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Leak gives Tokyo police black eye

Dead-end probe huge setback for anti-terror effort

Kyodo

Three years after someone leaked documents on its counterterrorism investigations onto the Internet, Tokyo police have reached a dead end in their efforts to find the culprit while some Muslim residents who served as informants continue to live in fear with their identities exposed.

With the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges having expired at midnight Monday, the incident has become a major embarrassment for the Metropolitan Police Department’s public security bureau.

Critics have zeroed in on the bureau’s vulnerability to Net crimes and its carelessness in controlling information while condemning its inability to hunt down the perpetrator, whom the police suspect was someone within the organization.

“Terrorism is not just planting bombs or killing people. Destroying people’s lives is also terrorism. So the public security officials are also terrorists,” a Muslim resident in his 30s said.

The documents, in which some informants were described as supporting terrorists, included a photo showing the man’s face as well as his address and the names of his family members.

He said that since the leak in October 2010, he has lost more than 70 percent of his businesses’ customers and receives silent phone calls at his home.

The man has not returned to his home country since the leak.

The documents “were written as if I am a terrorist and released to the whole world,” he said. “Once I leave Japan, you never know when or where I’ll be stopped for questioning.”

He says that his mother calls him almost every day asking why he never comes home but that he is unwilling to explain the situation so as not to make her worry.

“Without explaining what kind of investigation they did, the police just said they don’t know who did it. There’s no way I can accept that,” said the man, whose anger is still evident.

A man of Middle Eastern origin in his 40s cooperated with the Japanese police after he was asked to help them in their efforts “to eradicate terrorism.” After the leak, he was appalled to find that what he had told them appeared word for word in the leaked documents.

He said he is disappointed that the MPD has still not formally recognized the leaked material as internal documents, though it has effectively admitted it. He said he himself is “convinced 100 percent that they are genuine police documents.”

The man said he told the police “never to call him again” when an officer telephoned to offer an apology after the leak.

“I was scared, thinking I’d be harassed. I just want to forget about the incident,” the man said.

A group of Muslims cited in the documents have filed a damages lawsuit against the Tokyo Metropolitan and central governments.

“If a court determines that the leaked documents are from the police, senior Tokyo police officers won’t be able to escape from being held responsible for not having acknowledged the fact,” said Kenichiro Kawasaki, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

On Oct. 28 and 29, 2010, a total of 114 documents, believed to have been produced by the third foreign affairs division of the MPD’s public security bureau, were released on the Internet. The division is tasked with cross-border terrorism investigations.

The documents included confidential private data on Muslims who cooperated with police in counterterrorism operations as well as surveillance data on Muslim communities in Japan.

The MPD admitted they “contained information highly likely to have been handled by our staff” and concluded that it was a deliberate leak rather than an unintended mishap via a virus-infected computer.

Claiming the leak impacted the police operations to ensure the safety of the Asia-Pacific summit in Yokohama in November the same year, the MPD investigated the case on suspicion of obstruction of their duties until the statute of limitations expired.

The MPD questioned about 400 officers chiefly in the third external affairs unit and requested cooperation with investigative authorities in around 60 countries. Faced with a wall of anonymity on the Internet, however, the police failed to uncover the source of the leak.

“You can call it the biggest failure in the history of Japan’s counterterrorism operations,” said Naofumi Miyasaka, professor of security and counterterrorism measures at the National Defense Academy. “It wasn’t wrong at all for the police to gather information from a broad range of sources to forestall acts of terrorism, but if (the information) is leaked outside, that’s the end of it.”

Trust between Muslim informants and investigators was ruined completely, he said. “Regaining trust will take an extremely long period of time, not just five or 10 years,” Miyasaka said. “Till then, obtaining intelligence from Muslims in Japan about potential terrorism activities will be difficult.”

Journalist Akihiro Otani said, “I get the impression that the latest case is a parade of police failures such as sloppy information management . . . and their exposed helplessness in the face of an apparently ingenious crime using the Internet.”

Otani said the incident would fall under the secrets protection law the government plans to enact. “When you can’t solve a case almost definitely committed by someone inside (the police), forcing stricter penalties on information leaks by citizens is nothing but nonsense,” he said.