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Chobetsu (Chosa Besshitsu)

The Chosa Besshitsu (or Chobetsu), which analyzes radio and other transmissions in and around Japan, was established in 1958. Chobetsu makes use of facilities built in Japan by the various arms of the NSA, including the affiliated Naval Security Group, Army Security Agency, and Air Force Intelligence operations. The Chobetsu is part of the Self-Defense Forces, so its main focus is on military intelligence. This unit, operating under the highest level of secrecy, engages in the interception and decryption of North Korean communications. Digital pattern recognition technology is used to identify the voices of North Korean military commanders. Initiallly focused on the Soviet Far East, China and North Korea, the expansion of collection capabilities extended its area of interest to Taiwan, Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.

By the early 1980s, it was believed to operate nine signals intelligence ground stations with an estimated staff of nearly 1,000. A circularly distributed and arranged antenna (CDAA), the same model as the "elephant cage" that became famous at the communications office in Sobe in Okinawa, stands in Higashi Chitose in Hokkaido and another in Miho in Tottori Prefecture (they both belong to the GSDF). Chobetsu embarked on a major expansion in the early 1980s, and by the early 1990s, operated a total of 18 or 19 ground stations with some 1,100 personnel.

While under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chobetsu reported directly to the Cabinet Research Office. Although this "special intelligence unit" was organizationally attached to the GSDF, its chief had been successively assigned from the National Police Agency. Therefore, most of the collected information was reported directly to the Cabinet's Office of Intelligence. According to some accounts, Chobetsu is directed domestically at US installations and US companies in Japan, and at domestic Japanese companies.

The communications office in Tachiarai in Fukuoka Prefecture -- a detached force from the "special intelligence unit" on China-related information -- had the information on former Chinese Communist Party Vice Chairman Lin Biao's decision to defect aboard a Trident airplane and his subsequent demise due to the plane crash. Another success happened when the Korean Airlines' airplane was shot down. A detached force in Wakkanai from the special office of the second intelligence division of the GSDF's intelligence department, also known as the "special intelligence unit," was able to intercept and record the communications between the pilot of the Soviet fighter plane and the air strike control center in Sakhalin, capturing the first-rate classified information pertaining to the incident. Through voice analysis, it even identified the name of the pilot, proving that its daily accumulation of data was useful.

Japan's current intelligence system involves compiling, collating, analyzing, and evaluating data from satellites, radio transmissions, and telecommunications gathered from both US and Japanese sources. Japan is a signatory to the UK-USA intelligence sharing agreement, but only at the level of a "Third Party", with substantial limitations on what information is shared and the timeliness of its delivery. And although Japan and the United States are bound by a defense alliance, this does not mean the United States is required to provide all of its reconnaissance information to Japan.

This interaction with the US was illustrated on 21 March 1998 when the radio monitoring facility of the Self Defense Agency (SDA) in Tottori Prefecture detected an unidentified code transmitted from ships in the Sea of Japan. The activity of the two North Korean intelligence collection boats was detected by a US intelligence satellite. Based on this detection, an American EP-3 electronic intelligence aircraft identified the location of the two Morth Korean boats, and on 23 March Japanese SDA patrol planes found the two boats. The information from the US satellite was transmitted to DIA and CINCPAC. CINCPAC sent the information to the US base in Yokota City in Tokyo, and Japan's SDA Intelligence Office received it from the US base. The US Army Headquarter Office has three intelligence officers with liaison offices in SDA offices, and the SDA has counterpart officers at the US base in Yokota City.

The group of five countries — Five Eyes — sharing intelligence, is trying to rope in Japan and Germany, according to a Reuters report in October 2018. Egging on Tokyo to be a part of the group comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, Japanese media recently claimed that "Japan deserves to be the Sixth Eye." Even if the Abe administration hasn't clearly expressed its intention, it is possible that Japan will join the alliance.

The main reason is that the US, the leader of the Five Eyes alliance, intends to bring in Japan. In the context of the Indo-Pacific strategy, Washington needs new helpers to place its so-called rivals in Eurasia under surveillance. Japan and other US partners are unlikely to refuse such request. The Five Eyes alliance is a group of English-speaking countries with white people forming a majority of the population.

It is also a ruling circle set up by the US and UK in the early stages of the Cold War. But the current regional challenges are severe, and the US may as well rope in an island country in East Asia. Japan's geopolitical condition helps the US to watch out for the Asia-Pacific region. As an important Asian country, Japan will help the US in intelligence gathering and forming a geopolitical barrier. Since the two countries have already forged a military alliance, they will enhance intelligence cooperation as a matter of course.

Joining the alliance will also benefit Japan. Contributing to Washington's hegemony to elevate its standing among US allies seems worthwhile for Japan. After attempts to break away from Asia, move close to Europe and the US, Japan can eventually join the Western hegemon's main ruling clique. Exchanging intelligence with the Five Eyes group will also benefit Japan's own information security, and will help create more opportunities for development.

But picking sides may harm Japan's relations with the countries under surveillance. If Japan joins the alliance, it will be duty bound to exchange intelligence that harms the interests of those being snooped on. Japan may even impose technological blockade and exclude those being targeted from trade, which may lead to a domino effect. Tokyo should decide which is more important —the US or the emerging countries of Eurasia. While weighing joining the alliance, Japan should also take the country's influence, benefits and potential risks of joining the group into consideration. Japan will certainly strive for its own interest instead of endangering itself for other's gains.

If Japan gets into the Five Eyes fold, they will together build a system of intelligence exchange mechanism against China. Besides, Japan will also increase its investment in the area, which will add pressure on China's intelligence and information security.




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