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Friday, March 6, 2015, 14:09

Japan eyes MI6-style spy agency

By Reuters

 Japan eyes MI6-style spy agency
Japanese soldiers carry an injured during a Non-Combatant Evacuation/Transportation of Japanese Nationals Overseas exercise as part of the annual combined military exercises coined Cobra Gold 2015 at a military base in Sattahip on Feb 15, 2015. Cobra Gold is a joint multinational military training exercise that focuses on maintaining and improving military-to-military relationships among nations sharing common goals and security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region including the US, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. (AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL)

TOKYO - Japan is looking into creating an overseas intelligence agency possibly modelled on Britain's MI6 spy service, ruling party lawmakers say, 70 years after Allied victors dismantled Japan's fearsome military intelligence apparatus following World War Two.

A new foreign intelligence agency would be an integral part of a security framework Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is building as he seeks to loosen the post-war pacifist constitution's limits on the military's ability to operate overseas.

The idea that Japan's fragmented intelligence community needs a makeover has also gained momentum since the killing of two Japanese captives by Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this year showed how much Tokyo relied on friendly countries for information.

Abe has already set up a US-style National Security Council and enacted strict state secrets legislation, and is now working on laws to lift a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or militarily aiding an ally under attack.

"To become a 'normal country', an intelligence agency is vital," said Takushoku University professor Takashi Kawakami, using a phrase referring to shedding constitutional constraints that conservatives say limit Japan's ability to defend itself.

Lawmakers in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) hope to draft proposals in the autumn after visiting countries such as Britain, whose MI6 foreign intelligence service is a possible model.

If the LDP and the government conclude a new agency is needed, legislation could be enacted next year, LDP lawmaker Takeshi Iwaya told Reuters in a recent interview.

"In an age when we don't know when or where Japanese lives will be at risk ... we need to collect more overseas information," said Iwaya, who heads a team studying the issue.

Asked about the idea of a new spy agency in parliament recently, Abe said his government wanted to research the issue while working to bolster Japan's intelligence capabilities.


Japan's existing intelligence community has about 4,400 personnel split into units under different ministries, but has been hampered by a reluctance to share secrets across bureaucratic lines, experts say.

That reluctance to work closely stemmed partly from a lack of rules setting common standards for preventing leaks of classified information, a problem that has been eased by the state secrets law that took effect in December.

Turf battles, however, persist, complicating the outlook for a new intelligence agency.

The main actors in Japan's intelligence community are the National Police Agency (NPA), the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA), the Defence Ministry's Defence Intelligence Headquarters, the Foreign Ministry, and the Cabinet Intelligence Research Office, whose staff come largely from other ministries.

The PSIA, with some 1,500 staff and whose main job is to monitor domestic subversive and extremist groups, could be a logical choice to form the core of a new agency, adding overseas counter-terrorism to its portfolio, some experts said.

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