Newly Declassified Memo Reveals Roosevelt Was Warned of Tokyo’s Focus on Hawaii Days Before Pearl Harbor Attack

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941
The USS Maryland (BB-46) alongside the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) at Pearl Harbor. The USS West Virginia (BB-48) is burning in the background. (History Navy)

A newly released memo revealed that President Roosevelt was warned that Tokyo was focused on Hawaii days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Washington Whispers reported:

Three days before the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt was warned in a memo from naval intelligence that Tokyo’s military and spy network was focused on Hawaii, a new and eerie reminder of FDR’s failure to act on a basket load of tips that war was near.

In the newly revealed 20-page memo from FDR’s declassified FBI file, the Office of Naval Intelligence on December 4 warned, “In anticipation of open conflict with this country, Japan is vigorously utilizing every available agency to secure military, naval and commercial information, paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.”

The memo, published in the new book December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World went on to say that the Japanese were collecting “detailed technical information” that would be specifically used by its navy. To collect and analyze information, they were building a network of spies through their U.S. embassies and consulates.

Historian and acclaimed Reagan biographer Craig Shirley, author of the just released December 1941, doesn’t blame FDR for blowing it, but instead tells Whispers that it “does suggest that there were more pieces to the puzzle” that the administration missed.

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  • Patty

    Dear God!

    incredible, devastating, unimaginable and yet, for these times we live in, believable.

    All the men and women who died, treasonous.

  • Tom Doniphon

    So the PDB that W. received in August 2001 “does suggest that there were more pieces to the puzzle”! Right??

  • Patty


    “We were trying to figure out what they (al Qaeda) would do. We never had specifics about time, place, MO (method of operation).”
    U.S. intelligence official, commenting anonymously.

    Bush issued an alert but not to the public.

  • Patty

    In this article on Japan’s attack it state west coast.

  • Patty

    “In anticipation of open conflict with this country, Japan is vigorously utilizing every available agency to secure military, naval and commercial information, paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.”

    Rather close to where the target was, wouldn’t you say. Bush and this is like apples and oranges.

  • George Forman

    When the first world war failed to bring the world to heel under the League of Nations, most notably when the US Senate, then Americanist-minded, rejected (1919) the Treaty of Versailles, the table was set for another world war. The internationalists were going to have world government one way or the other.

    Did you ever stop and think. When Hitler was discharged from the Wehrmacht he was a common street artist in Munich. Within 15 years he’s the Chancellor! On his way to subduing much of Europe, attacking Russia, and upsetting world stability. Such things do not happen by accident.

  • NeoKong

    I didn’t realize that Jamie Gorelik was that old.

  • donh

    We are well past the early spy warning stage . WW3 is already breaking out into the open air in the middle east ….and Obama diddles.

  • Jaimo

    I think the appropriate comment here would be that if FDR missed these clues, can those on the right blame him for the attack on Pearl Harbor just as the progressives blamed Bush for 9/11?

    I mean fair is fair, right?

    Not that those on the right ever had a high opinion of FDR anyway.

  • Druid

    Probably a fair and accurate assessment on an international crises going on for twenty years or so… no need to sound the air raid alarms as the US and Japan had engaged in firefights already.

    While the memo says, “Japan is vigorously utilizing every available agency to secure military, naval and commercial information, paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.”

    Lastly, the “Territory of Hawaii”, no mention of the “Territory of the Philippines”, where the Japs killed over 100,000 civilians for shiites and giggles…

    Anyway, for racists wringing hands over internment of Japanese nationals after the invasion of the US territory,

    Kanahele, one of a group of islanders taken captive, was shot by the pilot. Angered, he dashed the pilot’s head against a stone wall, killing him.

  • Let’s be realistic here. The memo was so vague as to be useless.

    More to the point, if you had miraculously been able to deliver copies of the Pearl Harbor plans, in the original Japanese and signed by the emperor, to the White House and the War Department, they would not have believed it to be possible – in part because mounting a strike like that was, at the time, beyond the US’s own capability.


    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And, not always accurate. It did not soley focus on Hawaii, but mentioned West Coast and Panama. Entirely reasonable military targets. BS to FDR knew Hawaii was the target. The military comanders there did take some precausions against sabatours. Thinking that Japan would use 4 carriers so far from home waters was not really something most military intelligence would give credence too.

  • jainphx

    The question that no one has ever asked: Why were the aircraft carriers not there. Navy people will tell you that no ship steams more than carriers, but they were scheduled to be in Pearl starting on Saturday, why weren’t they there. Also The Japanese military code had been cracked the previous June. Something we will never know I guess. Fate or other, flip a coin.

  • Patty

    Is this where the saying JAPANESE SNEAK ATTACK COMES FROM, because if so, it doesn’t sound that sneaky now.

  • Of course he was. Along with 900 other bits of information. The Japanese code hadn’t been fully cracked at that point, and all they had was pieces of chatter, about all sorts of topics.

    This is like blaming President Bush for 9/11 because among the hundreds of other bits of intel was a suggestion terrorists might use a plane as a weapon. There simply wasn’t enough information to take any specific, significant action.

    And second guessing people half a century after the fact gets harder every year and less reasonable.

    FDR had a lot of problems in terms of economic policy and his far too chummy relationship with communists. He was at best apathetic toward Jews, turning back a boatload of refugees from Europe running from Nazi death camps. But he was a titan of a leader when it came to the war. Nobody is all one thing.

  • gus

    What kind of memo’s do you think CAPTAIN EARFLAPS disregards on a daily basis.

  • jainphx

    America saw the aggression in China, and did nothing, Japan saw the shambles that was our military. Trained with wooden guns etc. Somethings will maybe never known.

  • Marsh626

    And we also see yet more evidence that Americans of Japanese ancestry were indeed a threat to our national security during WWII.

  • gus

    I know what we should do. Cut military spending and apologize to Muzztards worldwide!!!!

    Obama is a fecking genius!!!!!!!

  • jainphx

    The left will never understand that weakness breads terror. Street thugs don’t pick on the strong or the potentially armed.

  • gus

    jainphx. Liberals have never been held to account for the MESS and DESTRUCTION they cause.

    Look at the Black Community. Have liberal policies created CHARACTER, INTACT FAMILIES and PROGRESS??

    And they blame CONSERVATIVES for the problems they create.

  • Molon Labe

    I believe most of the readers here are missing the point. Why would Japan want to engage in war with the USA in 1941? What policies did FDR use that drove the Japanese to this and why if FDR knowing this not change course?

  • kansas

    Panama Canal, West Coast, and Hawaii. Well that certainly narrowed it down, didn’t it? I’m not seeing any gasp worthy claims here.

  • Max Friedman

    The Japanese were collecting information on the harbors of Los Angeles, etc as early as 1934/35, buying commercial shipping maps, according to ONI records in the National Archives, College, Park. ONI noted this and said that it could be because of a need for up-to-date maps for commercial shipping, but that they would take note of it. The map buying was reported to ONI by commercial map sellers.

    FDR should have put the US military on High Alert re what was going on in the Pacific, esp. since the increase in Japanese “chatter” and the fact that they couldn’t find the Japanese main fleet.

    Our intelligence service at the time was perhistoric to non-existent. Carter emasculated our intelligence in the 1970’s (Iran and Nicaragua resulting), while Clinton recreated this same senario in the 1990’s when he allowed a firewall to be build between the FBI and the CIA (Gorelick).

    Re disloyalty among Japanese Americans. Very little actual sabotage, but some. A few openly pro-Japan/Emperor groups. You’ll find them listed on the old Subversives Organizations lists. Hoover told the President and others that the FBI had the domestic Japanese situation in hand and that there was no need to intern loyal Japanese Americans.

    Our military had outdated mentalities about what an enemy could do and we paid for it. They downplayed Billy Mitchell’s use of airpower to sink ships. Said that the Japanese weren’t smart enough to launch major oceanic campaigns, and felt that our planes were good enough to face an enemy. Once the Zero came in, this stupid mentality went down the toilet. Thank God our P38 and P40 pilots learned how to adapt to fighting the Japanese (the P38 could match the Zero in climbing/turning ability when its’ flying capabilities were reevaluated due to someone listening to US combat pilots in their AfterAction Reports). These docs are also at the Archives.

    We are never prepared for the next war or conflict. I once was talking with an Israeli combat officer who was part of the Israel-Egypt negotiating team after the 1973 October War. After learning what he did in the negotiations, I asked him what his fellow officers were doing next, and he said, “Planning for the next war.”

    If only we had leaders who could think beyond the next budget or the next 4 years.

  • Tom Doniphon

    #9 Jaimo

    That is exactly the point I was trying to make about President Bush. What was he supposed to do in August and September of 2001. Maybe profile young Arab men in airports?

    FDR ordered the internment of 500,000 Japanese-American CITIZENS! This was perfectly OK at the time and is seldom condemned by FDR loving libs today. Their property was confiscated, for goodness sake! The SCOTUS ruled in favor of the internment in Korematsu vs. United States. FDR is the sacred ICON of crazy liberal America.

    Bush detained 500 blood-thirty, death cult, NON-CITIZEN, ALIEN, Jihadist at Camp Delta. He made the world a much safer place by taking the fight to those dirty bastards! W. is a WAR CRIMINAL to crazy liberal America.


  • Tom Doniphon

    I might add that Obama has solved the inconvenient problem of detention, interrogation, and military tribunal by simply BLOWING THEY ASS UP!

    Certainly easier and quicker, but I’m not sure about it being morally superior!

    I’m OK with it, don’t get me wrong, but I do wonder about the loss of intel!

  • rickl

    #13 November 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm
    jainphx commented:

    The question that no one has ever asked: Why were the aircraft carriers not there.

    Actually, people have been speculating about the movements of the carriers for 70 years. On December 7th:

    USS Langley (CV-1): She had been converted to a seaplane tender a few years earlier and redesignated AV-3. She was in the Philippines.

    USS Lexington (CV-2): Enroute to Midway Island to deliver a squadron of Marine fighter planes.

    USS Saratoga (CV-3): Arriving at San Diego from Bremerton, WA.

    USS Ranger (CV-4): In the Atlantic en route to Norfolk, VA.

    USS Yorktown (CV-5): In port at Norfolk.

    USS Enterprise (CV-6): On her way back to Pearl Harbor after delivering Marine fighter planes to Wake Island. Some of her planes were shot down by jumpy anti-aircraft gunners when they tried to land at Pearl later that day.

    USS Wasp (CV-7): In port at Bermuda.

    USS Horner (CV-8): Newly commissioned; conducting training at Norfolk.

    It seems that the only carriers actually based at Pearl Harbor at the time were Lexington and Enterprise, and they were both out on missions to reinforce the defenses of other islands in the Pacific.

  • Matt

    The Republicans were isolationist.

    FDR wanted to enter WWII.

    I don’t think that he knew that that Japan was going to attack Hawaii, but he wanted them to attack.

    And by doing so he saved Europe.

  • Patty

    The Warnings
    The U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and knew an attack was imminent. A warning had been sent from Washington, but it arrived too late.

    Early warning radar was new technology. Japanese planes were spotted by radar before the attack, but they were assumed to be a flight of American B-17s due in from the West Coast. Read the eyewitness account

    The Attack
    On December 7th 1941, on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning on a beautiful Hawaiian island, the first wave of Japanese airplanes left 6 aircraft carriers and struck Pearl Harbor a few minutes before 8 AM local time. See Map of Pearl Harbor

    In two waves of terror lasting two long hours, they killed or wounded over 3,500 Americans and sank or badly damaged 18 ships – including all 8 battleships of the Pacific Fleet – and over 350 destroyed or damaged aircraft. At least 1,177 lives were lost when the Battleship U.S.S. Arizona More about the Arizona exploded and subsequently sank.

    Eyewitness Accounts Read books by Survivors
    Read accounts from the people who were there.

    However, they did not sink any of our Pacific aircraft carriers and they left most of the fuel that was needed to win the war in the Pacific.

    In one stroke, the Japanese navy scored a brilliant success—and assured their ultimate defeat.

    The Japanese attack brought the U.S. into the war on December 8—and brought it in the war determined to fight to the finish. more @ link

  • Patty

    History books will be rewritten.

  • Patty

    Before The Attack
    September 1940. The U.S. placed an embargo on Japan by prohibiting exports of steel, scrap iron, and aviation fuel to Japan, due to Japan’s takeover of northern French Indochina.

    April 1941. The Japanese signed a neutrality treaty with the Soviet Union to help prevent an attack from that direction if they were to go to war with Britain or the U.S. while taking a bigger bite out of Southeast Asia.

    June 1941 through the end of July 1941. Japan occupied southern Indochina. Two days later, the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands froze Japanese assets. This prevented Japan from buying oil, which would, in time, cripple its army and make its navy and air force completely useless.

    Toward the end of 1941. With the Soviets seemingly on the verge of defeat by the Axis powers, Japan seized the opportunity to try to take the oil resources of Southeast Asia. The U.S. wanted to stop Japanese expansion but the American people were not willing to go to war to stop it. The U.S. demanded that Japan withdraw from China and Indochina, but would have settled for a token withdrawal and a promise not to take more territory.

    Prior to December 1941, Japan pursued two simultaneous courses: try to get the oil embargo lifted on terms that would still let them take the territory they wanted, and … to prepare for war.

    After becoming Japan’s premier in mid-October, General Tojo Hideki See Books about Tojo secretly set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept a settlement without war.

    The Japanese military was asked to devise a war plan. They proposed to sweep into Burma, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Philippines, in addition to establishing a defensive perimeter in the central and southwest Pacific. They expected the U.S. to declare war but not to be willing to fight long or hard enough to win. Their greatest concern was that the U.S. Pacific Fleet, based in Pearl Harbor could foil their plans. As insurance, the Japanese navy undertook to cripple the Pacific Fleet by a surprise air attack. See Books about Japanese Plans more @ link

  • Chris Balsz

    COME ON. What was FDR supposed to do, bang his fist on the desk and holler “Why, their fleet must be halfway across the Pacific”? Cause it was.

    Focusing on attack in “Hawaii, the West Coast and the Panama Canal” would totally have missed the Japanese attacks on the Brits and Dutch and the US forces in the Philippines on December 8th.

    This sort of “scoop” is only possible with a public mostly 2 generations removed from the war.

  • Dunce

    There was another book that was written 30 or 40 years after the war by a retired naval intelligence officer who kept silent because the information was classified for that long, The title as i recall was “And I Was There”. It was very well written but this new book may well have information he was not privy to.

  • Rob M

    Lots of good comments debunking the value of this memo above.. I’ll add this… War with Japan was just not given full weight ( even after we declared war on them ).. it was all about Europe for a lot of reasonable reasons. Too… racism… our military, much less our political brains in DC did NOT feel threatened by Japan to the extent that, IMO, the Navy at the time was severely complacent and couldn’t comprehend of the Japanese Navy doing what they did.

    No conspiracies. Just human nature. Looks awful in hindsight, but until they attacked, and did so with such an emotional loss of life ( remember, militarily, it was not an effective attack ) only drew us into the wider war and from Dec 8th on, Japan was losing the war… it was never in doubt.. only the treasure of life lost to beat them. And they deserved everything they got. Utter and complete defeat theater-wide and on the home islands.

  • RedBeard

    I doubt there is anyone here who has a lower opinion of F.D.R. than I do, and the last thing I would want to do is defend the big boob, but this “revelation” is just a load of hindsight crapola.

    Imperial Japan, located west of our west coast, and clearly wanting to take over the entire Pacific, was gathering info on [gasp] our west coast and outlying territories. Golly, what a bombshell! No one could possibly have foreseen that interest by merely reading a newspaper or listening to the radio. [insert rolling eyes here]

    There remains no evidence that the U.S. government or the top military brass knew in advance that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. This is a non-story. Fake journalism. Book peddling.

  • BillT

    …paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.”

    That Roosevelt knew this much has been known for years. This isn’t news.

  • Redpillpatriot

    Both Bush and FDR “overlooked” these threats to speed the process of war for political and or economic reasons. I don’t know if they knew for sure, I doubt it, but they both had good reason to know. Duh, 1993 WTC bombings should have been the first clue. They were both negligent, either purposely or just asleep at wheel. But, it is a hell of alot easier to see an armada heading for your main naval base than some dirty arabs all getting on a plane together.

  • Steve

    This sounds about as actionable as “Bin Laden determined to attack US” was in the summer of 2001. In both cases, it was a failure of imagination on our part. In 2001, nobody thought that the Johnny Jihads would use passenger jets as cruise missiles. In the fall of 1941, nobody thought the Japanese could send the primary striking force of their navy across the Pacific without being detected and strike at Hawaii. And, if FDR was warned that the Japanese were “gathering intelligence”, that might help to explain why our airplanes were lined up wingtip to wingtip when the Japanese attacked.

    There’s a famous conversation, I don’t remember if it was FDR or someone in his cabinet. The “Air Raid, Pearl Harbor, this is no drill” message came to DC, and the person who received it had the response “surely they must mean the Philippines!”, to which the person delivering the message said “No, sir, this is Pearl”.

  • avery

    My Uncle was their.He said to his dying day that we”ll was set up.

  • MN Jim

    I used to work with a guy who said that during WWII he was with a West Coast military group that set up telephone poles pointed out to sea and painted them to look like artillery guns. They knew that Japanese subs were checking out the area and wanted them to think we were armed and ready.

  • bigL

    how bout Arab doods going to flight schools and only wanting to learn to fly a jet not take off and/or land?
    How bout the parasailor in august 01 landing on the Statue of Liberty and every one making a joke about the fat policeman climbing over a rail to arrest the guy, Gee no securutyt and the world big port that a guy could do that?
    20-20 hind sight. Not an FDR fan but this is ridiculous. there were other tips maybe more impt
    maybe but not this

  • Westie

    There’s a lot more to learn about FDR’s fascination with Fascism/Communism. Not only is he guilty, guilty, guilty of a cover-up on Pearl Harbor attack, he utilized war as a way to deflect from the many other failures of his worthless policies. FDR was a Fascist and the resulting tragedy is that he enabled the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe and the rise of Mao in China. The history reveals FDR’s faulty/corrupted leadership to have been the catalyst for Democide of 100’s of millions of innocent human’s from Eastern Europe, the USSR, Mao’s China, the Korean & Vietnam wars and the Cambodian massacre. This is always the result when the left gains power every time. Watch how many old-time commies will be attracted to defend their FDR as God like, just as they always do about Uncle Joe, and all the other butchers.
    For real info on the KGB penetration of the FDR guv read about the VENONA TRANSCRIPTS.

  • Gary

    This is no surprise. It was rumored for years and has been included in the story line of books and movies.
    Roosevelt also conspired with Churchill (supposedly a distant cousin, i think) to have Americans aboard British and European ships when they were attacked by German submarines in order to anger Americans into the war against Germany (which at the time most Americans opposed)

  • FDR had been trying to get us involved in WWII — not just selling weapons and planes, etc. to Britain, but actively helping. He knew about the treaty between Japan and Germany that if we declared war against one, the other would declare war with us. I don’t consider this an excuse for his treason, but it is, no doubt, the reason. We were told during the war that he had left the Japanese Ambassador alone when that man went to warn him — whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. We never knew for sure that he knew about the planned attack on Hawaii. That is probably why some of the ships that were at Pearl had been sent out to sea. Unfortunately, he left men on the ones in the base — and if Iran is allowed to get the nuclear weapons they are working on, we may see the mainland here sacrificed for the whim of another treasonous president.

  • Derek

    “…….paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.”

    This is the very first conspiracy theory that I ever heard…the one where FDR knew what was coming up. But let’s take a look at the above remark – and we can see that “intelligence” had narrowed down the possible field of attack to, say, 10,000 to 20,000 nautical miles. That’s not quiet enough data to suggest that the ball was dropped. I mean, how much data had to be collected to identify Midway as a definite target?

    Here’s a thought for you. There is no conspircy. Things happen and there is no big bad boogey man trying to get you.

    Here’s another one. War was coming. One way or the other, it was coming. Hitler wasn’t going to stop and neither was Hirohito. So with this in mind, what would YOU have done?

  • Sandy

    Americans were not interested in helping Great Britain fight the Nazis. Our country was isolationist and unless we were attacked there was little chance of getting Americans into war mode. Therefore we were attacked. If we question Roosevelt’s motives we should look at Churchill’s allowing the Nazis to attack Coventry.

  • chuck in st paul

    Meh. A non event. Really.

    #11, #12, #32, et al, I totally agree with you folks. This message covers half the American Pacific. It’s like saying, “Warning. Hitler’s probably going to attack Europe.” Yeah. Okay. When and at which PARTICULAR place?

  • Sandy

    Churchill Let Coventry Burn To Protect His Secret Intelligence. Roosevelt and Churchill also failed to bomb train tracks leading to Auchwitz to save Jewish lives because they didn’t want the Nazis to know they had broken their code.

    Shocking by today’s standards but should we judge these leaders by today’s standards? At war’s end 52 million people were killed. But we defeated a monster and perhaps that’s all that matters. I worry about the leadership in today’s world having the guts to take on a monster. Peace through Strengh is all monsters understand–they spit on appeasement.

  • Chad

    My question is why is this worth bringing up?

    Japan was focusing it’s intelligence assets on the main anchorage of the only fleet they considered a threat to their goals?

    That’s such an obvious statement that the memo may as well read: “Water is wet.”

    Or are conspiracy nuts expecting the WW2-era Japanese to focus on Tulsa, Oklahoma instead?

  • Freddy

    Gosh, so the super secret hidden forever details, that happen to be in the 1970 movie “TORA, TORA, TORA”, are all true?

    Talk about a useless revelation. This was an OLD story in the 50’s!

  • burt

    All of these facts have been known from the beginning. Wiston Churchill put his troops in Asia on alert when the Japanese fleet left port. He told Roosevelt to do the same, but it was not done. The navy read the messages to the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. They knew an attack was coming, but when they did get around to sending a warning to Pearl Harbor, they used Western Union instead the navy’s own direct channels of communications. Even a six hour warning would have saved many lives. Too be a real bastard, Roosevelt then blamed the defeat on the Army and navy commanders who had never been in Roosevelt’s circle of knowledge. American history is now a NO-no in American schools, so with no interest in history Franklin Roosevelt is going to remain a God!

  • burt

    Anyone interest look up article about Admiral Kimmel and General Short.

  • kingslayor

    In some ways kinda sound like what China is doing to the U.S. right now!!!

  • Gary B.

    Most of you are correct. This is old news.

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  • Drounli

    1. The double agent TRICYCLE briefed J. Edgar Hoover on the intense interest the Japanese had about Pearl Harbor. Hoover didn’t pass it on becase he hated British Intelligence.
    2. Read the following books:
    Henry Clausen: Pearl Harbor-Final Judgment.
    He travelled the world with top-secret orders, “Tell him everything pertinent whether he asks for it or not.” Also a collection of documents including MAGIC intercepts to prove he had unlimited access.
    Robert Stennet: Day of Deceit
    This shows that the Navy still lied to Clausen. It includes a copy of an October 1940 document detailing an 8-point program to force Japan to attack. Roosevelt did every one.
    John Tolland: Infamy
    This includes details on the coverup, and how the internment of the Nisei was illegally prepared in Sept. 1941.

    Pearl Harbor is one of the most lied-about events in history. First it was surprise. Then, when MAGIC was declassified, they said that was just the diplomatic code–the Navy code was never broken. Then in ’91, they were forced to admit in court that was a lie–oh, but the attack force was under radio silence. Stennet only found several hundred intercepts from it in the national archives–finally declassified in about ’98. They told Clausen there were no translators at Pearl–which is contradicted by Rochefort’s memoirs, among others.

    Also, the British ULTRA had broken the Navy codes and intercepts were being passed to Washington. There are several books by participants.

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