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Gov’t fails to disclose signs of North Korea’s missile launch

  • November 30, 2017
  • , Asahi , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

North Korea launched another ballistic missile on Nov. 29, and the Japanese government had detected its signs. However, the government did not disclose the fact and did not call the people’s attention, reckoning that inadequate information could unnecessarily fan the people’s fear and also considering the fact that Japan depends on other countries for intelligence gathering, 


“We completely tracked the missile and took thorough measures for crisis management,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly emphasized at a session of the House of Councillors Budget Committee and told the press on Nov. 29.


 It was Nov. 27, two days before the missile launch, when the government learned its signs. Abe did not return to his private residence, about 15 minutes’ drive from the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei], and he stayed at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence next to the Kantei. Immediately after the launch, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rushed to the Kantei from the House of Representatives dorm in Tokyo’s Akasaka area and held a special press conference after 4 a.m., anticipating by saying, “The missile appears to be landing in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”


Although the government quickly responded to actual launches in the past, it has never released information on signs of a missile launch or a nuclear test before North Korea actually carried them out.


This is because Japan heavily depends on the U.S. and South Korea for intelligence gathering and analysis. Although the Japanese government operates six intelligence-gathering satellites, “they can detect rough movements but cannot grasp the details” (in the words of a government official). The government is seriously concerned that if it discloses information obtained from other countries, the government would lose their confidence and be unable to obtain information any longer. Even if the government releases its own information, North Korea could then change its plan.


To begin with, even if Japan has information from other countries in addition to its own, it is difficult to completely grasp North Korea’s moves. A senior Kantei official said, “Releasing information beforehand could cause a “crying wolf” effect.” When North Korea’s ballistic missiles flew across over Japan in August and in September, the government activated its nationwide J-ALERT system in an extensive area. However, some people said they were made to “fear overly.”


In South Korea, information on signs obtained beforehand by intelligence agencies such as the National Intelligence Service is reported to the National Assembly to some extent. For example, information on North Korea’s engine combustion test conducted on Nov. 20 was reported to the National Assembly, and at the end of August before the nuclear test conducted on Sept. 3, the National Assembly was notified of the “completion of preparations for a nuclear test.” Such information provided to the National Assembly is made public through the press in many cases.


“Japan’s information disclosure is extremely limited,” said international journalist Mikio Haruna, an expert in crisis management. “The people should know what is going on in North Korea and the government should think twice about it.”

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