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Espionage
 

Caingat

In October 1940, U.S. Army Captain and Honors West Point graduate Rufo C. Romero was arrested and subsequently convicted of attempting to sell for $25,000 ($291,000 in 1999 dollars) classified maps of Bataan and Corregidor to an Army-concocted Mindanao Sultan with implied Japanese  connections.

Japan's interest in Corregidor began long before its December 1941 invasion of the Philippines. In 1910 U.S. Army counterintelligence elements caught two members of the Japanese Consulate General staff in Manila attempting to bribe an Army soldier and German-born Manila resident with $25,000 to photograph Corregidor.

In another intriguing 1910 incident, a case of Corregidor fortification blueprints were stolen and found later on the streets of Calcutta. In 1912 a Filipino draughtsman in the Army's chief engineer's office stole a confidential map of Corregidor. He was arrested and sentenced to one year in jail and given a fine of $1,000 which was the maximum penalty then under American law.

A decade later blueprints of Corregidor's fortifications were again lost under suspicious circumstances. The investigation led to a Japanese agent. The papers were retrieved and little fanfare was given to this episode.

In September 1924 Private Frank Costa of the U.S. Army's 31st infantry Regiment (posted to Manila's old Spanish walled city) was charged with attempting to sell an Army map of Corregidor for one million pesos (US$500,000)."

"In October 1940, U.S. Army Captain and Honors West Point graduate Rufo Caingat Romero was arrested and subsequently convicted of attempting to sell for $25,000 ($291,000 in 1999 dollars) classified maps of Bataan and Corregidor to an Army-concocted Mindanao Sultan with implied Japanese connections. Romero, the regimental intelligence and topographic officer for the Philippine Scouts 14th Engineer Regiment, was cashiered and sentenced to 15 years in prison at McNeil Island penitentiary in Washington State.

Romero is the only U.S. Military Academy graduate to ever be tried and convicted on espionage charges. Romero's American wife - the former Lorraine Becker of Brooklyn, New York - was a battered spouse but also a witting collaborator in this aborted map selling effort. Mrs. Romero was never charged with a crime and subsequently survived the Japanese occupation of Manila and the destructive liberation of Manila in 1945."

"I would be interested in corresponding with anyone who possesses knowledge of any of the aforementioned espionage cases and particularly with anyone who knew Captain Romero and/or his American wife Lorraine as I am currently writing a history of this particular espionage case."

Scott Harrison

 

This all looked very interesting, so CT&N wrote to Scott for a little more background.  He responded:

 

Dear Ed,

My interest in Corregidor is an outgrowth of my father's generation and their World War II combat experiences. As a university undergraduate and graduate student, military history was also a constant fascination and pursuit.  I worked in Manila between 1976 and 1982.  During those six years my fascination began to focus on the pre-war U.S. military experience in the Philippines and the Raj-like existence of the peacetime U.S. Army & Navy in the Orient.

In 1994 I finally transformed nearly two decades of systematic reading into the U.S. military experience in the Philippines into a book project. Since then I have spent free evenings and weekends researching old records and archives and tracking down pre-war veterans.

Among those contacts have been a number of Corregidor veterans. The story of pre-war barracks life on Corregidor and what it was like to be an officer, enlisted man, military spouse or child growing up on the Rock are all a part of my vision for my still evolving book project.

Concurrently, I have been tracking down pre-war veterans of "Station Cast" and hope some day to write a detailed monograph about this fascinating naval intercept station.

Likewise, I am now finishing a lengthy journal article of the 1940 espionage trial of U.S. Army Captain Rufo Romero. Romero was charged and convicted of attempting to sell for $25,000 ($290,000 in 1999 dollars) classified maps of Corregidor and Bataan to a fictitious Sultan the U.S. Army concocted in a sting operation to snare Romero after it was discovered he was attempting to peddle these maps.

I stumbled upon the Romero case quite by accident. Several Bataan veterans I interviewed in 1995 provided garbled versions of the case. It took me until the summer of 1997 to have the courts martial record declassified and to ascertain the true nature of the case. Since then I have interviewed a number of people who either knew or served with Romero,  including one of his West Point classmates.

As for the maps Romero photocopied and was attempting to peddle, there were 15 including several overlays of the Bataan fortifications and defensive positions designed to thwart invaders. While several of the maps dealt with Corregidor, most were of Bataan. I have verbal descriptions of the maps seized in Romero's home, but copies of the classified maps were not made a part of the physical trial record.

Romero - according to the trial testimony of the commander of the Philippine Scouts 14th Engineer Regiment - was among the U.S. Army's most knowledgeable experts on the topography, road and trail network and defensive positions on Bataan. He would have been a stellar source for the Japanese and there is circumstantial evidence suggesting he was in fact a Japanese spy prior to the sting operation in 1940 which resulted in his arrest.

I have sought to confirm Romero's possible spy status with a search of FBI and State Department records in the U.S. National Archives. The traces were negative. I have also attempted to review the "Purple" decrypts on messages from the Japanese Consulate in Manila to see if there was any direct or vague reference to an American spy which would match with Romero's profile, but so far no luck on that front. This latter issue will probably be the subject of a second short posting for your website. It would be directed to the veterans of Station Cast and people familiar with cryptoanalysis to see if there might be a few Romero leads there.

I have a Filipino researcher currently tracking down Romero's antecedents and pre-college school records for me. Romero was quite brilliant and graduated 16th in his West Point class.

Romero's American wife Lorraine is still alive and lives in the United States. For obvious reasons she does not want to talk with me and has asked others whom she knows to do the same.

I hope my article, which I hope to submit to the Journal of Military History, will stimulate further debate on Corregidor-related intelligence issues on your website and elsewhere.

Yours faithfully
Scott Harrison

 

BACKGROUND BRIEFING

 

TIME MAGAZINE -

Monday, Dec. 02, 1940

 

President Manuel Luis Quezon of the Philippines governs his islands like the shrewd little tango dancer that he is. His jaunty administration has helped to convince many Filipinos that they have nothing to fear from the single-lidded gaze of the Japanese narrowing southward across the Philippines toward Singapore and the East Indies. Last week the Philippines looked and sounded like anything but a great tension point of the Far East. The defense budget had been sliced in half. Government money was being poured out for beautification. Manila's boulevards were shining with the fašades of new public buildings and loud with the riveting of further construction. There was talk of building a resplendent new capitol out in suburban Quezon City. The dining rooms and bars of a huge new jai alai palace were going full blast. So was the new, prophetically named Casa Ma˝ana nightclub.

 

But under the giddy surface there was talk of trouble. Some of it was economic —about the huge copra crop, for instance, cut off from European markets by World War II. But most of the talk naturally concerned Japan. Admiral Thomas Charles Hart, Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet, had decided to evacuate 2,000 Navy wives from the Philippines. He had said, diplomatically, that their husbands would be on patrol duty a great deal. And jittery gossip went around Manila concerning the U. S. Army court-martial of brown, good-looking little Rufo Romero.

 

Rufo Romero, 35, is the illegitimate son of a poor Filipino mother. He grew up to be a brilliant student at the University of the Philippines. Then he went to West Point, where he had the stand of 17th in the class of 1931. After graduation he married a 17-year-old girl from The Bronx, was stationed for further training at Fort Belvoir, Va. While there, hot-tempered Romero was often accused by brother officers of an inferiority complex, possibly due to his lowly background. He arranged parties for the late Resident Commissioner of the Philippines Pedro Guevera, and after one such affair called up Guevera in Washington at midnight, bawled him out for not paying for liquor consumed at the party. Assigned to his native Philippines, Romero rose to a captaincy in the Philippine Scouts (Filipino soldiers officered mostly by West Pointers). A month ago the U. S. Army arrested Captain Romero, put him on trial for selling military secrets. Out of the closed court-martial proceedings many rumors began leaking: that the testimony was dynamite, that Romero had been dealing with the Spanish Consulate, which had served as a go-between for Tokyo. The accused, it was reported, denied everything.

 

Last week Rufo Romero made one of the most unusual protestations of innocence in legal history, one of the strangest of the Orient's many historic face-saving gestures. He offered to undergo any kind of brain surgery that would knife out of his head any recollection of military matters. He wanted to save his face even if it meant losing his memory.

 

He was not given the chance. At trial's end, he got 15 years in jail, dishonorable discharge, loss of pay allowances. His chief crime: giving secret maps to unauthorized persons.

 

 

 

 

 

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