Japan and the NSA

I’ve been combing media for any mention of Japan’s involvement with the NSA, and so far, as I noted a while back, there hasn’t been any. But finally an agency story came out recently, reported in the Japan Times and this is what it said:

The U.S. National Security Agency sought the Japanese government’s cooperation in 2011 over wiretapping fiber-optic cables carrying phone and Internet data across the Asia-Pacific region, but the request was rejected, sources said Saturday.

The agency’s overture was apparently aimed at gathering information on China given that Japan is at the heart of optical cables that connect various parts of the region. But Tokyo turned down the proposal, citing legal restrictions and a shortage of personnel, the sources said.

“The NSA asked Tokyo if it could intercept personal information from communication data passing through Japan via cables connecting it, China and other regional areas, including Internet activity and phone calls, they said.

Faced with China’s growing presence in the cyberworld and the need to bolster information about international terrorists, the United States may have been looking into whether Japan, its top regional ally, could offer help similar to that provided by Britain, according to the sources.

Based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, British newspaper The Guardian reported that the agency had been sharing data intercepted by Britain’s spy agency, GCHQ, through transatlantic cables since 2011.

But Tokyo decided it could not do so because under current legislation, it cannot intercept such communications even if the aim is to prevent a terrorist act. Japan also has a substantially smaller number of intelligence personnel, compared with the NSA’s estimated 30,000 employees, the sources said.

A separate source familiar with intelligence activities of major nations said the volume of data that would need to be intercepted from fiber-optic cables would require a massive number of workers and the assistance of the private sector.”

(Kyodo News Agency in Japan Times)

I’m not sure who the ‘sources’ are, but they are either practicing the art of disinformation or they simply don’t know what they are talking about. The basic data gathering and processing is done by automated systems not human beings. And, as to what special ‘permissions’ the NSA needs, I’m not sure why they need more than they already have under the existing secret agreements. I can only guess that this is a pre-emptive story that is designed to assuage any public or political concern in advance of possible information being released by Greenwald and Snowden in the same vein as that recently released about Brazil, Germany and Spain.

If you see this alongside the new law that has been introduced into the Japanese Diet by the current government that would extend government secrecy in Japan (including longer sentences for whistleblowers – more about this tomorrow) then it seems pretty clear that Japan is still one of the USA’s most loyal subjects not a nation that can say ‘no’.

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

2 thoughts on “Japan and the NSA”

  1. You can see the cautious and conservative approach of the Japanese government in this release. Carefully crafted messaging to allow for political wiggle room. And perhaps another indication of Japan running towards the arms of the US as China increasingly shows off its muscles?

  2. Absolutely. Japan, Britain, Canada and Israel seem to be the only countries standing firmly behind the USA over all this.

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