Diplomat’s comments fuel speculation Japan may join US-led ‘Five Eyes’ spy alliance

Japan United StatesJAPAN’S AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA has said he feels optimistic his country could join the Five Eyes intelligence alliance in “the near future”, adding to growing speculation on the topic. Japanese diplomat Shingo Yamagami, who has held the post of ambassador to Australia since late 2020, told The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday that he would like to see Japan join the intelligence alliance “in the near future”, adding that he was “very much optimistic” about such a prospect.

Ambassador Yamagami was referring to a longstanding United States-led intelligence-sharing agreement, which is also known as UKUSA. It brings together intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It came out of the five nations’ close military and intelligence cooperation during World War II. Under the agreement, the five nations share intelligence products of mutual interest, as well as raw signals intelligence, which they collect in their respective areas of operation. In some cases, Five Eyes nations collaborate with other allies, such as France, Germany, Norway, or Holland, on individual projects.

In the past, the United States, which leads the alliance in terms of resources and strategic direction, has resisted proposals to include more members. Prospective parties must share the Five Eyes nations’ strategic direction, democratic traditions, and societal values. Additionally, they must be able to demonstrate that their intelligence services are effective in preventing penetrations by adversaries. Critics suggest that the spy agencies of Five Eyes nations are themselves far from immune when it comes to counterintelligence threats. Additionally, some Five Eyes members, notably New Zealand, have at various times expressed disagreements about the strategic direction of the alliance.

Supporters of the idea of including Japan into the Five Eyes alliance point to the fact that, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, Japanese intelligence agencies developed under American tutelage. Moreover, Japan today is home to a substantial American military presence, while its intelligence agencies collaborate closely with America’s —especially in carrying out spy operations focusing on China, North Korea and Russia. Japan’s geographical proximity to these countries, coupled with its strong intelligence emphasis on China, arguably strengthen its candidacy for Five Eyes membership, according to supporters of this view.

Last week, Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, visited the White House, becoming the first foreign leader to be officially hosted by President Joseph Biden. Although talks between the two men focused largely on the topic of China, there was no public mention of Five Eyes. The governments of Japan and the United States have made no on-the-record comment about a potential inclusion of Japan into the intelligence agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2021 | Permalink

3 Responses to Diplomat’s comments fuel speculation Japan may join US-led ‘Five Eyes’ spy alliance

  1. Pete says:

    Probably the two major issues to address before Japan could enter the Five Eyes are:

    1. Common societal values (so rightly mentioned in the article). For example Japan is a distinctly male dominated society where women are expected to be subservient, junior and probably permanently retiring to have kids by the time they’re 34. Japanese male (sigint and humint) officers will need to get used to weighing up the merits of intelligence arguments or commands from senior women officers ie. not just junior women quietly offering views to their male bosses.


    2. The language barriers. The Five Eyes is a strong, lasting, alliance because it is grounded in a common language (English as a first language “mother tongue”). Not only spoken by SENIOR LIAISON officers but all support and intelligence officers at all levels from trainees on their initial courses through junior, middle and senior levels.

    The Japanese language is notoriously different from English. I translate it a bit – no definite articles like “a” or “the” from the Japanese I liaise with. So not only 100s-1,000s of new and incumbent Japanese sigint and humint officers would need to learn English but 100s-1,000s total in the existing Five Eyes would need greater written and spoken knowledge of the Japanese language.

    Other language barriers in translation:

    a) much meaning is lost or risked if someone monitoring Chinese conversations is double or triple translating: ie. from Chinese to Japanese to English rather than the usual Chinese to English.

    b) also having to translate 10,000s of English sigint reports per day/week into Japanese would be a huge and costly administrative burden on the existing Five Eye partner organisations.

  2. Casper says:

    Good point Pete. The Japanese are notorious bad in English, have a different business culture and especially in case of disagreement. But do they have any tradition in intelligence?

  3. Pete says:

    Hi Casper.

    Japanese intelligence has been particularly strong in its collection and analysis of Chinese and the Korean political, economic and technical developments since 1910. Early in the 20th century Japan began to occupy Korea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korea_under_Japanese_rule and had designs on China. Japanese intelligence is often a large scale private corporate and government collaboration. eg. very large Japanese battery making firms work with government eco/military intelligence on ongoing collection and analysis of Chinese + Korean advances in Lithium-ion Batteries for civilian and military use (eg. on submarines).

    Info collected benefits Japanese corporations competing with Chinese and Korean firms and the geo-strategic needs of traditional Japnese government eco-technica and military intel agencies.

    A good source is page 5 onwards of https://web.archive.org/web/20090320155104/http://andreworos.washcoll.edu/password/oros_ijic_0102.pdf Page 5 mentions “ministry-embedded” intelligence operations [including the primary foreign intelligence collection institutions of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign A€ffairs (MOFA), and Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)].

    Page 5 goes on to describe the Japanese government’s central analytical agency – the Cabinet Research Office (CIRO) which is one of the six divisions of the Cabinet Secretariat “within the Prime Minister’s Office, and technically speaking Japan’s “central intelligence agency.”

    Regards Pete

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