Japan's biggest spy scandal since World War II is causing deep governmental concern in three areas: 1. The Self-Defense Forces. Morale has been severely jolted by the disclosure that a retired major general and two subalterns in active service had been feeding military secrets to the Soviet Union, possibly for many years.
2. Relations with the United States and with China. The classified information apparently largely concerned the state of American forces in Japan and of China's defenses against the Soviet Union.
3. Legislation. Hawks in the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party are already calling for the passage of a secrets-protection act similar to, but perhaps not so draconian as Britain's Official Secrets Act. Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira, who commands a bare majority in the Diet (parliament), wishes, if possible, to avoid controversy on so sensitive a constitutional issue when he already faces enough trouble trying to get his deficit-cutting budget through the Diet.
One possibly beneficial fallout may be the heightening of public vigilance over the need for better defenses against the Soviet Union. There is already deep disquiet over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (Anger would perhaps be too strong a word to characterize Japanese reactions as yet.)
Retired Maj. Gen. Yukihisa Miyanaga, 1st Lt. Eiichi- Kashii, and Warrant Officer Tsunetoshi Oshima were arrested by officers of the Metropolitan Police Board on Jan. 18. The following afternoon Col. Yuri Kozlov, Soviet military attache, left with his wife by plane for Moscow without responding to a Japanese request to appear at police headquarters.
General Miyanaga was one of Japan's top intelligence experts on the Soviet Union until his retirement from the Self-Defense Force in 1974. Lieutenant Kashii and Mr. Oshima are both intelligence officers. They are former subordinates of the general and have confessed that they supplied him with classified documents, knowing that he was passing them on to the Soviet Union.
General Miyanaga is said to have denied that he was motivated either by money or by ideology, although he has admitted being paid for his spying. What his real motives may have been remains obscure, as does the exact length of time he may have been working for the Soviets.
The shock felt at Self-Defense Force headquarters and by the public at large is profound. In postwar Japan there is no crime of treason, nor is there any legislation corresponding to Britain's Official Secrets Act.
The Constitution bans war and "war potential," but the Self-Defense Forces get around this provision by claiming that they are not armed forces in the classical sense, but forces established solely to exercise Japan's "inherent" right of self-defense. Therefore there are no military secrets, and members of the Self-Defense Forces come under the same civil law as any citizen.
Nevertheless, the all-volunteer Self-Defense Force is a highly professional and dedicated force. To Most Japanese, the idea that a former general, a product of Japan's prewar Imperial Military Academy, should not only have spied for the Soviet Union but also have persuaded former subordinates in active service into doing the same seems almost incredible.
Even without an official-secrets law, Self-Defense Force authorities had considered that their own internal discipline and procedures for protecting secrets would be sufficient to prevent leakage. This presumption now must be fundamentally revised. The ground forces chief of staff has offered his resignation, and the minister of state for defense, Enji Kubota, may also have to quit.
Japanese government sources also are concerned that relations with the United States and China may be affected. Many of the documents discovered at General Miyanaga's home (along with a radio transmitter and a code table) are said to have had to do either with information about the equipment and state of American forces in Japan or with the state of Chinese defense forces obtained either by the Japanese or passed on to them by the United States.
There are, of course, two subjects in which Soviet intelligence would be far more interested than in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which have limited military capabilities. The embarrassament felt here is all the greater because the establishment of agreed defense guidelines with Washington a year ago opened the way for Tokyo to obtain more access to sensitive American defense information. As for China, the Miyanaga incident could dampen enthusiasm for the exchanges of good-will delegations that Peking recently has been promoting with the Self-Defense Forces.