Thursday, August 27, 2015

Abe Shinzo's Secrets

About three weeks ago Timothy Langley and I had a long YouTube conversation about the implications of the Wikileaks release of July 31 (Link). The release itself featured rather innocuous information regarding Japanese trade and climate change thinking in 2007. What was stunning was the information demonstrated that the United States' National Security Agency was intercepting, translating and then disseminating the transcripts of the telephone calls of Japanese government officials in Tokyo.

At that time of our conversation Mr. Langley told me that despite efforts of the current governments to downplay the significance of this spying, the story was not going away.

Looks like he was right:
Abe Asks U.S. to Investigate Alleged NSA Spying on Japanese Government
Wall Street Journal

TOKYO—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday asked U.S. President Barack Obama to investigate alleged spying by the National Security Agency on the Japanese government and companies, Mr. Abe’s spokesman said.

Documents posted online by WikiLeaks last month suggested that conversations involving government officials, central bankers and Japanese companies had been secretly intercepted by the U.S. agency. In a phone conversation Wednesday morning Tokyo time, Mr. Obama expressed regret that the issue has caused trouble for Mr. Abe and the government, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga...

It is a rare instance where the United States feels a need to express its regrets to a leader of Japan. Abe, however, has received an apology of sorts (Mr. Abe now knows what it is like to hear "Regret" when what one wants to hear is "Sorry") both from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (Link) and now from President Obama himself.

During the recording of the podcast on August 7, I thought the issue with legs would be the hunt for the door openers. The extent and depth of the infiltration into the communications of government officials, particularly the extraordinary number of telephone numbers tapped inside Japan's Ministry of Finance, indicated full cooperation, either knowing or unknowing, of Japanese entities and individuals. My thought was that the current Abe administration would demand to know who allowed the NSA access to Japan's communications networks or even physically into the ministries and the Prime Minister's Residence, that these collaborators or dupes might be reprimanded or even punished.

My thinking now, in light of Prime Minister Abe and President Obama having a conversation on a subject that should have been closed by the previous conversation with Vice President Biden, is that the prime minister has a much bigger worry on his mind.

The Wikileaks release featured analyses of internal communications from Abe's first term in office. The list of high priority targets includes "EXEC SCY TO CHIEF CAB SCY" - the executive secretary to the chief cabinet secretary -- meaning that the U.S. was listening in on the calls made by the executive secretary of the person who is the operations command center of Japan's bureaucracy, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister's staff.

Bad enough news for the alliance-- one has to have a serious attitude problem to dare tap such a nexus of power in a country that supports the U.S. in almost every instance (not to mention figures out how to pay for a lot of what the U.S. wants to do).

The timing of the tapping activity and closeness to the center of the intercepts, however, raises a searing question for Abe: what, if not everything, the United States government knows and has shared about what transpired inside the Prime Minister's Residence in late July, August and early September, 2007.

The facts that his Diet colleagues do not know.

The facts that his supporters do not know.

The facts that possibly only his closest aides, Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru know.(Link)

The sports newspapers and the weeklies accounts of Abe's last weeks in office in 2007 were pretty wild and woolly. Abe has been insulated from the repercussions of these "revelations," however, because everyone knows the sports newspapers and weeklies will print anything, no matter how implausible, misrepresented or just plain made up.

But if the U.S. was listening in to the calls being made by Yosano's executive secretary, then some folks, maybe a lot of folks, might just know...the truth.


Only semi-prophetic was I on Monday. While I did guess correctly that a close associate of the prime minister would claim the Abe administration's prudent stewardship of the Japanese economy was the reason for the sudden surge in the value of the yen, I missed guessing the identity of the perpetrator. I had hoped the claimant would be LDP Political Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi. Instead, it was the equally close Friend of Shinzo, Economic Revitalization Minister Amari Akira, who checked in with the fundamental stability claim (Link).

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence

1 comment:

Robert Dujarric said...

Every country spies. Spying on allies is often as important as gathering intel on your enemies. You want to know how reliable your partners are, what they are up to, and also how well they protect the secrets you give them. In the case of trade negotiations, there are no allies, all other countries are adversaries, so obviously you have to spy on everybody, starting with large economies (Japan's trade policy is more important to the US than that of Iceland).

Japan probably has intel operations in the US. If it doesn't it, it reflects the weakness of its national security apparatus.

Also there's an imbalance based on power relations. Pollard went to prison, probably an Israeli on the CIA payroll wouldn't have because the US would have kindly explained to Israel that Israel is highly dependent on the US. In the Japan/US case, the imbalance favors the US.

Did the NSA have assitance from Japanese when listening to the MOF's phone calls. Very hard to know without the technical knowledge of systems (which I don't) and the capabilities of the Agency, which is also unknown. But anyhow who has interacted with the GOJ notices that informal security is not taken as seriously in Tokyo than in Washington and in many NATO-European states. And it should be remembered that even in the US, there have been massive breaches due to carelessness (Aldrich Ames who was on the KGB payroll while at the CIA, Chelsea Manning, Snowden, and surely others we've never heard of).

Of course the US has to formally apologize but it's all Kabuki and the spying, of course, won't stop. The ones who need to seppuku themselves are the Japanese officials in charge of communications security.

Robert Dujarric, Temple University Japan.