There used to be a saying among Washington bureaucrats: A great way to leak information is to pass it along to Tokyo. Once hailed as a "spy's paradise" because of its weak state secrecy laws, Japan is trying to reform its reputation as an information sieve with a hotly contested new measure that brings Japanese law more in line with U.S. national security policy -- perhaps with troubling implications.
The new law, which passed Japan's upper house Friday, will give agency heads discretionary power to classify 23 types of information in four categories -- defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-intelligence -- and stiffens penalties for leaking state secrets, even in cases of journalists exposing wrongdoing. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted that the law is necessary if Japan is to maintain effective diplomatic partnerships with the United States and other allies.
Washington, for its part, has long supported stronger secrecy laws in Japan, if only to make it easier for the two nations to share information. In 2011, when the NSA asked Japan's government to help wiretap fiber-optic cables to gather information about Beijing, Japan refused the request, citing legal restrictions and a lack of infrastructure. "It's clear that the United States has for a long time been unimpressed with Japan's capability to protect classified information," Richard Samuels, the director of MIT's Center for International Studies, told Foreign Policy.
When a U.S. Marine Corps task force sent nearly all of its 2,400 personnel ashore in Jordan in June, Marine officials said it had nothing to do with the horrific civil war in neighboring Syria. Turns out, that's half right: While the Marines were in Jordan for long-planned training exercise with the Jordanian military, their commander on the ground expected to be call on to intervene in the crisis by assisting the tens of thousands of refugees who had flooded across the border into Jordan.
Col. Matthew St. Clair, the commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, acknowledged that point during an appearance Thursday at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Arlington, Va. The colonel admitted it was a surprise his Marines were not called on to assist the refugees -- just one more sign of how close the United States was earlier this year to intervening in the Syrian civil war.
"I thought that exercise would turn into something else, but it did not," St. Clair said. "The exercise stayed focused on the exercise's objectives, and continuing to expand and build our partnership with the Jordanian armed forces."