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Japan's electronics empire draws spies from East and West

By Geoffrey MurraySpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 21, 1982


Japanese often refer to their country sarcastically as a ''paradise for spies.''

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One leading magazine recently complained that the country was becoming a ''cockpit for spooks of varied stripes and feathers.''

But Japanese security authorities are seriously handicapped in their battle with the spies by the absence of any anti-espionage law. Thus, a private citizen obtaining state secrets and passing them on to a foreign power can be charged only with theft. And even a senior military officer caught in 1980 passing classified information to the Soviet embassy could be sentenced only to a maximum one-year jail term.

The climate in favor of stronger measures against spies could be helped by the US release earlier this month of congressional testimony given by Soviet defector Stanislav Levchenko, who confessed that his four-year assignment to Tokyo in the late 1970s as a magazine correspondent was a cover for his real activities as a KGB field case officer.

There has been the usual guessing game as to the identity of the 200 Japanese agents Mr. Levchenko said the KGB had used, including government and opposition politicians and journalists. Some of those who believe they are the ones he has in mind have been quick to issue denials.

Police say they will take no action on the Russian's claims, and, after the initial shock, many Japanese seem to be more interested in why the United States chose this particular moment to release Levchenko's testimony made last July. The most popular theory is that Washington wants to shock Japan into being more aware of the espionage danger, especially from the Soviet Union, as part of the campaign to encourage more Japanese defense spending.

Experts say the Soviets, North and South Koreans, and to a lesser extent the Chinese and Americans, currently are most active in the intelligence field.

Intelligence sources claim there are probably at least 200 Soviet intelligence agents in Japan, including diplomats, representatives of the Aeroflot airline, Intourist travel agency, a shipping line, and correspondents of various Soviet media.

One function is to influence Japanese public and political opinion, to make it more pro-Soviet, dropping claims for return of Soviet-held northern islands and signing a formal peace treaty, plus more generosity in trade and economic aid.

The other side is straight spying. Naturally the Russians want to know more about US-Japan defense cooperation as well as Japan's diplomatic contacts with such countries as China.

But the public security investigation agency, the main antisubversion organization, is believed to be more concerned at present by Soviet business espionage.

This has become more pronounced with Japan's emergence as a major force in the electronics and optics industries (for instance, cameras for ''smart'' bombs , lasers for new space-age weapons). The US and Soviet Union, in fact, are competing for the same technology, although Washington hopes to obtain this through the front door.