Negative impact on national security, intelligence sharing feared

If classified information on national security is leaked to an outside party, it could cause distrust among nations cooperating with Japan. The Self-Defense Forces must reflect on the sloppiness of its information management.

The SDF’s Criminal Investigation Command has sent papers to prosecutors related to a Maritime Self-Defense Force captain suspected of violating the Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, on allegations that the captain deliberately leaked specially designated classified information.

A specially designated secret is classified information that if leaked would seriously hinder national security, and the deliberate leakage of such secrets means a maximum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment with labor.

The captain is alleged to have leaked information in March 2020 about the situation around Japan and the operations of the SDF to a retired vice admiral of the MSDF. The alleged leak is said to have originated when the retired vice admiral asked for the information through channels including other officers in order to use it as a reference for a lecture he was to give.

This is the first time that an alleged leak of secrets specified by the law has come to light. In the SDF, where hierarchical relationships are strong, it is possible that the captain felt he could not refuse the request of the retired higher-ranking officer. Even if this was the case, it must be said that he did not understand the weight of the classified information and his alleged actions were too thoughtless.

The Defense Ministry punished the captain with a disciplinary discharge. This severe punishment was a natural course of action.

It is believed that the classified information was not passed on to anyone other than the retired vice admiral. The prosecutors, who received the papers pertaining to the case, have to investigate the circumstances in detail about how the retired officer requested the information.

Leakage of information has occurred in the SDF in the past.

At the MSDF, it was uncovered in 2007 that a lieutenant commander had removed secret information about Aegis-equipped destroyers. In 2015, an incident surfaced in which a former Ground Self-Defense Force senior officer handed over a textbook designated for internal use only to a military attache at the Russian Embassy in Japan. It must be said that awareness of information management may be too low at the SDF.

Specially designated secrets are defined under the law, which went into force in 2014. The law was enacted in response to China’s rapid military expansion and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles — developments that have led to the increased need to share important information with countries such as the United States.

These specially designated secrets cover four areas: matters concerning defense; diplomacy; prevention of specified harmful activities; and the prevention of terrorist activities. Of the 693 cases that encompass specially designated secrets at all government ministries and agencies, the Defense Ministry has the most at 392 cases.

In addition to the United States and South Korea, the government is working to strengthen cooperation in the security field with countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom. If incidents like the leak of classified information are repeated, it will become difficult for Japan to share important information with other nations.

The Defense Ministry has said that it will establish a committee to study measures to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.

The government is speeding up the strengthening of defense capabilities and intends to cover the increase in defense spending through higher taxes and other means. Unless a sense of crisis is heightened and effective measures are taken, the government will not gain the public’s understanding.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2022)