South Korea ends intelligence pact with Japan as bilateral relations enter crisis mode

Japan South KoreaSouth Korea has formally terminated an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, as relations between the two countries have reached their lowest point since they formally recognized each other in 1965. Seoul’s decision is the latest move in a tit-for-tad row sparked by the use of forced Korean labor by Japan in World War II. South Korea is demanding financial compensation for the use of slave labor, including sex slaves, by Japanese occupation troops during Korea’s annexation by Japan from 1910 until 1945. Last month, Tokyo responded to a mass boycott of Japanese goods by South Korean consumers by limiting the export of electronics to be used in South Korea’s ship-building industry. A few days ago, Tokyo also removed South Korea from the list of countries with the ability to fast-track their exports to Japan.

Earlier this week, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan met in China in an attempt to bridge the differences between the two countries. But the negotiations failed. This morning South Korea responded to Japan’s latest move by refusing to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). This treaty between Japan and South Korea, which was due to be renewed today, facilitates the sharing of intelligence about North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. But the South Korean government announced it would not renew the agreement, following a decision taken by the country’ National Security Council. The country’s President, Moon Jae-in, has agreed with the decision. A South Korean government spokesman said South Korea had determined that maintaining “an agreement we signed with the aim of exchanging military information which is sensitive to security […] would not serve our national interest”.

Japan called South Korea’s decision to scrap GSOMIA “extremely regrettable” and said that it “completely misreads the security situation” in the region. It added that it would continue to cooperate with South Korea “where cooperation is necessary”. Late last night, Tokyo summoned the South Korean ambassador to Japan to voice its disapproval of Seoul’s decision. Meanwhile there has been no response from the United States government, which was the architect of GSOMIA in 2016. Washington worked closely with the two countries for over 6 years to convince them to agree to exchange intelligence, despite their mutual animosity. American observers have warned that the termination of GSOMIA “threatens real-time information sharing between the United States, Japan and South Korea to monitor North Korean nuclear activity”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2019 | Permalink

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Japanese police investigate online sale of uranium on Yahoo! auction website

Uranium yellow cakePolice in Japan are investigating how a man was able to offer uranium for sale through an online auction website operated by Yahoo!, a California-based provider of Internet services. Japanese news agencies reported on Friday that the alleged product was displayed packed inside a transparent glass tube on the online auctions site. It was advertised as “Uranium 99.9%”. There was no information about the sale’s starting price on Yahoo! Auctions. The website, Yahoo! Kantan Kessai, is a rare remnant of the California-based company’s worldwide auction service, which terminated its operations in most countries between 2002 and 2008. But smaller segments survive in Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.

In November 2017, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority was notified by a user that a product described as “Uranium 99.9%” was on offer on the auction website. After investigating the case, the agency notified the police in January of the following year, which in turn contacted Yahoo! and brought the auction to its attention. The incident was not disclosed to the media at the time, so that the police and intelligence services could investigate whether a network of individuals was involved in the case. Meanwhile, the seller and several individuals who had made bids on the product were arrested and questioned. The substance was confiscated and given to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency for tests. According to local media reports, initial tests conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency showed that the substance is indeed radioactive. Further tests showed that the material is uranium, as advertised, though a question remains as to whether it is depleted uranium or uranium concentrate. It is not known whether the uranium is enriched (thus having an increased percent composition of uranium-235 through isotope separation) or depleted (the less radioactive byproduct of the process of isotope separation).

Reports also suggest that the main suspect in the case told authorities that he acquired the uranium from a seller located outside Japan, who sold it on an international auction website. Reports suggest that, depending on the outcome of ongoing laboratory results, the seller of the substance faces imprisonment of up to a year and a fine of up to ¥1 million (less than $10,000).

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 February 2019 | Permalink

Japan releases files on 1942 Tokyo spy ring that helped USSR win World War II

Richard SorgeJapan has released secret documents from 1942 relating to the Tokyo spy ring led by Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR and is often credited with helping Moscow win World War II. The documents detail efforts by the wartime Japanese government to trivialize the discovery of the Sorge spy ring, which was at the heart of modern Japan’s biggest spy scandal. Thirty-five people, many of them highly placed Japanese officials, were arrested in Tokyo in October of 1941 for spying for the Soviet Union. Sorge, the German head of the spy ring, had fought for the Central Powers in World War I, but had subsequently become a communist and trained in espionage by Soviet military intelligence. He was then sent to Tokyo where he struck a close friendship with the German Ambassador and joined the German embassy. He eventually informed Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east. That tip allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped the USSR beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which has seen the declassified documents, said they were among the personal files of Taizo Ota, a Japanese counterintelligence official who led Division VI of Japan’s Ministry of Justice. The unit was in charge of political policing and counterespionage during World War II. The documents date from May 1942, which was when the Japanese government finally publicized the arrest of Sorge and his comrades, more than six months after they were caught spying for Moscow. The documents were issued by Japan’s Ministry of Justice but —according to experts— were most likely authored by officials in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were in charge of investigating the Sorge spy ring case. According to Mainichi Shimbun, the documents were part of a broader effort by the Japanese government to cover up the espionage case by instructing the country’s media to give it marginal attention.

One document instructs newspaper editors to cover the incident on an inside page and to use a headline smaller than the length of four columns. Another document states that newspaper editors should not use pictures in reporting on the spy ring, and adds that no information other than what is included in government press releases should be printed. A third document specifically instructs newspaper editors to avoid all mention of Kinkazu Saionji, a core participant in the Sorge spy ring. Saionji was a member of Japan’s governing aristocracy and a grandson of former Prime Minister Kinmochi Saionji, the country’s most esteemed interwar politician. Indeed, much of the information in the newly unearthed documents details efforts by the Japanese state to conceal the magnitude of communist penetration in the country’s leading families and governing circles.

Coverage of the Sorge incident in Japan’s two leading newspapers of the time, the Nichi Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun indicate that the government pressure was successful, according to Mainichi Shimbun. Both papers covered the incident but neither paper published information about it on its front page, nor was there mention of Saionji or of other senior Japanese officials who were members of the Sorge spy ring. According to Japanese researchers, the documents provide rare detailed examples of attempts by the country’s wartime government to guide reporting on national-security affairs. The files are currently archived in the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room of the National Diet Library in downtown Tokyo.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2018 | Permalink

North Koreans are studying nuclear physics in Japan, say human rights activists

ChongryonStudents who have pledged allegiance to North Korea are being taught advanced courses in nuclear physics and control engineering in Japan, which violates United Nations sanctions, according to human rights campaigners. The students take classes at Korea University, a higher-education institution located in in Kodaira, a western suburb of the Japanese capital Tokyo. The University is funded directly by the government of North Korea through Chongryon, a pro-Pyongyang organization otherwise known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The group represents tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are ideologically affiliated with Pyongyang.

But an organization called Human Rights in Asia has accused the Korea University of offering advanced technical courses on subjects related to nuclear engineering. According to the organization, the courses directly violate UN sanctions aimed at preventing North Korea from further-developing its nuclear weapons program. Human Rights in Asia is a partner with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, and others, in a worldwide campaign calling itself the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea. The Japanese director of Human Rights in Asia, Ken Kato, claims that the Korea University curriculum directly violates the UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang. His organization recently submitted a petition about the topic to the UN Security Council Committee pursuant to resolution 1718. The Committee was set up in 2006 to monitor sanctions placed on North Korea, after the country announced that it possessed nuclear weapons. The petition claims that the Korea University’s curriculum violates several paragraphs of the UN sanctions resolution, which forbid the provision of specialized teaching and training on subjects relating to nuclear science. The petition also accuses the Korea University of operating as “a center for North Korea’s espionage activities in Japan”.

In February of this year, authorities in South Korea arrested an associate professor of Korea University in Japan on espionage charges. Pak Chae Hun, 49, a citizen of Japan, allegedly operated as an intelligence handler for North Korean sleeper agents operating in South Korea, Japan and China. South Korean counterintelligence officials said they intercepted encrypted email messages sent to Pak from Japan. The messages allegedly contained instructions from Office 225 of the North Korean Workers’ Party Korea, which is tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea. Pak is also accused of having provided North Korean agents with telephone devices and ATM cards, which they used to withdraw cash from banks in South Asia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 December 2016 | Permalink

South Korean cabinet approves closer intelligence cooperation with Japan

South KoreaIn a move that highlights the thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan, the two nations appear to be closer than ever to entering an intelligence agreement with each other. In 2014, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo signed a trilateral intelligence-sharing agreement on regional security issues, with the United States acting as an intermediary. But a proposed new agreement between South Korea and Japan would remove the US from the equation and would facilitate direct intelligence-sharing between the two East Asian nations for the first time in history.

The proposed treaty is known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Its centerpiece is a proposal to streamline the rapid exchange of intelligence between South Korean and Japanese spy agencies, especially in times of regional crisis involving North Korea. Last week, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense publicly gave GSOMIA its blessing by stating that Seoul’s security would benefit from access to intelligence from Japanese satellite reconnaissance as well as from submarine activity in the South Sea. On Monday, South Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Yoo Il-ho, announced after a cabinet meeting that GSOMIA had been officially approved by the government.

The agreement is surprising, given the extremely tense history of Korean-Japanese relations. Japan conquered the Korean Peninsula for most of the first half of the 20th century, facing stiff resistance from local guerrilla groups. After the end of World War II and Japan’s capitulation, South Korea has sought reparations from Tokyo. In 2014, after many decades of pressure, Japan struck a formal agreement with South Korea over the plight of the so-called “comfort women”, thousands of South Korean women and girls who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese imperial forces during World War II. Relations between the two regional rivals have improved steadily since that time.

The GSOMIA agreement will now be forwarded to officials in the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. The country’s defense minister is expected to sign it during a meeting with the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in Seoul on Wednesday, local news media reported.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 November 2016 | Permalink

S. Korea police says professor was secret handler of N. Korea spies

Chongryon A Korean resident of Japan, who was arrested in South Korea for credit card fraud, was allegedly a handler of North Korean sleeper agents operating in South Korea, Japan and China, according to police in Seoul. Pak Chae Hun, 49, was arrested on Tuesday at his home in Seoul by officers of the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department. A statement issued by South Korean police said Pak was until recently an associate professor at Korea University, a higher-education institution based in the Japanese capital Tokyo. The University is funded directly by the government of North Korea through Chongryon, a pro-Pyongyang organization otherwise known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The group represents tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are ideologically affiliated with Pyongyang.

Pak was initially investigated for purchasing computer hardware in Japan using a credit card he had obtained from a Korean company using a false identity and date of birth. But when South Korean police authorities raided his home, they found encrypted messages written on scraps of paper. Further investigations detected encrypted email messages sent to Pak from Japan. According to government sources in Seoul, the messages turned out to contain instructions from Office 225 of the North Korean Workers’ Party Korea, which is tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea. South Korean authorities now claim Pak was regularly receiving encrypted instructions from Pyongyang, which he relayed to North Korean agents in China and South Korea.

South Korean sources said Pak also provided North Korean agents with telephone devices, as well as cash and ATM cards, which they used to withdraw cash from banks in South Asia. Police sources in Seoul say Pak was recruited by North Korean spies over 15 years ago and regularly traveled to China to meet North Korean agents there. The former professor is now facing fraud charges, while South Korean authorities are considering the possibility of charging him with espionage, even though he was not caught in the act of spying against South Korea.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 February 2016 | Permalink

China announces arrests of Japanese citizens on espionage charges

Liaoning ChinaAuthorities in China announced last week the arrests of two Japanese citizens accused of spying for the national intelligence agency of Japan. According to a spokesman from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two men were been arrested last May “on suspicion of carrying out espionage activities” for Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency. Administered by Japan’s Ministry of Justice, the Public Security Intelligence Agency is tasked with protecting the country’s internal security by collecting intelligence both within and without Japan. The Agency has a long history of organizing human intelligence operations in mainland China.

Following China’s announcement last week, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, who serves as the government’s press secretary, denied that the two men had links with Japanese intelligence. But the Tokyo-based Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday that the two men had admitted that they had links with the Public Security Intelligence Agency. Citing unnamed Chinese and Japanese diplomats, Kyodo said the two men were on a mission to collect intelligence about Chinese military facilities, as well as to spy on Chinese military activities in the border regions between China and North Korea. The news agency said that both men were civilians and did not have diplomatic credentials. One of them is believed to be a 51-year-old who travels regularly to China. He was reportedly captured in the vicinity of a military facility in China’s eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. The other man was described by Kyoto as a 55-year-old North Korean defector to Japan; he was detained in the northeast province of Liaoning (photo), near China’s border with North Korea.

Kyoto said it contacted the Public Security Intelligence Agency, but a spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on the arrest of the two alleged spies. This is the third instance of arrests of Japanese spies in China on espionage charges since 2005. In the summer of that year, Beijing expelled two Japanese nationals for allegedly stealing military secrets. Five years later, four Japanese citizens were detained in Shijiazhuang, reportedly for spying on a Chinese military base there. All were released within a year of their capture.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink