Japan Govt Probe Reveals Security Secrets Regularly Mishandled on MSDF Vessels; Chief of Staff to Resign to Take Responsibility

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Maritime Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Ryo Sakai speaks at a press conference in Tokyo in December 2022.

The Defense Ministry has confirmed many irregularities by Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel following an internal investigation into the mishandling of classified security information on an MSDF destroyer, according to government sources.

As the mishandling of so-called specially designated secrets is believed to have occurred regularly, the MSDF intends to punish multiple personnel. MSDF Chief of Staff Ryo Sakai is also expected to resign to take responsibility, the sources said.

In April, the ministry announced that an MSDF member, who was not cleared to handle such secrets, had access to vessel wake data, which is classified information, for about 60 days while he was assigned to the Combat Information Center on board the MSDF destroyer Inazuma. Several senior MSDF officers had assigned the member to work at the CIC without confirming whether the member underwent a security clearance assessment. Four MSDF personnel, including the destroyer’s then captain, were disciplined as a result.

Following the incident, the ministry conducted an investigation on all MSDF members in order to review the current information security system. According to the sources, the investigation revealed that several MSDF vessels had unqualified personnel handling specially designated secrets. It is believed that the information leak was limited to SDF personnel, as no leaks to outside parties have been confirmed.

The ministry plans to announce the results of the investigation and disciplinary measures against those involved soon. As the mishandling of classified information is believed to have occurred regularly, an unprecedented number of personnel subject to disciplinary actions and guidance is expected.

Under the Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which took effect in 2014, information on defense, diplomacy, counterespionage and anti-terrorism are subject to the law. According to a document of the Cabinet Secretariat, 751 pieces of classified information were designated as such secrets as of late last year. People cannot handle such information without undergoing a security clearance assessment, which examines a person’s criminal records, financial status and other background information. Criminal penalties are imposed on those who leak information.

In December 2022, the ministry had an incident in which the head of an MSDF intelligence unit leaked a specially designated secret to a retired officer when talking about the situation surrounding Japan.

Sakai previously served in various posts, including as captain of a destroyer and the head of the MSDF’s Yokosuka District. He became the MSDF chief of staff in March 2022.