Japan Must Further Enhance its Intelligence Defense and Gathering Capabilities

Seiji Fuji

The JSDF employs cyber defense before military counterattacks

 The February 6 Morning Edition of The Sankei Shimbun ran an article on its front page, titled, “Official MOFA Telegram Information Leaked: Chinese Cyberattack.” It read:

“On February 5, a government official announced that a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) system was targeted by a cyberattack in 2020, resulting in an information leak. The system is used for diplomatic telegrams, including confidential information, exchanged with overseas diplomatic missions. It employs a special encryption method and does not go through the regular internet. Diplomatic telegrams must be kept secret, and it is highly unusual for them to be leaked.” “Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi avoided mentioning any particular facts of this case at a press conference. He said, ‘We have not confirmed the leak of any confidential information possessed by MOFA.’” “Diplomatic telegrams include information about other countries and diplomatic negotiations. Used for official communication between MOFA and overseas missions, they are exchanged via an international Internet Protocol VPN (IPVPN), a virtual private network system isolated from the regular internet. No announcement has been made about the scope of information leaked, telegram content, or how the leak was discovered. A leader in the government’s cyber division said the leak is ‘an unacceptable circumstance.’” “The United States and others have expressed concern about Japan’s fragile cyber defense, and Japan has been asked to strengthen its security.” “The website of The Washington Post, an American newspaper, reported in August 2023 that the American National Security Agency (NSA) discovered in autumn 2020 that Japan’s defense networks (which contain classified information) were compromised by Chinese military hackers. The NSA informed the Japanese government of the hack.” “Enhanced cybersecurity measures were clearly specified in the government’s National Security Strategy (NSS) established in December 2022. The staff of the Cabinet Office’s National center of Incident readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC) will be doubled in FY2024.”

 Other experts have also pointed out the weakness of Japan’s cybersecurity. Mihoko Matsubara worked in the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and studied abroad in the U.S. before becoming NTT’s chief cybersecurity strategist. Her book, Ukraine’s Cyber War, was published by SHINCHOSHA in August 2023. The final chapter is titled, “Conclusion: What Should Japan Do?”

“In light of the circumstances in Ukraine and Taiwan, there are three principle actions that Japan must immediately take in the cybersecurity field.” “First, Japan must make integrated efforts to enhance its cyber defense capabilities, including the MOD and JSDF.” “Second, Japan should be prepared to retaliate in an emergency, both in the cyber realm and using firepower. The government and private sector alike must conduct cyber exercises and multi-domain drills.” “Third, Japan should share its cybersecurity knowledge with allies and partners to show that Japan is worthy of trust as a partner country. Japan should expand and strengthen its international cooperation.”

 Disruptive cyberattacks, such as ransomware, can cause a great deal of damage to infrastructure. This danger “was demonstrated by the attack on Colonial Pipeline in May 2021. This American company’s operations shut down for five days, causing a fuel shortage at thousands of gas stations in the U.S. and forcing American Airlines to change its flight routes.” Matsubara says:

“Japan should pay attention to what happened in the Colonial Pipeline attack; in July 2023 there was a ransomware attack on the Port of Nagoya, which handles the largest annual amount of freight in Japan.” “The system failure halted container unloading for two days, significantly impacting supply chains for Toyota Motor Corporation, apparel manufacturers in Nagoya, and other companies.”

 The Cabinet made a decision about the NSS to combat these attacks in December 2022. The strategy declares that “Japan will introduce active cyber defense for eliminating in advance the possibility of serious cyberattacks that may cause national security concerns to the Government and critical infrastructures and for preventing the spread of damage in case of such attacks, even if they do not amount to an armed attack.” The Defense Buildup Program specifies that the JSDF Cyber Defense Command staff will be increased from 890 to approximately 4,000 people by the end of FY2027. Along with these efforts, Matsubara calls for public-private collaboration and states the need for regular exercises as well.

Japan has suffered fewer ransomware attacks than other countries

 In addition to enhanced cybersecurity, Matsubara advocates for the importance of explaining and sharing information about Japan’s knowledge and initiatives.

“Two recent incidents have made me particularly concerned about Japan’s communication abilities. Firstly, many people assume Japan has poor cybersecurity abilities without knowing any actual statistics or examples. I happened to be in Washington, D.C. in mid-January 2023, when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with American President Joe Biden. I was glad to hear praise for the three defense documents and to personally sense the growing momentum for increased Japan-U.S. collaboration. However, I was bothered by the multiple people who said that Japanese cybersecurity is the biggest thing hindering the Japan-America relationship.” “Each time, I immediately refuted their claims. I responded that, according to a 2021 survey by the American security company Proofpoint, Japan had the lowest number of ransomware attacks and ransom payment rate among the seven countries surveyed (Japan, U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, and Spain).” “Furthermore, serious attacks like Colonial Pipeline take place frequently in the U.S., not in Japan.”

 Matsubara believes Japan must fully convey the strong points of its cybersecurity to other countries as a way to earn their trust.

The State Security Law lets Japan share intelligence with other countries

 For many years, Japan lacked sufficient awareness regarding intelligence leaks. Because Japan was seen as a country where it was easy to obtain information, many spies infiltrated Tokyo and other areas. Some even ridiculed Japan as a “haven” for espionage. America and other allies were reluctant to give Japan their intelligence for this reason, and believed in the serious risk that the most confidential information would be leaked. Japan struggled for a long time to properly maintain and manage this confidential intelligence.
Things changed significantly during Shinzo Abe’s second term as prime minister. Wedge ONLINE posted an article on May 20, 2022, “Japan’s Intelligence Revolution During the Second Abe Administration.” Part of the INTELLIGENCE MIND column, this piece was written by Nihon University Professor Ken Kotani, Japan’s leading intelligence researcher.

“A major revolution took place in the intelligence field during Abe’s second administration.” “It began with the Policy for Strengthening Intelligence Functions at the Official Residence published by the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office on February 14, 2008. This report listed many points to be improved in Japan’s intelligence. Issues of particular difficulty included enhancing human intelligence gathering functions in foreign countries, and legislation regarding confidential information security.” “After Abe was inaugurated for a second time in December 2012, the government began making efforts to solve these two challenges.” “Intelligence was reformed via a triangle composed of three government officials: Abe, then-House of Representatives Member Nobutaka Machimura, and then-Director of Cabinet Intelligence Shigeru Kitamura.” “According to a request from Abe, Kitamura increased the prime minister’s briefings by intelligence officials from one to two per week. One was directly provided by members of the intelligence community, including the National Police Agency Security Bureau, MOD Defense Intelligence Headquarters, MOFA Intelligence and Analysis Service, Public Security Intelligence Agency, and Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center.” “These officials felt a greater sense of responsibility upon being given opportunities to directly report to the prime minister, which inspired a sense of self-awareness as part of the intelligence community.” “Four months after his second inauguration, Abe spoke as follows in the National Diet.” “‘I believe that legislation for protecting confidential information is an exceedingly important issue. Japan receives intelligence from abroad as a member of the intelligence community, including high-level intelligence based on our alliance with the U.S. It is a fact that some nations are anxious about Japan’s lack of legislation regarding confidential information protection.’” “The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not have a consistent view of this issue, and many Diet members opposed the bill. Kitamura visited these Diet members to explain why it was necessary, and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets was enacted on December 6, 2013.” “Nicknamed the ‘State Secrecy Law,’ this law vastly improved the handling of confidential information. Classified information is managed by administrative agencies as ‘specially designated secrets.’ It can only be accessed by special civil service officials of the parliamentary secretary rank or higher, as well as ministry administrative officials who have been screened.” “Administrative officials with this clearance can access specially designated secrets based on the concept of ‘need to know’ for their duties. They can also share intelligence as necessary with the aforementioned politicians and administrative officials from other ministries and government offices. This law allows Japan to do for the first time what is a common process in the U.S. and European countries. It also enhances intelligence sharing between Japan and the U.S., as well as other friendly nations.” “Then-Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono praised the law while speaking about the North Korean situation at a press conference in September 2017. He stated, ‘We have made situational judgements based on intelligence provided by other countries, which falls under ‘specially designated secrets.’ Some information would not have been shared with Japan if the State Secrecy Law did not exist.’”

 Under the State Secrecy Law, officials who manage this confidential information are carefully chosen for the sake of intelligence defense. The ruling LDP also plans to submit a bill in the current Diet session to establish a new security clearance system. It defines “important economic security information” that, if leaked, could harm Japan’s economic security. This includes intelligence about cyberattacks and supply chain weaknesses. The bill limits information handling to people who have been confirmed and certified as trustworthy by the national government, and also provides penalties for violations.
Russia has repeatedly waged fierce cyberattacks against private-sector Ukrainian companies in electrical power, communications, and other infrastructure sectors. I think that Japan should promptly introduce the security clearance system to strengthen economic security and avoid the damage occurring in Ukraine.

CTU-J gathers human intelligence outside of Japan

 MOFA established its Counter-Terrorism Unit – Japan (CTU-J) after the Islamic State killed a Japanese journalist in 2015 during the second Abe administration. Once again, I will excerpt from Kotani’s article:

“CTU-J is a foreign intelligence organization that gathers information in overseas countries during ordinary times, including local public security information. It works to prevent Japanese citizens from becoming involved in dangerous situations and negotiates the rescue of Japanese citizens. CTU-J accomplished the release of Junpei Yasuda, who was taken prisoner in Syria, in October 2018.” “Because it is specialized in terrorism intelligence, CTU-J is not allowed to collect information on foreign affairs, economics, or security. Still, we can say that it functions as a foreign intelligence organization, considering that it constantly gathers intelligence overseas and directly reports to the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.” “Kitamura said, ‘I think we should consider expanding the staff and assign personnel to gather intelligence in the fields of weapons of mass destruction non-proliferation and economic security.’ It seems that he wants to transform the CTU-J into a full-scale foreign intelligence organization going forward. I think the policy released in 2008 has borne fruit with the creation of the State Secrecy Law and CTU-J.”

 When asked about France’s potential enemies, former President Charles de Gaulle once responded, “All our neighbors are hypothetical enemies.” Japan must have a similarly strong will as a nation surrounded by Russia, which defied international law to invade Ukraine; North Korea, which disregards United Nations resolutions and continues launching missiles; and China, which would not balk at invading Taiwan to achieve its One China policy. It is more rational and beneficial to carry out intelligence maneuvers than to pay enormous amounts of money to wage war. Although Japan has made some progress with its intelligence policy, we must take further measures in our intelligence defense and gathering, such as reforming and building organizations.

February 16 (Friday), 5:00 p.m.