argentina, Columbia, and El Salvador, while the Italians had interests in Bolivia and Ecuador. But it was Japanese espionage in the Western Hemisphere that most concerned ONI, and the Japanese connection to affairs in Peru lead to a collaboration in 1935 between ONI and the militant ultrapatriotic German societies in Latin America that were used as spy networks by the German secret service.

Puleston was less generous in funding domestic surveillance until naval intelligence exposed Annapolis graduate and retired naval officer John S. Farnsworth as a spy for the Japanese in 1937. Puleston's attitude changed dramatically, releasing the funds that expanded ONI domestic intelligence operations to near-wartime levels. ONI maintained surveillance over Japanese language students at American universities and the office of the Japanese naval attache in Washington, which ONI believed to be the command center of Japanese espionage in the West. As counterintelligence uncovered a number of active and retired naval personnel working for the Japanese, the OP-16-B-6 section for plant security was reactivated. The District Intelligence Officers compiled lists of suspicious employees with the aid of local businessmen, and their hostility to the intensifying labor movement colored these operations. This anti-Communist stance became more pronounced as naval intelligence targeted African-American organizations like the NAACP, based on the widespread prejudice that Japanese intelligence used racial tensions to involve such organizations in their espionage. This ultraconservatism and bigotry came to a head when District Intelligence Officers, lacking investigative units outside of those offices in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago, went beyond the Naval Intelligence Volunteer Service to recruit private detectives, vigilante groups, and right-wing extremist groups as agents. This anti-Communist opinion would not only dominate domestic intelligence but the Foreign Intelligence Section as well, as the Marine Corps officer assigned to observe Italian Blackshirts in Ethopia came away with a favorable impression of Mussolini despite atrocities committed during that campaign, and the special assistant naval attache in Berlin found Hitler to be a "good natured" leader.

Following Puleston's retirement in April 1937, ONI continued to focus on domestic operations. The investigative function of ONI took precedence over many other sections, several of which remained inactive right up to American entry into the Second World War. Naval investigators were divided into four distinct categories: special agents, agents, investigators, and special employees. The first three categories were filled by officers of the Naval Intelligence Volunteer Service, while the fourth category of "special employee" was filled by civilian experts like toxicologists and chemists. Women were allowed to be employed as special employees, the first time they were allowed in ONI outside of clerical staff.


Three months before war in Europe broke out in September 1939, President Roosevelt began moving towards a central intelligence when he made ONI, MID, and the FBI the sole agencies allowed to carry out investigations concerning espionage, counter-espionage, or sabotage. This "Magna Carta" of American intelligence was to have far-reaching effects, especially for the FBI, where J. Edgar Hoover would use the memo as a pretext to set up his own intelligence network in Latin America and keep the OSS out of the Western Hemisphere during wartime. Soon after this memo, Rear Admiral Walter Stratton Anderson took over as DNI. The first flag officer to command ONI in quite awhile, Anderson saw his position as preparing naval intelligence for the imminent war. Though ONI had long targeted Japan as the major threat to the United States, the establishment of the Berlin-Tokyo-Rome "Axis" with the Anti-Comintern Act of 1937 would expand the focus of naval intelligence under DNI Anderson.

Anderson took the Roosevelt memo to heart, forging close ties with Hoover, to whom Anderson deferred on domestic operations. ONI opened their files to the FBI, and naval intelligence agents took a four week course taught by the Bureau. The two agencies cooperated in the 1939 apprehension of a German spy network that had stolen some of the nation's top defense secrets, including the Norden bombsight. After the fall of France in 1940 initiated a frenzy of "Fifth Column" hysteria against foreign-born Americans, Roosevelt issued another directive calling for greater cooperation on domestic intelligence between ONI, MID, and the FBI. But the vague wording of this memo caused great confusion among the agencies, as Anderson ordered his District Intelligence Officers to defer all domestic investigations to the FBI while ordering them not to share naval intelligence with the FBI or MID. Without a proper definition of "naval intelligence", something ONI had lacked since its creation in 1882, the District Intelligence Officers took a broad view of what constituted naval matters and proceeded to investigate the same disparate groups that always had: fascists, communists, pacifists, labor organizers, Albanians, Armenians, Jehovah's Witnesses, petty criminals, homosexuals, and Africans-Americans.

While the fall of France had brought on more domestic concerns for ONI, it was even more drastic for naval intelligence overseas. Naval attaches in Norway, Belgium, and Holland had lost contact with ONI headquarters for several days during the blitzkrieg, and the entire legation in Paris had to be moved to Vichy territory. The naval attache in Berlin was Commander Albert E. Schrader, who had served in the post since the war began and would remain in Berlin till March 1941. He noted Hitler's belief in astrology, and that foreign attaches in Berlin would often consult astrologers to see if the right planets were in alignment when making forecasts on the timing of important events. These astrological forecasts viewed two days in particular with apprehension in 1940: April 15th and July 24th. In the all-important post of naval attache to London from 1939-1940 was the pessimistic Captain Alan Kirk, who gave two-to-one odds that England would fall to German invaders, claiming that Britain was "no more fortified or prepared to withstand an invasion in force than Long Island, New York". While defeatists like Kirk and Ambassador Joseph Kennedy were warning Washington of the impending British collapse and cautioned against American support, William J. Donovan, on special assignment there by Roosevelt, was discovering a far different situation. It was Donovan's recommendations that held the most weight for Roosevelt and not those of ONI, who itself admitted that with more funds and personnel the office was "approaching adequacy".

DNI Anderson felt unable to rely on the information provided by his naval attaches, and saw his Foreign Intelligence Section hampered by the fact that ONI's domestic agents were not allowed to chase a suspect that fled the country, and its overseas officers were not allowed to track foreign agents back into the US. In 1940, Anderson hired Wallace B. Phillips, a veteran intelligence officer during the First World War, to form a secret intelligence unit answerable only to the DNI. Phillips was head of the Pyrene rubber products company in London, and London naval attache Kirk warned Anderson that the man was an agent of British intelligence. Nevertheless, Anderson gave Phillips unrestricted access to ONI files and the funds to create a network of over 150 agents in New York City. Phillips used the American Red Cross campaign to supply 350 ambulances and other medical supplies to the British as a cover for the travels of himself and his agents between New York and London.

Anderson finally did something to correct the weakness of ONI in providing truly useful information to the Navy Department beyond the red-baiting of the Domestic Intelligence Section and the ineffectiveness of the naval attaches. In January 1941, Anderson added three new sections to the Planning & Training Branch (OP-16-F): Special Intelligence (F-9), Statistical (F-10), and Strategic Intelligence (F-11). That same month, Anderson left the post of DNI for battleship duty, leaving Captain Jules James in temporary command until former London naval attache Captain Alan G. Kirk took over as DNI in March 1941. During the two months without a DNI, the section chiefs of ONI took this opportunity to countermand Anderson's orders for domestic surveillance and confined their reports to naval matters. Just as ONI began to accomplish the duty it was created for, DNI Kirk reinstated the focus on domestic operations.


All hope of changing ONI ended with the adoption of the RAINBOW War Plan No. 5 in May 1941. As drafted by the War Plans Division of the Navy, ONI would not be "charged with sending out any information that would initiate operations on the part of the fleet, or fleets anywhere," but would confined to domestic surveillance, counterintelligence, and plant protection. The War Plans Division even went so far as to suggest absorbing ONI into their section, as information analysis had deteriorated to the point that Kirk had to issue an order that all intelligence reports were to be given a reliability rating, with an A-Rating for unimpeachable sources to a D-Rating for questionable information.

ONI also faced departmental threats from the Office of Naval Communications (ONC) in the field of cryptography. ONI had been involved in the codebreaking war against Japan since naval intelligence had stolen the Japanese naval code from the office of the Japanese Naval Inspector of Material in New York. This incident began the Navy's efforts to break Japanese naval communications, which culminated in the success of the MAGIC decryption process of the ONC. In 1941, ONC was commanded by Admiral Leigh Noyes33, who was at odds with Kirk over the dissemination of coded messages through ONI. Noyes' codebreakers sent their decrypted messages to ONI for translation from Japanese into workable English, and though Noyes claimed the right to deliver these messages to the Navy Department and President Roosevelt, ONI took the messages as their property and distributed the messages themselves.

This kind of office politics engendered hostility among those involved in naval intelligence, which would lead to the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Kirk had no better relations with his allies in domestic intelligence, as he did not get along with Hoover, and his relationship with MID was based solely on their mutual dislike of the new Office of Coordinator of Information under William J. Donovan. Inefficient, overworked, undermanned, and disliked, the Office of Naval Intelligence would have found it difficult to get back on track even if DNI Kirk was not set on focusing their attentions towards domestic security. The only source still considered reliable in ONI was retired officer Dudley Knox34, whose longtime career in naval intelligence and as custodian of the naval library gave his opinion considerable weight to Admiral Turner and President Roosevelt.

Despite the threat from Europe and the fact that the adopted war plans all favored an offensive war in the Atlantic and a defensive war in the Pacific, ONI Foreign Intelligence continued to concentrate on the Pacific and Latin America. When rumors reached ONI about Nazi agents in Vichy-administered French Guiana posing a threat to nearby bauxite mines in Surinam, Marine Corps intelligence specialist Major Theodore A. Holdahl was sent to investigate in 1941. There, he found the mines unguarded and a tempting target for enemy sabotage35. In January 1941, the Ambassador to Peru found information that first revealed that the Japanese were considering an attack on Pearl Harbor.

The April 1941 move of ONI headquarters into the new Navy Department building was another failure under Kirk's command. Not only was the "increased" space found to be inadequate for the 125 rooms, 53 officers, and several dozen civilian employees, but as unsupervised carpenters and electricians spent weeks installing lighting, air conditioning, and shelves, the employees of the Chicago firm of Bonz, Allen, and Fry sifted through the confidential file room, mail room, and offices as part of their hired role of surveying administrative efficiency. Kirk took the opportunity to get rid of the Phillips secret intelligence network in New York that he had warned against while naval attache in London. Phillips simply took his entire organization with him in his new position of Donovan and the OCI36.

While Kirk had not disputed the transfer of Phillips to OCI, he became enraged when his assignment of longtime naval intelligence agent Spencer F. Eddy as naval attache to Cairo was blocked by Donovan, whom President Roosevelt sided with to assign Eddy to a North African operation for OCI. Humiliated, Kirk requested and received transfer to sea duty when he was expected to serve at least two more years in the position of DNI.

Kirk chose the worst time to abandon ONI, when in October 1941 Admiral Theodore Stark Wilkinson had the misfortune to become DNI. Bright, charming, and popular, Wilkinson was the antithesis of Kirk, but he found himself in an unwinnable position. Admiral Turner of the War Plans Division had stripped ONI of all its information analysis duties, evaluating intelligence reports himself and turning in strategic estimates written up by his own division, which were not even made privy to ONI.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the naval intelligence office in Hawaii consisted of two officers, one yeoman, and a translator, and their duties were concentrated on surveillance over the large Japanese-American community. The Far East Section in ONI headquarters was scarcely larger, and had less intelligence assets at their disposal. And even though naval intelligence received several warnings of the impending attack, these were never unified into a coherent intelligence report as ONI had been stripped of such duties by the War Plans Division. With less than two months and no prior experience in naval intelligence, there was little Wilkinson could do to change this situation.

After the Pearl Harbor disaster, Wilkinson immediately became apologetic and self-effacing, troubled by the guilt of the situation, and diffident to even Donovan and the OSS, of whom he remarked, "ONI should concentrate on Naval Intelligence and leave the study of political situations to other Departments and men who are better equipped and trained to delve into this field." Little by little, ONI had more and more of its intelligence functions taken away, until the office was left with the job of security and surveillance, which intensified after the fire of the converted ocean liner Normandie in February 1942. This incident provoked ONI interest in security around the New York harbor, and drew agents into the seamier districts where they cooperated with local organized crime figures like Charles "Lucky" Luciano and "Socks" Lanza to locate leaks of convoy information and infiltrate ONI agents into the fishing community. Agents were sent into Harlem in search of Japanese espionage, and surveillance was undertaken of a homosexual brothel near the Brooklyn Naval Yard that was a known spot for Nazi sympathizers and the chairman of the Senate naval affairs committee.

Only after Wilkinson left the post of DNI in June 1942 did ONI finally at long last turn its attention away from domestic surveillance and towards the strategic and operational intelligence the Navy so desperately needed in its war in the Pacific. But it was still under Wilkinson's command that, in February of 1942, the duties, personnel, and files of P Division were transferred over to the Office of Strategic Services.

Admiral Wilkinson went on to a distinguished wartime record in the South Pacific. After the war, a new round of investigations were begun into the failure of naval intelligence surrounding the Pearl Harbor disaster. Still haunted by what he perceived as his personal failure, Wilkinson drove a borrowed car off the end of the Norfolk-Portsmouth ferry boat and into the Elizabeth River and drowned in 1946. He was the last Director of Naval Intelligence to preside over the operations of Parapsychology, Paranormal, and Psychic Phenomena Division in the Office of Naval Intelligence.


  1. Including debased cultists in Massachusetts worshipping ancient Philistine deities.
  2. The Hydrographic Office provided charts, sailing directions, light lists, etc. to captains of American naval vessels and the merchant ships. In this capacity, it is possible that the office had some dealings with the Mythos on a very limited basis, as officers of the Hydrographic Office could have been involved in places like Innsmouth and Ponape in carrying out their duties.
  3. It would not have been unusual for the ONI officers assigned to these legations to have become involved in the more secret aspects of court intrigue, perhaps even rubbing shoulders with cultists of Hastur.
  4. In this manner, ONI could have built up quite a section of files on paranormal and psychic phenomena long before P Division was ever formally created to investigate such matters.
  5. Therefore, if the U.S. Navy had made any contact with the Mythos before the 1880s and it was recorded, then ONI would have that information available to them; however, an overhaul of the ONI records designed to remove obsolete material in 1896-97 could jeopardize this.
  6. Though far too early for the Tillinghast Resonator or the reanimation formula of Herbert West, ONI would be the clearinghouse through which such kind of Lovecraftian mad scientists would turn for funding for their latest naval invention.
  7. Perhaps a relation to Whittlesey of the Lost Battalion, see No Man's Land.
  8. One of these naval officers performing reconnaisance in the Filipino jungle could have been young Marine officer James Whelan, who becomes suspicious of cult activity on Piedra Negro island, and would years later make the correlation between the foul deeds there and Innsmouth.
  9. Aquinaldo was an associate of Mitsuru Toyama, the head of Genyosha.
  10. Perhaps these fantastic rumors were true accounts of the mystical activities of Genyosha.
  11. During their reconnaisance missions, either Oliver and/or Niblack could have stumbled across the village of Agua Verde. This would explain why they would support the existence of a unit like P Division during their assignment as DNI.
  12. These naval districts were based in Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, Key West, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, Puget Sound, Honolulu, and Balboa in the Panama Canal Zone.
  13. Welles might have been exposed to the Mythos either by confronting Mi-Go mining operations in the Venezuelan region or through Ithaqua cults in Alaska.
  14. Perhaps one of these monographs was on German Ariosophical societies as agitators for militarism, thus providing the first contact between the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Thulegesselschaft.
  15. This could mark the first relationship between ONI and the Mafia, which would develop into outright cooperation during the Second World War, and might have involved P Division in the affairs of the Fate and New York organized crime during the interwar period.
  16. The travels of either McCully or Koehler provided them with ample opportunity to run afoul of several Mythos elements then active in that region, from remnants of the Skoptsi cult in the Crimea to famine-stricken refugees of the civil war devolving into cannibalistic ghouls.
  17. Gillis' incompetence may explain how the Skoptsi were so easily able to emigrate through Siberia and into the United States without raising the suspicion of domestic intelligence networks. Also, White Russians were a prime resource as spies against the Communists for Japanese, British, American, and other intelligence agencies throughout emigre communities in Europe, Asia, and the United States. It is therefore quite possible that the spy network set up by Gillis included White Russians, and maybe even fleeing members of the Skoptsi.
  18. Rogue agent escaping from asylum to family in Massachusetts. If that doesn't smell of Delta Green...
  19. P Division could have been hidden within the new structure of the ONI either as Section J(unlikely as the unit was already technically a section, Section P) or as the mysterious "Aviation Section". If the latter, the size of P Division would have been considered huge by ONI standards, even with the wartime expansion.
  20. Niblack had spent four decades with naval intelligence, including serving as naval attache to Germany in the 1890s and in Latin America in the 1910s, and performing previously-mentioned secret reconnaisance in the Philippines and Nicaragua. Any of these experiences might include some incident involving Mythos or at least supernatural activity that might explain why such an ardently orthodox officer would tolerate such an unorthodox unit as P Division.
  21. On one of these routine radio intercept missions, ONI could become aware of German naval activity in the Antarctic involved in the construction and supply of Aktion Eisschloss.
  22. While of little use to the Navy at large, this lack of oversight on what information was gathered in foreign nations could have allowed P Division to use what overseas resources there were to investigate all manner of topics with little direct relation to naval intelligence.
  23. This might exactly describe how P Division carried out its operations, through the off-the-job activity of like-minded officers who sent in reports to a section that existed on paper only, with no personnel permanently assigned to that desk.
  24. In compiling one of these biographies, P Division might find connections between the Japanese statesman and the Black Dragon Society.
  25. A pacifistic lobbyist working among the conference delegates to enact a stricter prohibitions on submarine development (a major aspect of the conference) could have been hired by the Marshes of Innsmouth. As part of their efforts against pacifism, ONI would investigate the lobbyist and possibly the money behind him. If ONI gets to close to Innsmouth, political pressure could be brought upon the office to back off by the notoriously-corrupt Harding administration.
  26. Under the Washington Naval Limitation Conference of 1921, the unequal ratio of ships allowed to Japan in relation to those allowed to the United States and Great Britain would engender hostile feelings among the Japanese towards America, a trend that had developed since the end of the Russo-Japanese War when the Japanese felt that President Theodore Roosevelt had blocked Japanese holding onto their gains in Manchuria. This would prove a popular cause for nationalist organizations like the Black Dragon Society, and a means to insinuate themselves within the Imperial Japanese Navy.
  27. Within these island groups is Ponape, and hence R'lyeh may sunken nearby.
  28. ONI considered working with other universities to use actual scientific excursions as a cover for investigations into the mandate islands, but neither these nor the ideas of using archeological expeditions were actually followed through. Still, this may be a good method to involve ONI in conventional CALL OF CTHULHU scenarios that involve university expeditions such as MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP, WALKER IN THE WASTES, and BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.
  29. This marks a dark period in ONI, and could have been an even darker period for P Division, if, besides right-wing groups like the Klu Klux Klan, they allied themselves with groups sympathetic to those they would later identify as their enemies, such as the German-American Bund. P Division might have found themselves working with groups with ties to the Thulegesellschaft in their fight against "subversives."
  30. P Division could have been hidden within the unknown B-8 section between domestic and foreign intelligence until it becomes the Coastal Intelligence Section, OP-16-B-8, by December 1939. Even after the B-8 section receives the official title and duty of coastwatching, P Division would make sense to remain there, as the most active of its duties since the less-successful Agua Verde raid was in using the Contact spell to locate and ambush Deep One colonies along the North American coasts.
  31. P Division was involved in the shutdown of the Black Chamber, and might have been involved in the controversial publication of a book by Yardley that revealed much of the military's cryptography secrets. An assistant DNI went so far as to declare that Yardley "should be hanged at the yardarm", and P Division might have sought to censor certain portions of the book, which was under ONI's ability to censor that material which revealed naval secrets.
  32. Considering how the members of ROOM were fixtures amongst the New York social set, it would not be unusual for them to become involved in the investigation of the ritual murder of aging North Hampton socialite Amanda Donohue Reese, found dead in an upstairs bathroom of the South Broadway headquarters of the Fate in October 1930. As many members of ROOM were volunteer agents with ONI, it would also not be unusual for naval intelligence to be among those federal authorities that brought their attention upon the leaders of the Fate, Otto Schmidt and Madame X.
  33. Admiral Noyes might be related to the "Noyes" character in Lovecraft's The Whisperer in the Darkness.
  34. As chief of the Office of Naval Records and Library and due to his experience in naval intelligence, Knox should have been aware of P Division. His authority as an advisor to the diverse men that served as Director of Naval Intelligence, Secretary of the Navy, and in the office of the President throughout the interwar period would have made Knox invaluable as a support of P Division, and his position of naval historian would have placed him in much the same role as "Alphonse" plays with Delta Green.
  35. By fudging the dates, this could provide an excuse for P Division to travel to French Guiana in 1940 and become involved in the later events of The Realm of Shadows scenario.
  36. Whatever Phillips and spy network accomplished for ONI in 1940 remains a classified secret to this day. Although P Division would not make the transfer from ONI to the OSS until February 1942, it is possible that P Division activities were conducted through Phillips' organization while in ONI, and made the transition easier when the unit did move.


Lt Theodorus BM Mason Jun 1882-Apr 1885 Lt Raymond P Rodgers Apr 1885-Jul 1889
Cdr Charles H Davis Sep 1889-Aug 1892 Cdr French E Chadwick Sep 1892-Jun 1893
Lt Frederick Singer Jun 1893-Apr 1896 LCdr Richard Wainwright Apr 1896-Nov 1897
Cdr Richardson Clover Nov 1897-May 1898 Capt John R Bartlett May 1898-Oct 1898
Cdr Richardson Clover Oct 1898-Feb 1900 Capt Charles D Sigsbee Feb 1900-Apr 1903
Cdr Seaton Schroeder May 1903-Apr 1906 Capt Raymond P Rodgers Apr 1906-May 1909
Capt Charles E Vreeland May 1909-Dec 1909 Capt Templin M Potts Dec 1909-Jan 1912
Capt Thomas S Rodgers Jan 1912-Dec 1913 Capt Henry F Bryan Dec 1913-Jan 1914
Capt James H Oliver Jan 1914-Mar 1917 RAdm Roger Welles Jr Apr 1917-Jan 1919
RAdm Albert P Niblack May 1919-Sep 1920 RAdm Andrew T Long Sep 1920-Jun 1921
Capt Luke McNamee Sep 1921-Nov 1923 RAdm Henry H Hough Dec 1923-Sep 1925
Capt William W Galbraith Oct 1925-Jun 1926 Capt Arthur J Hepburn Jul 1926-Sep 1927
Capt Alfred W Johnson Dec 1927-Jun 1930 Capt Harry A Baldridge Jun 1930-May 1931
Capt Hayne Ellis Jun 1931-May 1934 Capt William D Puleston Jun 1934-Apr 1937
RAdm Ralston S Hughes May 1937-Jun 1939 RAdm Walter S Anderson Jun 1939-Jan 1941
Capt Jules James Jan 1941-Feb 1941 RAdm Alan G Kirk Mar 1941-Oct 1941
RAdm Theodore S Wilkinson Oct 1941-Jul 1942


Dorwart, Jeffery M. Conflict of Duty: The U.S. Navy's Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983.

_______. The Office of Naval Intelligence: The Birth of America's First Intelligence Agency, 1865-1918. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1979.

Packard, Wyman H. A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1996.

Zacharias, Captain Ellis M. Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer. New York: G.P. Putnam's, 1946.