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Bill to set up U.S.-style security council clears Lower House

Passage lets Lower House start discussion on secrets act

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Lower House passed a bill Thursday to establish a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council and sent it to the Upper House, then began deliberating on a bill to protect state secrets.

The two security-related bills are the centerpieces of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of bolstering Japan’s security structure amid intensifying provocations in Asia.

The security council bill is expected to clear the Upper House before the current Diet session ends Dec. 6.

With the bill, Abe aims to consolidate the flow of information under the Cabinet Office so the prime minister will have a better handle on decision-making on national security matters.

A similar mechanism already exists, but under the current system some data can be contradictory because there is no integration of information from each ministry. In addition, some information doesn’t even get to the prime minister due to bureaucratic sectionalism.

Under the council’s auspices, information from related ministries will be processed before it is presented to the prime minister.

The prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary, foreign minister and defense minister will meet regularly and share the information to bypass bureaucratic red tape, and draw up mid- to long-term policies on security and diplomacy.

The bill mandates that each ministry and agency provide information to the council to make sure it has a central role in analysis, a clause demanded by the Democratic Party of Japan.

The DPJ, however, failed in its attempt to get language into the bill requiring that the council log conference minutes to maintain public transparency.

The secrets bill taken up by the Lower House is, according to Abe, indispensable for the security council to function properly.

The opposition camp is critical of the bill as it could infringe on the people’s right to know.

Under the bill, public servants would face as much as 10 years in prison for leaking government-designated state secrets, while journalists could face the same punishment for seeking information in an unlawful way.

One of the issues is its loose definition of what constitutes state secrets.

The bill says information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism would be designated as state secrets. But it does not contain a clear set of standards for classification, allowing government officials to decide what is a secret at their own discretion.

“The bill says the government should consult with experts when it sets operational standards, but it lacks a system to check if the classification was properly done,” said DPJ member Shu Watanabe.

The DPJ has also submitted a bill to amend the information disclosure law to allow courts to decide whether classifying something as secret was appropriate. Even though the Lower House started deliberating on it Nov. 1, the bill is unlikely to be passed this session.