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Interview: Former intelligence chief talks about the essence of intelligence

  • October 14, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 21
  • JMH Translation

Kitamura Shigeru, 64, supported successive cabinets for about nine and a half years as director of the Cabinet Intelligence, which brings together the government’s intelligence activities, and secretary-general of the National Security Secretariat, which is the command post for diplomacy and security. After he retired, Kitamura published his first book, “Intelligence and the State” ( Chuokoron Shinsha). Sankei Shimbun’s Morimoto Masahiko sat down with Kitamura. During the interview, Kitamura stressed the importance of building a comprehensive security policy based on accurate intelligence, because Japan’s constitution prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes.


Intelligence may be defined in many ways, but the general understanding of intelligence is that it is undisclosed information gathered by human or technical means or analysis based on such information.


Today, as there is an abundance of open-source information available through the Internet and other sources, the key role of an intelligence officer is to convey as accurate an analysis of the situation as possible to policymakers while making effective use of both public and confidential information. Because publicly available information can be deliberately distorted, it is extremely important to discern what is true.


It is said that the most successful case of Japan’s use of intelligence to date was Akashi Motojiro’s scheme against Russia during the Russo-Japanese War. It is reported that through the connection with Russia’s revolutionary forces, he destabilized the Russian regime.


The opposite case is the “Sorge affair” [during World War II], in which a Soviet spy [Richard Sorge] and his Japanese collaborators were arrested for espionage in Japan in 1941. The Japanese police were able to identify the suspects, but by that time, Soviet political leader Stalin had already been informed of the Japanese military’s policy of advancing south. Since the Soviet Union was at war with Germany at the time, it was vital to keep a close eye on Japanese military movements in the Far East and to know Japan’s policies. Although Sorge was arrested, the case is described as a major failure of counterintelligence.


The importance of the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets


One of the important policies regarding intelligence was the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which came into effect in 2014. In Japan, until the enactment of this law, there were instances of the leak of information, including the leakage of the manual for Aegis ships, which is sensitive security information. It was essential to bring our information security system in line with those of our allies, the U.S. and other G7 countries.


As a political initiative advanced under the Cabinet of Abe Shinzo, the director of Cabinet Intelligence was able to gather a considerable amount of information, both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, there remain some missing steps.


One of them is that government agencies relevant to intelligence gathering (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the National Police Agency, etc.) are not legally obligated to provide information to the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, which collects and analyzes domestic and international information, or to the director of the Cabinet Intelligence who heads the office. Laws require those agencies to provide information to the newly established National Security Secretariat.


The National Security Secretariat is an organization that takes charge of policymaking. If policy and information are not clearly separated, there is always a concern that only information that is convenient for policymaking might be pulled together. Based on the principle of separation of policy and information, we need to come up with a framework in which information gathered by government agencies is properly integrated by an organization [the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office] that consolidates and analyzes information.


Get a crisis under control before actual damage occurs


As the secretary-general of the National Security secretariat, I came to realize that the most important thing for security is somehow to contain a crisis situation before a physical conflict or incident occurs. Since Japan is not supposed to use force as a means to settle an international dispute, it is particularly important to enhance intelligence. It is my hope that my book will help many people understand the importance of intelligence.


Kitamura Shigeru was born in Tokyo in 1956. After graduating from the Faculty of Law at the University of Tokyo, he joined the National Police Agency (NPA). After serving as division chief of the Public Security Operations Division, Security Bureau of the NPA, division chief of the Foreign Affairs Division, Security Bureau of the NPA, private secretary to the prime minister (in the first Abe Shinzo Cabinet), and director of the Foreign Affairs Intelligence Department, Security Bureau of the NPA, he was appointed director of the Cabinet Intelligence in the Noda Yoshihiko Cabinet in December 2011. He served in the same position in the second through fourth Abe Cabinets. He took office as secretary-general of the National Security Secretariat in September 2019. In December 2020, he was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service by the United States. He resigned from his position as secretary-general of the National Security Secretariat in July this year and established Kitamura Economic Security Inc., which conducts research and provides information on economic and security policy.

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