Explaining the Absence of a Japanese Central Intelligence Agency: Alliance Politics, Sectionalism, and Antimilitarism

By Williams, Brad | Journal of East Asian Studies, January-April 2013 | Go to article overview

Explaining the Absence of a Japanese Central Intelligence Agency: Alliance Politics, Sectionalism, and Antimilitarism


Williams, Brad, Journal of East Asian Studies


I examine a relatively underexplored aspect of Japan's early postwar history and seek to explain why attempts to establish a Japanese-style central intelligence agency (JCIA) in the 1950s were unsuccessful. I evaluate three competing explanations drawn from the level of international politics, focusing on US power resources and influence as well as liberal and constructivist styles of analysis--alliance politics, sectionalism, and the norm of antimilitarism--in order to shed light on the historical origins of Japan's intelligence apparatus, which is relatively underdeveloped and underfunded compared to other middle powers: It highlights the primacy of domestic factors over structural causes in explaining the decision not to establish a JCIA. In particular, I argue that the JCIA proposal failed primarily because of attacks on important proponents that, while sometimes driven by seemingly rational organizational interests, were nevertheless legitimated by growing antimilitaristic sentiments shared by elites from the political center to the left of the ideological spectrum. The newly emerging norm of antimilitarism was predicated largely on a fear of constraints on recently acquired civil and political liberties. These fears, manifested most prominently in vocal Diet and media opposition, were compounded by the norm of secrecy--an important element of intelligence activities--which served to heighten further speculation about the malign intent of postwar Japan's reconstituted intelligence system.

Keywords: Antimilitarism, bureaucratic politics, CIA, democracy, intelligence, Japanese central intelligence agency, Japan-US alliance, Shigeru Yoshida, Taketora Ogata

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THE RECENT WIKILEAKS SCANDAL HAS CAST THE SPOTLIGHT ON ISSUES relating to confidential information and intelligence that governments would naturally like to keep secret. Among the leaked materials is the startling revelation that the Japanese government has created a secret foreign intelligence unit under the authority of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office (Naikaku Kanbo Naikaku Joho Chosashitsu or CIRO). Modeled on Western intelligence services such as the CIA, Britain's MI6, and Australia's Secret Intelligence Service, and with a primary focus on regional rivals China and North Korea, the new spy agency will allegedly prioritize the development of a "human intelligence collection capability" (HUMINT) (Dorling 2011).

While the idea of deploying Japanese agents abroad would represent a dramatic departure from established security doctrine and practice (Taigai Joho Kino Kyoka ni kansuru Kondankai 2005), (1) it is important to note that Japan, in fact, has long possessed several civilian and military agencies responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence that are known to target foreign countries, relying heavily on image intelligence (IMINT), open-source intelligence (OSINT), and signals intelligence (SIGINT). Japan does, however, lack a comprehensive foreign intelligence--gathering organization like the CIA or MI6. Instead, Japan maintains a fairly decentralized intelligence system that centers on a "three pillar" institutional arrangement comprising the CIRO, the Public Security Intelligence Agency (Koan Chosacho or PSIA), and the Defense Intelligence Headquarters (Joho Honbu or DIH) (Oros 2002). (2) The CIRO is directly responsible to the cabinet. The PSIA and the DIH are under the formal authority of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defense, respectively, but are effectively self-contained in a relationship broadly analogous to the FBI and the US Department of Justice (Oros 2002, 5). Additional intelligence units are embedded in three civilian ministries: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Gaimusho or MOFA), the National Police Agency (Keisatsucho or NPA), and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (Keizai Sangyosho or METI).

The CIRO, the predecessor of which was established in April 1952, is often referred to as "Japan's CIA. …

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