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U.S.-Japan Security Cooperation for Homeland Security: The Cases of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Bio-Terrorism

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by Katsuhisa Furukawa
Published on September 23rd, 2004
ARTICLES

A New Dimension in the U.S.-Japan Security Cooperation

A new focus on functional problems of the WMD proliferation and terrorism has prompted the governments of the United States and Japan to transform the bilateral alliance from the one to deal with regional contingency to the one to combat global problems. Traditionally, the alliance focused primarily upon developing diplomatic and military measures to deal with possible regional contingency in Northeast Asia, such as Taiwan Strait crisis or Korean Peninsula crisis. Now, however, a new focus to combat these new security threats has certainly widened the geographical scope of the bilateral alliance. The two countries have come to share a common recognition clearly that the security is no longer a function of geography. This is particularly true when dealing with terrorism. (For example, from April through May 1994, the Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, which is notorious for its sarin gas attack on Tokyo subway system in 1994, actually conspired to transport sarin secretly to the United States and to disperse it for the purpose of conducting mass murders in major cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., according to the Aum members’ testimonies.[1] Luckily, however, this plan was not implemented for some reason.[2])

An expansion of geographical and functional scopes of the U.S.-Japan alliance has required the two governments, in return, to more closely coordinate and cooperate with each other to forge a multilateral network for security cooperation, both regionally and globally.

In 2004, following a workshop in February where officials from the both governments participated, the two governments have concluded an agreement to strengthen bilateral cooperation for homeland security. This is the first agreement that the United States has concluded with its ally in the areas of homeland security. Specifically, the two governments have pledged to deepen bilateral cooperation in the following six areas: infectious disease; agriculture and food security; border and transportation security; interdependency analysis or critical infrastructure protection; counter-terrorism and counter-crime; and long-term basic research. Within this framework, following this agreement, a delegation of Japanese experts are scheduled to visit Sandia National Laboratory in the United States for a joint research on interdependency analysis, as a part of the bilateral cooperation for critical infrastructure protection, in October 2004.

If the bilateral cooperation in this regard goes smoothly, all of these efforts will have the potential to form various regional and global networks for combating the terrorism, which could be eventually transformed into a multilateral mechanism for the Asian-Pacific security, in the future.

The issues of homeland security relate to many areas, including society, economy, politics, academic research, public health, and national security. Among them, especially the issues related to critical infrastructure protection, transportation security, and counter-bio-terrorism are the ones that Japan still needs to develop effective measures.

This paper examines some of the critical issues that need immediate attention and the challenges that the United States and Japan face in this new endeavor.

Critical Infrastructure Protection

One needs not have to be a terrorist to identify vulnerabilities in Japan’s critical infrastructure and transportation security. For example, if you take a domestic air flight, you will not necessarily be required to submit an identification card as long as you look like the Japanese or you do not look like a suspicious person. Or when taking a bullet super express train, the so-called shinkansen, there is virtually no security check of a passenger’s body or his/her luggage. Also, lax is the protection of critical facilities such as dam, energy transmitter, and those facilities that store natural gas or oil. The physical protection of nuclear power plants and related facilities has been strengthened, but still need to be examined to see whether the adopted measures for physical protection is indeed sufficient. For example, at least at some of these nuclear facilities, there is only one armed guard just for 8 hours every day, which remains to be a concern for Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA). The degree of physical protection of nuclear facilities differs depending on which government entity is in charge of its oversight and which local police agency is in charge of cooperating with the facility.

Among the prospective targets of potential terrorist attack that the Japanese police is afraid of are the Japanese prime minister’s residence, the Diet building, U. S. Embassy and councilor’s offices, U.S. military bases, nuclear and chemical plants, shopping malls. The list of potential targets is diverse, while the government’s resources are limited. Certainly, each ministry or agency which is in charge of overseeing protection of a particular type of facilities has been doing its best to enhance the physical protection. However, if seen the entirety, the Japanese government has not necessarily allocated the resources in an appropriate manner in light of the fact that the resource allocation is not necessarily linked with vulnerability assessment of each facility.

It is time for the Japanese government to come up with a more systematic approach to determine an efficient allocation of resources, employing a system of vulnerability assessment, in order to ensure the physical safety of critical infrastructure. Japan’s approach to critical infrastructure protection needs to transcend from threat assessment to vulnerability assessment. Here, the U.S. intellectual assets and experience, such as a model of vulnerability assessment, can become an important asset even for its allies. The U. S. allies can use such U.S. model to modify and customize it so that it would fit to their own needs. U.S.-Japan cooperation in this regard could become the first president which could potentially be expanded into other Asian countries in the future.

Countering the Threats of Bio-Terrorism

Since the 1994 sarin gas attack on Tokyo metropolitan subway system by the Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese government has been steadily enhancing its readiness to prevent and prepare for terrorist attack. Such efforts have been particularly advanced in countering chemical terrorism. However, as a senior Japanese official of the NPA admitted last year, Japan’s efforts to deal with bio-terrorism have been delayed as compared with Japan’s efforts to counter nuclear- and bio-terrorism.

Due to the memory of the notorious activities of Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army[3] in China during World War II, Japanese government still has stigma against research using dangerous pathogens, which has significantly contributed to the delay in developing the measures to counter bio-terrorism in Japan.

Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Attempts

In fact, in the early 1990s, the Aum Shinrikyo actually conducted acts of bio-terrorism, although these attempts miserably failed. In around April 1990, following the electoral defeat, Asahara disclosed to his close subordinates for the first time his idea to overthrow the Japanese government and to annihilate the public, not only in Japan but also in other countries around the world, which had committed “sinful deeds.” And Asahara ordered them to develop botulinum toxin, phosgene bomb, plasma weapon, nuclear weapon, and anthrax, to save the world.[4] In around April or May in 1990, the Aum actually started to disperse bacteria botulinum in areas nearby the Japanese Diet, the Imperial Palace, U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, U.S. military base in Yokosuka, Kasumigaseki, and a river that led to a filtration plant, as well as anthrax in Yokohama city and Kasumigaseki, according to court testimonies of several Aum perpetrators.[5] Aum even dreamed of dispersing the germs in countries around the world and came up with the idea to produce a “balloon bomb” containing germs and to remodel their ship so that they could disperse the germs from the sea.[6] Luckily, none of these plans materialized. The dispersal of bacteria botulinum failed because the Aum gave up attempt to create a functional spraying machine.

According to Aum members’ court testimony on May 23, 1996, Aum also dispersed “a liquid suspension of Bacillus anthracis in an attempt to cause an inhalational anthrax epidemic.”[7]Later scientific analysis that was conducted jointly by scientists of Japan’s National Institute for Infectious Disease (NIID) and U.S. Northern Arizona University determined that the liquid suspension was vaccine of the Sterne strain of anthrax and thus not harmful.[8]

A Lack of Experts, Facilities, and Detection Device within the Law Enforcement Agencies

Despite of these finding, however, the NPA has not put efforts in finding details about these Aum Shinrikyo’s failed bio-terrorism plots. Even as of today, there does not seem to be any public record available about the exact nature of the bacteria botulinum that Aum attempted to use. The above investigation of the anthrax culture was initiated by a microbiologist at the NIID, not by the NPA, because of the NIID scientist’s personal interest in this case. According to a senior official of the NIID, it is quite possible that the NPA was not able to conduct the investigation of these failed plots because of a lack of experts on biological weapons in their research institution.[9]

Indeed, it was only recently when the National Policy Agency of Japan finally established its research laboratory which can handle pathogen with potency of P3 with a relatively small number of microbiologists.[10]

Originally, Japan’s NIID was supposed to be the lead official entity for scientific investigation of acts of bio-terrorism and capable of handling pathogen with potency of P4. However, the NIID is not capable of doing so. Previously, its headquarter was built near residential area right in the middle of Tokyo without informing the surrounding residents. Thus, the residents were later surprised by their finding about the detailed function of the NIID, based on information obtained through Japan’s Freedom of Information Act. They initiated a law suite against the NIID in order to dangerous pathogens introduced into their neighborhood. The NIID is currently allowed to handle pathogen with potency of P1 and P2.

Additionally, Japan does not have an effective detection device in the event of bio-terrorism. The U.S. government does not allow export of the most advanced version of detection device, which is used by the U.S. first responders, to any other countries, including its allies. Also because Japan does not have dangerous pathogens with potency of P3 and P4, Japan is neither capable of developing its own detection device.

As such, Japan would still need to rely on U.S. government (particularly the Center for Disease Control) in case bio-terrorism should break out in Japan.

Loose Adoption of A Biosecurity Guideline

Although Japan is a signatory state of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, its domestic implementation legislation does not state anything about the biosecurity of pathogens for peaceful purposes. As of September 2004, the only pathogens that are subject of a strict biosecurity guideline under Japan’s domestic legislation are those used for genetic engineering. There is no domestic law that dictates adoption of a similar guideline to any pathogens for other civilian purposes. In 2003, the NIID issued a biosecurity guideline, but it was circulated only to official entities, such as national universities and their hospitals. Moreover, the adoption of this guideline is voluntary, and there is no mechanism to monitor the status of compliance.

Need for A Strengthened Personal Security

Lastly, it is necessary to devise a mechanism for personal security check of those individuals who have access to sensitive technologies that can be used for the production of biological weapons, including microbiologists, scientists, as well as foreign visitors and students of universities.

The Aum’s failed attempts of bio-terrorism, as mentioned previously, was led by Seiichi Endo, Aum’s Minister of the First Welfare. Essentially, he could not convert the vaccine strain of anthrax to harmful strain as he was a graduate of Institute for Virus Research of the University of Kyoto and an expert on virus, but not necessarily on bacillus.[11]However, if he were a graduate of a medical department of another particular universities which is well known for their vigorous research on advanced bio-technology, it is quite possible that he might have been able to convert this harmless strain into the harmful one, according to a senior official of the NIID.[12] One must wonder what the graduates from such sensitive research centers are doing now.

Additionally, it can be possible, at least theoretically, for foreigners to gain access to these research centers if he or she were a visiting scholar or student studying at these universities. Indeed, for example, “three fathers” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program were graduates of Japanese universities, according to a senior Japanese official of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[13]

In order to deal with this challenge, it is highly recommended that related organizations in both private and public sectors adopt a code of conduct for scientists. These issues of personal history check and the code of conduct need to cover other countries in Asia, particularly in Singapore and Malaysia where Western pharmaceutical companies have been establishing advanced research centers.

Recommendations: Areas for U.S.-Japan Cooperation for Nonproliferation

The above overview of vulnerabilities and problems in the areas of counter bio-terrorism and critical infrastructure protection alone indicate the complexities and the seriousness of the challenges that lie ahead of the U.S.-Japan cooperation for homeland security. These are simply two subjects among many others related to homeland security. There are also many other areas where the two countries can exchange lessons, experience, and expertise with each other, and develop research and programs jointly to meet with the emerging threats of terrorism.

Despite of the seriousness of these challenges, however, there are some concerns about the current status of U.S.-Japan security cooperation in this regard. While the U.S.-Japan security consultation and cooperation have been intense and strengthened especially among the traditional alliance managers in the Department of Defense, Department of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan, and Japan Defense Agency, such consultation and cooperation among law enforcement agencies and scientist communities still remain relatively weak despite the fact that the latter has become crucial players to meet with the new security threats of terrorism.

Because many government entities are related to homeland security in one way or another, turf battles have emerged within each government. Unless the leadership of the two government redresses this problem, the bilateral cooperation would be dragged by the internal bureaucratic fights, which has actually happened.

Bilateral cooperation for homeland security requires active involvement of a wide range of officials and experts on both ends of the Pacific Ocean. The two governments must create a dense web of bilateral networks for policy coordination that consist of officials of various levels and from various agencies and ministries, including law enforcement apparatus. An involvement of new government players in the alliance management dictates each government to enhance domestic interagency coordination and contributes to broadening a political and administrative basis in both countries to shape the future alliance.

Additionally, despite of the seriousness of these challenges, most cooperation is still in the form of arranging visits to related institutions or holding workshops, or exchanging intelligence information. Certainly, these activities by themselves are important, but not sufficient. These occasional workshops and visits need to be transformed into regularized working groups, and the bilateral cooperation needs to be systematized, regularized, and substantiated.

Below are issues that both the United States and Japanese governments must consider particularly:

  1. Enhancing human resources in the area of homeland security
  2. Narrowing the gap between the community of scientists and that of policymakers
  3. Improving inter-agency coordination mechanism
  4. Reorganization of the current structure of security dialogue by inviting more robust participation from law enforcement community and scientists.
  5. Jointly assisting other Asian countries’ efforts to strengthen homeland security.

Both U.S. and Japanese governments must establish a broader regularized structure of cooperation to sufficiently address these new security threats pertaining to homeland security and nonproliferation of the WMD. And the two governments’ endeavor should not stop at their borders. Instead, it has to extend to reach to other Asian countries. The U.S.-Japan cooperation for homeland security should function as a president for other Asian countries’ efforts to strengthen homeland security.


[1] Prosecutor’s final speech in the court on December 24, 1999, cited in Kenichi Kouhata. Aum Houtei 9: Chouhoushou Choukan Inoue Yoshihiro (Aum Court Trial Vol. 9: Aum’s Minister of Intelligence Yoshihiro Inoue). Asahi Bunko, Tokyo: 2002, p. 228.

[2] Kenichi Kouhata. Oumu Houtei Chiryou Daijin Hayashi Ikuo (Aum Court Trial: the Case of Ikuo Hayashi, Aum’s Minister of Medical Treatment). Asahi Bunko, Tokyo: 1998, p. 130.

[3] Unit 731 is known for its efforts in developing chemical and biological weapons and using Chinese hostages as a testbed for the pathogens it was developing.

[4] Prosecutor’s opening statement, May 23, 1996, cited in Haruo Akimoto. AUM Kagakuteki Kiroku (Scientific Record of Aum). Tokyo: Shinjukai Souzou Shuppan, 2002, p. 35.Also, see, judgment of the Tokyo District Court on February 27, 2004, cited in Mainichi Shimbun Shakaibu ed. Oumu Kyouso Houtei Zen Kiroku 8 (Records of Court Testimonies in the Trial of the Aum Leader, Vol. 8). Gendai Shokan, Tokyo: 2004, p. 189.Additionally, see, a testimony by Shigero Sugimoto in the court on January 29, 1999, cited in Mainichi Shimbun Shakaibu ed. Oumu Kyouso Houtei Zen Kiroku 5 (Records of Court Testimonies in the Trial of the Aum Leader, Vol. 5). Gendai Shokan, Tokyo: 2000, p. 52.

[5] A testimony of Niimi Tomomitsu in the court on September 20, 2001, cited in Mainichi Shimbun Shakaibu ed. Oumu Kyouso Houtei Zen Kiroku 7 (Records of Court Testimonies in the Trial of the Aum Leader, Vol. 7). Gendai Shokan, Tokyo: 2002, p. 171.Also, see, a testimony by Shigero Sugimoto in the court on January 29, 1999, cited in Mainichi Shimbun Shakaibu ed. Oumu Kyouso Houtei Zen Kiroku 5 (Records of Court Testimonies in the Trial of the Aum Leader, Vol. 5). Gendai Shokan, Tokyo: 2000, pp. 52-53.

[6] A testimony by Tomomitsu Niimi in the court on September 20, 2001, cited in Mainichi Shimbun Shakaibu ed. Oumu Kyouso Houtei Zen Kiroku 7 (Records of Court Testimonies in the Trial of the Aum Leader, Vol. 7). Gendai Shokan, Tokyo: 2002, p. 172.

[7] Takahashi, et al. “Bacillus anthracis Incident, Kameido, Tokyo, 1993.” Emerging Infectious Disease, www.cdc.gov/eid, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2004, p. 117.

[8] Takahashi, et al. “Bacillus anthracis Incident, Kameido, Tokyo, 1993.” Emerging Infectious Disease, www.cdc.gov/eid, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2004, p. 118.

[9] Author’s interview with a senior official of Japan’s National Insstitute of Infectious Disease on July 7, 2004.

[10] Potency of pathogens are graded from P1 (not so potent) to P4 (lethal).

[11] Author’s interview with a senior official of Japan’s National Insstitute of Infectious Disease on December 25, 2003.

[12] Author’s interview with a senior official of Japan’s National Insstitute of Infectious Disease on December 25, 2003.

[13] Author’s interview with a senior Japanese official of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 12, 2004, Tokyo, Japan.

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