Friday, June 01, 2012

I Spy With My Little Eye

There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.

- H. L. Mencken (1917)
The Shingetsu News Agency has just put up a story, "Japan’s “Spy” Case That Probably Isn’t." The article very kindly notes my skepticism regarding the narrative spewed out by Channel Sakura, the Yomiuri Shimbun and others -- that First Secretary of the Embassy of China Li Chunguang (now that the National Police Agency has sent papers to the Embassy, the mainstream news media is finally showing his image and reporting his name) used (a) bank account(s) opened under false premises to receive funds from Japanese companies. These funds were then used to pay for spying activities.

The SNA report speculates that a far more probable explanation for the illegal bank account(s) was Li's seeking to build up a little nest egg outside the knowledge of his superiors and outside China.

Correspondence with two veteran Asia watchers, one a Japan specialist, the other a businessman with decades of experience in China, finds them in agreement with the SNA: this is a story about an individual's greed.

I wish I could believe the simple answer. Occam's Razor suggests I should.

However, I cannot.

There are loose ends that make my head ache:

- Li purportedly could open bank accounts in Japan using an alien registration card (gaikokujin toroku shomeisho) which had been issued by a local municipality -- no reports as to which one (See second update below - Ed.) -- after he presented his old Tokyo University ID card.

Can one actually do this? In my experience, unless one can produce a passport, one which the staff members at the ward/town office will always politely ask whether or not they might photocopy, you had might as well not show up at all.

So Li showed up at the ward/town office with his expired Todai ID and a fake passport. The simplest answer as to how he procured this fake passport was from Chinese intelligence. However, it is not the only way he could have procured a faked passport.

Li, for attempting this runaround, must have nerves of steel: so many things could have gone wrong, exposing him. Except, of course, if higher authorities from the central government had forewarned the ward/town office of Li's request for an alien registration card, resulting in Li's documents not being examined with the ward/town's usual level of diligence.

- News reports have Li being under surveillance since 2007. The NPA knows/learns that he is a graduate of the People's Liberation Army language training program and a member of the PLA General Staff. It follows him around for five years (a long span of time for a diplomat to remain at a post - a flashing red light) as he visits and interacts with members of the Diet, the bureaucracy and the business community.

He is likely the highest-level asset China has in Tokyo. He has been followed for half a decade...and the NPA burns him over illegally obtained bank accounts?

Non, non, non, non, suis un con, mais je ne suis pas con au point de croire cela...

We must assume that NPA counterintelligence would never permit the exposure of a compromised asset of Li's stature.

So the most plausible scenario is that someone inside the NPA made a huge mistake, such as:

- NPA counterintelligence uses the illegal bank accounts in order to threaten Li in what is a clumsy attempt to turn Li into a double agent. Knowing his cover blown and his illegal accounts compromised, Li goes back to his superiors with the bad news. Having failed in its amateurish attempt to blackmail Li into betraying his country, the NPA places a formal request with the Embassy to question Li. His usefulness in Tokyo now zero, Li is whisked back to China.

- A misguided patriot inside the financial crimes division, learning that a Chinese diplomat is conducting business inside Japan using false bank accounts and furious that his division does nothing to stop such criminal behavior, leaks information on Li to the right wing press -- in the same way Isshiki Masaharu leaked the video of a Chinese fishing vessel colliding with two Japan Coast Guard vessels in November 2010. The NPA, realizing that Li's cover is about to be irretrievably blown, resigns itself into allowing the financial crimes division to pursue Li through formal procedures.

...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth...

- Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four (1890)

Later - In my first post on the Li Chunguang Affair, I identified Akihiko Tanaka as the Vice President of Tokyo University. Reader RS reminds me that since April 1, Tanaka has been the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) - Link.

Later still - For the record, the NPA's sending of papers to Li via the Embassy of China makes sense only as a courtesy to the news media, allowing them to start showing Li's face and referring to him by name. As a holder of diplomatic passport, Li had full immunity from arrest for his violations of the Alien Registration Act.

Also for the record, Li filed his false application for an alien registration card and received it in Katsushika City (Katsushika-ku).

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