Is the American government reading Japan’s email?
It seems to be reading everyone else’s. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the highest-profile known victim of America’s presumption of entitlement, in the name of security, to have access to every word, spoken or written, transmitted electronically by or to anyone anywhere on the planet.
Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor whose leaks earlier this year revealed the astonishing scope of the penetration of American antennae into – potentially – your daily communications and mine, is a hero or traitor, depending on your point of view. Either way, he has altered our consciousness. You can’t help wondering, every time you make a phone call or send an email, if it’s really just between you and your interlocutor.
U.S. allies are united in expressions of outrage. Spying is necessary and universal – but by friends on friends? A sense of betrayal ran higher and higher as fresh revelations kept surfacing, naming new targets. But what about Japan? Its name has been conspicuously absent so far from the ongoing commotion. Is the U.S. spying on its best friend in Asia?
The consensus among experts canvassed by Weekly Playboy (Nov 18) is: probably.
There’s no evidence of it so far, but experts draw their inferences from what the Snowden leaks have made clear about the seemingly limitless American appetite and capacity for information interception. Japan would seem too important an ally to be of no interest. “It likely goes on as a matter of course,” the magazine hears from journalist Tetsuya Ozeki, a former Washington bureau chief for Jiji Press.
Other factors aside, Ozeki says, “Japanese counter-espionage is decidedly under-developed both technologically and legally.” In other words: there wouldn’t be much Japan could do about it.
Takashi Fukuyama, a former Self-Defense Forces officer, says, “Japan is derisively known abroad as ‘spy heaven.’ Foreign spies know they can get away with pretty much anything here.”
Japan’s own intelligence capacities seem surprisingly weak. An organization loosely referred to as “the Japanese CIA” does exist – its official name translates as Cabinet, Prime Minister and Secretariat Investigation Bureau – but its permanent staff is numbered at 170, compared to some 30,000 at the NSA. An indication of what this could mean in practical terms is the rumor – not fact – crediting the discovery of the visit to Disneyland in 2001 by the eldest son of then-North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il to the NSA rather than to Japan’s espionage establishment.
So Japan is not interested in spying – right? Wrong. But Japan’s most active spies are not spies in the usual sense of the word; they are the police, Weekly Playboy fears.
“Justice Ministry statistics reported in the Diet show the number of applications of the Communications Monitoring Law has risen steadily,” lawyer Yuichi Kaido tells the magazine. In 2000 and 2001 there were no wiretap applications; in 2010, 34; in 2011, 27.
The police must apply to the courts for permission to monitor communications – a limited safeguard at best, says Kaido, given that the courts approve, literally, 100% of all such applications. “The courts have never,” he says, “turned down an application.” Furthermore, he adds, 91% of wiretaps conducted in 2011 did not result in criminal convictions. Whether that means the wiretapping is merely frivolous is left to the reader’s imagination.
In any event, concludes Weekly Playboy, between the NSA and Japan’s own police, it’s hard to take for granted that our communications are as private as we would like them to be.© Japan Today