As the country grappled with the disaster that awaited it at Pearl Harbor, it became clear that the attack had been triggered by the same kinds of mistakes and failures in intelligence collection and communication that have plagued U.S. war-making since the nation's founding. Intelligence had been misread or unread, vital communication channels were blocked and critical intelligence agencies were distracted. The result was a cataclysmic day that upended American naval strategy and shattered assumptions about the strength of the Japanese fleet, about American piloting ability and about the equivalence between Japan's and America's aircraft carriers.
It had taken the United States a long time to realize the lethal potential of aircraft carriers, the newest weapon in world navies. Aircraft carriers sailed 100, even 200 miles from shore, beyond the range of battleship guns, and could send dive bombers and torpedo bombers to attack their unsuspecting opponents. And the sheer number of them, sailing in close formation, offered the chance to overwhelm an entire fleet.
The problem was that the Navy's scouting system had not kept pace with the new technology. In fact, the day before the attack, radar contact with two float planes would have triggered a warning that might have saved lives, but it was not passed along from the War Information Center to Admiral Kimmel or Admiral Short.
And as for achieving surprise, the sine qua non of Yamamoto's vision of a strike on Oahu, that seemed an impossible hope. The Pacific was vast, and the strike fleet would be in transit for two weeks, in which time it might have been spotted by patrol planes or surface ships.