Japan launches anti-terrorism intelligence unit
Updated: 2015-12-08 19:13
TOKYO - The Japanese government on Tuesday launched an anti-terrorism intelligence unit charged with intelligence gathering on global militant groups.
While operating under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry, the unit will be headed up by the prime minister's office and comprise other governmental and security-related entities.
The unit was set up earlier than initially planned, in light of the deadly Nov 13 Paris attacks and as Japan now seeks to ramp up efforts to fortify itself ahead of the hosting of a number of high profile international events, including the Group of Seven summit next year.
The Counterterrorism Unit-Japan is to be set up within the Foreign Ministry, but will be headed up by the office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and also comprise defense ministry officials as well as the National Police Agency(NPA), along with the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, known to be Japan's equivalent of the US's CIA.
The newly-launched Counterterrorism Unit will purportedly augment the government's abilities to crackdown on potential terrorist attacks here before they occur, by bolstering intelligence sharing with other countries, with the government's first test most likely being the upcoming Ise-Shima summit in May 2016 in Mie Prefecture that will gather leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Abe told a ministerial meeting on Tuesday that the global threat from terrorism is extremely severe and as such Japan must do its utmost to counter potential threats here, particular as the nation will, along with the G7 summit, also be hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic Games in 2020.
"The situation in international terrorism has never been more severe. With the G7 summit and the Olympics and Paralympics in sight, our country must take the best possible measures in cooperation with the international community, " Abe told the ministerial meeting.
Abe said that his office would head up the unit which itself would be comprised of around 20 specialists gathered from relevant government and security-related organizations, with another 20 experts on terrorism and regional issues, according to sources close to the matter, being deployed to areas in the the Middle East, North and West Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia.
The interrelatedness of the new entity is supposed to ensure the quick gathering and transmission of information, both from international sources as well as within the unit itself, government officials said, with all information being rapidly relayed to the prime minister's office.
Japan's understanding of regional issues and ability to contact directly with stakeholders in countries known to have networks of terrorists was brought into question by a government panel review recently, who concluded the government was lacking in numerous areas as evidenced by the failed negotiations to save the lives of two Japanese civilians, one a freelance journalist, the other a contractor, who were publicly executed by so-called Islamic State militants in Syria.
Regarding the upcoming G7 summit and security pertaining to that high-profile, international event, the governor of the host prefecture said that preventing a terrorist attack prior to, during or after the summit was of the utmost importance.
"Prevention of terrorism and hosting the summit safely is a paramount task for the prefecture," Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki was quoted as telling a press briefing recently.
"The attacks in Paris occurred at places where ordinary citizens gather. It is impossible to always guard all such places. So we need cooperation from the private sector," Suzuki said, with reference to the fact that the convention locations were themselves, ostensibly, public places.
As part of measures to safeguard the region, 5.88 billion yen (47.7 million US dollars) has been allocated to beef up security measures related to the summit, the governor said, and other precaution such as the banning of flying drones in the area will be taken.
In addition the Gifu Prefectural Police have been conducting special drills to prepare themselves for a possible backlash from demonstrators were it to occur near the summit venue. During the drill more than 400 special riot officers took part in mock riot control in the region of Nagara River in the city of Gifu.
Gifu Prefecture is likely to dispatch riot officers to Mie and other neighboring prefectures where ministerial meetings related to the summit are slated to be held, local officials have said.
"As we learned from the Paris terror attacks, the threat of international terrorism is high. We want to recognize the severity of the situation and be prepared for the summit," Masami Oka, Chief of Police in Gifu told local media recently.
Separately Tuesday, Japan's National Police Agency said it will bolster its own information gathering capabilities with an eye on specifically protecting the lives of Japanese citizens.
Officials from the agency, referencing the killings by the Islamic State of two Japanese citizens as well as other international terrorist attacks that have involved Japanese citizens, such as the deadly attacks at a Tunisian museum this year, concluded following the issuance of an annual report on the matter that the possibility exists that Japanese civilians could be caught up in terrorist attack in the future.
Noting that the Islamic State had named Japan, along with the likes of the US, France and the U.K., among others, as one of its primary targets, officials said that there were already ISIS sympathizers and supporters living in Japan that could be radicalized to the point of carrying out attacks, and that they couldn't rule out the possibility that terrorist "sleeper cells" were already in position here just waiting for orders from overseas leaders to carry out attacks.
Officials from the NPA said following its annual report that there are a number of "soft targets" in Japan and as such the relevant officials including the police would have to step up their information gathering initiatives and liaise closely with oversees security organs.
Surveillance at the nation's ports and airports would also have to be stepped up, the NPA officials concluded, in a bid to prevent would-be terrorists and weapons from gaining access to the country.