December 8, 2015 7:18:49 pm
Japan launched a new counterterrorism unit in an air of secrecy today, with journalists only allowed to photograph its 24 members from behind.
The country is expanding its international espionage work after being shocked by the deaths of five Japanese citizens at the hands of Islamic militants this year.
The recent Paris attacks have also raised fears ahead of a Group of Seven summit in Japan next year and the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
It’s mostly uncharted territory for Japan, which has never suffered a terror attack by outsiders in its modern history.
“The country is inexperienced, and its counterterrorism capability is untested,” said Motonobu Abekawa, a former official at the Public Security Intelligence Agency and a terrorism studies expert at Nihon University. “People have long thought terrorist attacks are a distant problem abroad.”
Japan began exploring ways to boost public safety and intelligence after the Islamic State group killed two Japanese hostages in Syria early this year. An attack on tourists at a museum in Tunisia later claimed three more Japanese lives.
During the hostage crisis, Japan often appeared at a loss for quality intelligence. Japanese agents should develop their own sources so they don’t have to rely on US or British agents for information, Abekawa said.
“I hope eventually they can be counterparts of MI6 or the CIA,” he said.
The new Counterterrorism Unit-Japan includes staff from the foreign and defense ministries, the National Police Agency and the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, Japan’s version of the CIA.
Initially made up of four leaders and 20 Tokyo-based experts focusing on Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and north and western Africa, it eventually is to also include 20 intelligence officers assigned to overseas posts, possibly in Amman, Cairo, Jakarta and New Delhi.
News photographers covering the launch were told they couldn’t show the faces of the team, only their backs, as they sat in rows of plastic chairs in the prime minister’s office.
“Collecting and centralising intelligence on terrorism have become urgent tasks as the risk of attacks grows,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told the unit members. “The unit has a crucial mission to secure the lives of Japanese in and outside the country.”
Japan has no institute to train intelligence agents, so they will have to learn on the job.
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