Head of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, Shinichi Uematsu (Source: 47News)

Head of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, Shinichi Uematsu (Source: 47News)

That is the question raised in the Sydney Morning Herald today. According to a cable leaked exclusively to the SMH,  a secret foreign intelligence service “modelled on Western intelligence services such as the CIA, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and Britain’s MI6″ has been created as part of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office – a body of the Cabinet generally known to work primarily in open source intelligence (OSINT), i.e. news, books, and other such publications and analysis. This comes following the previous SMH Wikileaks article on US-Japanese intelligence sharing efforts, discussed here at Japan Security Watch last month.

Here’s what writer Philip Dorling has to say:

[I]n an October 2008 discussion with Randall Fort, the then head of the US State Department’s bureau of intelligence and research, the Naicho director, Hideshi Mitani, revealed that a ”human intelligence collection capability” was a priority.

[...]

”The decision has been made to go very slowly with this process as the Japanese realise that they lack knowledge, experience, and assets/officers. A training process for new personnel will be started soon,” the embassy reported.

The then head of the internal security agency, Toshio Yanagi, told Mr Fort that Japan’s most pressing intelligence priorities were ”China and North Korea, as well as on collecting intelligence information to prevent terrorist attacks”.

[...]

Tokyo’s need for intelligence collection to complement its signals and technical intelligence capabilities was supported by candid admissions to American counterparts about the lack of information on North Korea’s secretive leadership. [...]

The article leaves me cold from the get-go. To suggest the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office (CIRO/Naicho) has developed an intelligence gathering service goes against its traditional role as an intelligence-sharing organization.

In his 2002 International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence article, ‘Japan’s Growing Intelligence Capabilities,’ Andrew L Oros writes:

The CIRO is one of the six divisions of the Cabinet Secretariat within the Prime Minister’s Office, and technically speaking is Japan’s “central intelligence agency.” About half of its staff of roughly 120 are on loan from other ministries and agencies, making it by far the largest office within the Cabinet Secretariat, whose total personnel numbers 175, according to published government statistics. Despite its formal role, the CIRO has neither the resources nor personnel to be a true Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). [...]

[T]he CIRO’s limited staff and meager resources are not sufficient for its coordinating mission. According to interviews with former CIRO officials and others, the CIRO is widely known to be dominated by the National Police Agency (NPA), whose officials comprise fully half of the CIRO’s seconded staff (thus, roughly one-quarter of its total personnel). Moreover, by custom, the head of the CIRO is an official on loan from the NPA.

[...] Due to this perceived NPA dominance, the CIRO would not likely be allowed to play the role of arbiter among Japan’s powerful ministries. In fact, the opposite is probably true: through a staff largely seconded from other ministries and agencies, these outside institutions themselves negotiate through their designates what information will be shared and which projects encouraged.

However, this article is nearly 10 years old now, and his conclusion that, “In sum, the CIRO has been the focus of much attention in the last ten years – attention that resulted in numerous concrete institutional changes in the way intelligence is handled by Japan’s intelligence coordinating agency,” suggests that there is room for the kind of change suggested by Dorling.

The CIRO already contains Japan’s satellite intelligence collection body, the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, set up in 2001 to analyze and process the images and signals from Japan’s growing constellation of imagery satellites. Is it so unfeasible that they might have branched into human intelligence too?

It’s not impossible. The article suggests a slow training program to develop the handlers necessary to run agents abroad, but with secondment-style of organization between fiercely competitive ministries, it seems unlikely that much can come of it in the near future. Nor should one expect to hear about it. The Japanese approach to secrecy rivals that of Britain where SIS (better known as MI6) was officially unacknowledged until 1994. Still, if the CIRO can produce a working HUMINT capability, it could do much to help guide Japan on Chinese intentions – no doubt the primary focus of any such efforts, and something to be welcomed by security watchers.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch