Honolulu’s wartime intelligence secrets and espionage come to light

"Ghosts of Honolulu" book cover

GHOSTS OF HONOLULU: A Japanese Spy, A Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor

By Mark Harmon and Leon Carroll Jr. (New York: Harper Select, 2023, $24.99, 272 pp, hardcover)

While numerous books have been published about the Japanese Imperial Navy attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, not much was accessible about the occurrences in Hawai‘i leading up to that event, until now. In “Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy, A Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor” co-authors Mark Harmon and Leon Carroll Jr. tell a riveting story while also bringing to light the story of Douglas Wada, the first Japanese American to work in U.S. intelligence.

The authors are well known to each other, having worked together for 20-years on the long-running CBS television series “NCIS” (Naval Criminal Investigative Service). After a successful stint quarterbacking at the University of California, Los Angeles, the 72-year-old Harmon has enjoyed a decades-long acting career, highlighted by his role as agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on “NCIS” where he is also a producer and executive producer. Carroll, a self-described military lifer who reached the rank of major in the Marines before serving 20 years as a special agent at the actual NCIS, has been a consultant on the television series since its inception.

“We’ve planned to do a project together for some time and when it came time to pick a subject, this one jumped out at us,” Harmon said in an interview on YouTube.

The book begins prior to Dec. 7, with American officials initially suspicious of possible fifth column activity by Japanese Americans living in Honolulu.

The Office of Naval Intelligence, the precursor to NCIS, recruits the Hawai‘i born Wada, an all-American kid who is fluent in Japanese, to initially act as the eyes and ears of intelligence gathering of locals.

Through the ever-expanding work of Wada and others, they later find that the subversive actions were not by Americans, but individuals working in the Japanese consulate.

Enter the second main principal subject of “Ghosts…” Takeo Yoshikawa, an operative brought in from Japan to coordinate intelligence-gathering activities while reporting directly to the office of Imperial Navy head, Admiral Isokoru Yamamoto. Yoshikawa’s entry was under such secrecy that those already working in the consulate only knew him by his undercover name Tadashi Morimura.

Written in side-by-side fashion with the activities of both agents at the center of the story, the authors paint a nice contrast between the Japanese playboy-like Yoshikawa/Morimura and the young Japanese American family man Wada whose ability expanded his role to an undercover operative posing as a newspaper reporter, as well as an interrogator of a Japanese submarine officer picked up near O‘ahu shortly after the attack.

The book seamlessly weaves in other aspects of the War, including addressing how, unlike those living on the West Coast of the mainland, the Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i were not incarcerated en masse due to the actions of some officials verifying the loyalty of Nisei towards the United States. It also tells the plight of the Issei living in Hawai‘i through the lens of Wada’s father Hisakichi, a carpenter who made Shinto shrines. While the battle of wits of the two sides makes it an interesting read, it is these types of stories that color the book and make it well worth reading.

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