Indiana lawyer’s instructive ’92 letter to Goerner: U.S. cryptanalysis “reaching its zenith in 1937/1938”

In Chapter XIV of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “The Care and Nurture of a Sacred Cow,” I discuss several compelling aspects of the U.S. government’s longstanding refusal to disclose the truth that’s been hiding in plain sight in the Earhart matter for over 82 years, including a 1992 letter from Highland, Ind., attorney Michael Muenich to Fred Goerner.  The Muenich letter brings the complex world of cryptanalysis into better focus, and strongly supports Goerner’s claim that we knew the Japanese had Earhart in their clutches, despite their assurances of assistance in the July 1937 search, which were later proven to be blatant lies.  Boldface and italic emphasis mine throughout.

In his letter, Muenich, a civilian with a solid understanding of Navy radio intelligence capabilities, begins with a brief history of Navy cryptanalysis and code-breaking.  He cites Admiral Edwin T. Layton’s 1985 book, And I Was There, not only for study of the days and months leading to Pearl Harbor, but the first several chapters detail radio surveillance, intelligence, and capabilities during the 1930s.”  

Attorney Michael L. Muenich, from a current legal website in Crown Point, Ind.

Muenich tells Goerner that our “level of sophistication” in reading the Japanese naval and diplomatic codes “was apparently reaching its zenith in 1937/1938,” and describes the overall intelligence situation in the Earhart disappearance as well as any single missive I can recall.  Here’s the letter, with minimal editing:

March 30, 1992

Mr. Fred Goerner
Frederick Allan Goerner
Twenty-four Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California 94118

RE: Amelia Earhart

Dear Mr. Goerner:

I presume by now you have seen the April issue of Life magazine, which has an article under the byline of Richard Gillespie and accompanying photos regarding the disappearance of Ms. Earhart.  I, however, remain a skeptic.  I have now had an opportunity to secure and review copies of your original volume and Klass’s [sic] volume and have reviewed them with an eye towards your theory of a landing in the Marshalls and ultimate transportation to Saipan.  I also picked up a newer volume “Amelia Earhart: The Final Story” by [Vincent V.] Loomis and [Jeffrey] Ethel, published in 1985.  If you have not yet had an opportunity to read this volume, I commend it to you as an excellent examination of the mystery.

Like you in Saipan, they have interviewed numerous witnesses in the Marshalls which place Earhart and Noonan on Mili atoll, specifically ditching off Barre Island.  They have also located a number of Japanese witnesses which corroborate the recovery of Earhart and Noonan, together with their aircraft, by the naval research vessel Koshu thence to Jaluit, Truk and ultimately Saipan.  Their theory closely parallels yours, with the exception of the routing from Lae, in that they do not subscribe to the spy theory of over flights in the vicinity of Truk or Saipan, but rather have them diverting South across Nukumanu and Nauru Islands.  Unfortunately you, Messrs. Loomis and Ethel have witnesses, but no hardevidence, and Gillespie has hard evidence [sic], which isn’t conclusive as to Earhart, and no witnesses.

What caught my attention in the article, your book, and the book of Loomis/Ethel is the reference to radio transmissions, either from the vicinity of the Marshall or the Phoenix group.  Gillespie referred to a Navy flying boat, HMS Achilles, and various stations over the Pacific, apparently Pan Am at Hawaii, Midway and Wake Islands, and advised the Navy that triangulation placed the aircraft in the Phoenix group.  I believe your book makes reference to Navy stations on the west coast which picked up similar signals, possibly emanating from the Marshalls.  I believe it may be radio signals that created the Navy’s secrecy and paranoia concerning this entire affair.

Retired Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton’s 1985 classic, which reveals thatthe Navy continued penetrating the new cipher system and for a period of eight years continued to read the Japanese ‘mail,’ ” as Michael L. Muenich wrote to Fred Goerner in 1992.  “The level of sophistication with the Blue code was apparently reaching its zenith in 1937/1938.”

Also published in 1985 was “And I Was There” by Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton.  While the volume is directed to and addresses the issues of naval intelligence and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first several chapters detail radio surveillance, intelligence and capabilities during the 1930s.  I have enclosed copies of certain pages that detail this information; however the synopsis is as follows: Beginning with World War I, Herbert O. Yardley organized the first code breaking offices for the U.S. military.  The cipher bureau was called MI-8 and worked with the British and French through the end of World War I.  This office continued in existence until 1929 when it was prohibited by the U.S. Secretary of State, Stimson, against reading other people’s mail.  However, prior to ceasing the operations, the Americans were able to establish the 5:5:3 – Ship tonnage ratio between Britain, the U.S., and Japan.  The U.S. was reading Tokyo’s telegraphic instructions to its delegations, which allowed the Americans to read Japan’s hand in the poker game.

Apparently the Navy became very proficient in their trade and completely replicated what was then known as the Japanese Red code.  While the operations were supposed to be terminated after the naval conference, they apparently became, at best, dormant throughout the late 20s and early 30s.  You will repeatedly find the names of Joe Rochefort, Joe Wenger, Agnes Driscoll, Lawrence Safford, Tommy Dyer, Wesley A. “Ham” Wright, and other apparent geniuses in radio intercepts, intelligence, and cryptoanalysis throughout Layton’s bookThe Navy operated a full network with listening stations in Guam, Shanghai, Peking, Cavite, Australia, Hawaii, and the west coast with all of the material ultimately delivered to Washington, cryptoanalysis stations Negat (Washington) Hypo (Hawaii) and Cast (Cavite).

In late 1930 the Japanese changed their naval code system and went from the Red book to the Blue book.  Breaking the Red book had taken approximately three years, however given the level of experience and talent then available, the key to the Blue code was broken in September, 1931.  Thereafter the Navy continued penetrating the new cipher system and for a period of eight years continued to read the Japanese “mail.”  The level of sophistication with the blue code was apparently reaching its zenith in 1937/1938.  In November, 1938 the eight-year-old Blue book was suspended and the Japanese adopted the AD code, then in June, 1939 the AN  code, later to be designated as JN-25 which we penetrated and read throughout World War II.

William Friedman with the Hebern cipher machine, the first in the United States to utilize rotors. Author James R. Chiles called Friedman “the greatest maker and breaker of secret messages in history — the Harry Houdini of codes and ciphers.” Lambros D. Callimahos, a former student, colleague, and friend of Friedman’s, compared his mentor to King Midas: “everything he touched turned to plain text.”

In addition to reading the naval code we were also apparently reading merchant code and most significantly the Japanese diplomatic codes.  Examples are the Japanese low-grade ciphers designatedPA-K2,” LA,” J-19” and the high-grade diplomatic code “Purple, frequently referred to as Magic.  Purple became effective in February, 1939.  Its predecessor was Red, not to be confused with the Navy’s red code book.  Both the Red and Purple diplomatic codes were machine code, with Red first coming into use in 1935.  Colonel William F. Friedman developed theM3 machine which was being used by the Japanese foreign ministry in 1935 to encode its most confidential communications.  By 1936 we were regularly reading Tokyo’s diplomatic messages on this device.  Ultimately a “Purple” machine was developed to read the diplomatic codes after 1939.

The point of this history is this: If the U.S. Navy was prepared to spend $4,000,000 and the allocation of numerous naval vessels to the search for Amelia Earhart, I found it inconceivable, given the ability of the U.S. Navy to read both the diplomatic and naval codes, and the extent of their direction finding and cryptoanalysis [sic] stations around the Pacific, that they did not listen in on Japanese communications and follow the “search” from the Japanese side. . . . Most interestingly, most of the Japanese “fleet” that was supposed to be scouring the Pacific was in fact tied up in Japan preparatory to its operations in China which began on July 5th.

Navy signal traffic would have clearly indicated that thisfleet  was not where the Japanese claimed it to be, and may even have been able to determine the activities of the Koshu in the Marshalls.  It must have driven the Navy crazy to read Japanese communications about the great search, if it did, in fact, know that no such search was being made.  It is also quite possible that Navy direction finders pinpointed Earhart’s aircraft or even the Japanese recovery, since they certainly had that capability, however were unable to get our naval vessels near that area because the Japanese, knowing Earhart to be down in the Marshalls, had grabbed her first and refused to allow our Navy into the area.

Finally none of this material could be released to the public without compromising our signals intelligence and warning the Japanese that we were reading their mail.  That, in my opinion, would be more than sufficient basis for the Navy’s paranoia about secrecy in this entire matter, since little, if any, of the signals intelligence was released until the 1970’s or later.

Capt. Laurance Safford, primary author of Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday: The Facts Without the Fiction (2003), who is commonly known as the father of Navy cryptology and established the naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor.  Safford’s verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers “were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew.”  Did Safford know more about the fliers’ fates than he ever publicly admitted?  My guess is that he most certainly did.

Your search and other searches atnaval intelligence probably would not have revealed the information and files at naval communication which apparently were two separate and distinct operations which frequently did not share information.  Unfortunately that led to the debacle at Pearl Harbor and may have also been involved in the Earhart mystery.  According to the bibliography attached to Layton’s book, record group 457 of the National Security Agency on file in the national archives contains portions of the radio traffic between 1940 and 1945 and encompass over 300,000 messages intercepted and decrypted.  I presume there are similar record groups that cover the summer of 1937. . . . [A]n examination of naval communication records, records of OP-20-G and the National Security Agency of signal intercepts during June, July, and August of 1937 might well locate the key to resolving the mystery.

                                                     Very Truly Yours,

                                                     Michael L. Muenich

The records of OP-20-G and the National Security Agency of signal intercepts during June, July and August of 1937 referenced by Muenich are precisely the point: If these records contain Navy intercepts of Japanese messages indicating they had Earhart and Noonan in custody or even knew of their whereabouts, as some believe, it would be the smoking gun many have long sought.  Although I haven’t personally searched the National Archives for these records, others more inclined to navigate and endure the stifling NARA bureaucracy have done so and confirmed what many have strongly suspected—a gap exists where the records of intercepted Japanese radio transmissions would normally be found, from 1935 to 1940. 

Are these intercepts still being kept at Crane, Ind., as Carroll Harris suggested to Goerner in 1980, or do they even exist at all anymore?  Were the top-secret files destroyedin the interest of national security somewhere along the line, perhaps?  Barring some unimaginable development — a miracle, in my opinion — we’ll never know the answers to these vexing questions, as it appears the key to the vault that holds Earhart secrets was thrown away long ago. 

For further discussion of U.S. and Japanese radio transmitting and intercept capabilities, please see pages 263-264 and “Chapter III: The Search and the Radio Signals” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.

5 responses

  1. Excellent blog, Mike! Fresh insight for me and not only makes sense but feels closest to reality. This explains how so many top level politicos knew AE and TH were in custody yet never said or did anything about it. She likely knew there was no rescue coming. Only remaining question is why did she “land” where she did. Kudos!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike,’

    Now you’re talking.

    This letter from Attorney Michael L. Muenich, is worth its weight in gold for the research on MY EARHART SCENARIO.

    This is the precise area of activity, in my opinion, where the final key to understanding the disappearance of the Electra lies, not at the bottom of the ocean.

    I would have been happy to have had Attorney Muenich reference the HF/DF research which was taking place before, during, and after 1937.

    Your own personal research and recovery of otherwise “lost” information continues to amaze me.

    And what also confounds me is the repeated references to Richard Gillespie’s “hard evidence,” a hoax which is still being fueled by the master of hoaxes.

    The fact that his name is even mentioned in the same letter with otherwise substantive material is maddening.

    But pursuing the theme of this post is worth the effort.

    From one who loves and lives history, thank you again for another stellar contribution.

    We are all forever in your debt.

    With deep appreciation,


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stuart R. Brownstein | Reply

    To my friend down South, Mike:

    Keep up the magnificent work you are doing ! The truth will come out eventually, that’s what Bob told me ! Your work is very important and a lot of people do appreciate the hard work you do, starting with me ! Be well !

    Your friend up North, Stuart !

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Greetings to All:

    It’s my contention that it’s always been about Communications Intelligence and breaking the Japanese codes. AE and FN never intended to land at Howland on the second RTW flight attempt. Fred Noonan’s navigation was spot-on. They flew the publicly announced flight plan right up to Howland Island, then diverted toward the Japanese Mandated Marshall Islands to “get lost.” Their purpose in doing so was to ditch somewhere in the vicinity of the Mandates (where they could still be rescued by the Navy) so as to cause the Japanese to chatter in code to Tokyo about a known subject — thus giving Laurance Safford and his OP-20-G code breakers a lot of good material to work with. Removal of the trailing wire antenna in Miami was done deliberately to help foster the “communications difficulties” part of their cover story. AE’s eschewing of George Angus’ and PAA Pacific Division’s offer to track her across the vastness of the Pacific with their HF/DF network was because the Navy didn’t want PAA (or any one else) to know exactly where she and Fred Noonan were. Failing to give proper position reports, or broadcast on the radio for more than 10 seconds (7 or 8 seconds according to William Gaulten), during the latter part of the Lae to Howland leg was deliberate and contributed to the “got lost” part of the cover story. AE’s sounding panicked and hysterical on the radio when calling USCGC Itasca was deliberate as well. AE was better than that, but it supported the cover plan.

    So, what went wrong? Suffering from exhaustion and maybe some mild dysentery as a result of the trip, AE may have had some serious second thoughts about actually ditching in the ocean. Pacifist and gentle, good soul that she was, AE may have reasoned (wrongly) that everyone, including the Japanese, were basically good and that there was really little danger in actually landing on one of the Marshall Islands. She probably didn’t believe that the Japanese would not return, let alone murder her and Fred. I believe THIS is the heart of the “…she disregarded all orders…” part of “The Morgenthau Transcript” — AE (maybe over the strenuous objections of Fred Noonan) landed on Mili rather than ditching in the ocean as she was instructed to do. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s 13 May 1938 telephonic conversation with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, Malvina “Tommy” Scheider was nothing less than a stunning and damning admission of U.S. Government complicity.

    All best,


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another fantastic review of older material brought into the light. Mike’s review and the comments posted thus far, is refreshing to see, compared to the Ballard, NatGeo, Gillespie, King pile of cow dung. Now it is up to the real educators out there, in spreading the Truth At Last. Thank you Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

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