WASHINGTON – The United States recruited former top Japanese army officers after World War II to form a spy ring against communists in Japan and other countries such as the Soviet Union and North Korea, according to recently declassified U.S. intelligence documents.
The documents are the first official confirmation that operations were conducted from the late 1940s to the early 1950s by the so-called Kawabe Organization, whose existence had been revealed earlier by statements of some those involved and other materials.
Headed by former Lt. Gen. Torashiro Kawabe, who served as deputy chief of the Imperial Japanese Army’s General Staff, the intelligence organization resembled the Gehlen Org, an anticommunist spy group set up by former Nazi officer Maj. Gen. Reinhard Gehlen, who was also recruited by the U.S. military after the war.
As in the widely documented German case, key members of the Japanese group did not face charges of war crimes under the postwar U.S. policy of prioritizing anticommunist operations.
The declassified documents were kept by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. They included memorandums and reports, such as personal information on former Lt. Gen. Seizo Arisue, who headed the 2nd Bureau in charge of intelligence at the army’s General Staff and joined the spy group after the war.
According to a report dated Sept. 15, 1959, on Arisue, the Kawabe Organization was established through a request in 1948 by Brig. Gen. Charles Willoughby, who headed the G-2 intelligence unit of the General Headquarters of the U.S.-led Occupation in Japan.
“About the end of 1948, Gen. Willoughby requested the formation of an intelligence organization, which became known as the KAWABE Organization,” the report says.
The report says its members also included former Gen. Sadamu Shimomura, who was the last war minister, and former Lt. Gen. Eiichi Tatsumi, who is also known to have served as one of the “brains” for postwar Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.
Kawabe outlined how to carry out operations, which were dubbed “TAKEMATSU,” during a series of talks between key group members and G-2 American officers starting in September 1948, according to several memorandums dated May 20, 1949.
“TAKEMATSU is the code name for a secret intelligence operation,” one memorandum says, with “MATSU” referring to domestic spy activities and “TAKE” to missions abroad.
As for overseas activities, Kawabe proposed using Hokkaido as a base for missions related to the Soviet Union, and Kyushu, mainly Tsushima Island, for operations related to the Korean Peninsula.
But Willoughby directed the Japanese group to focus more on the Hokkaido route, according to a memorandum.
The Hokkaido operations outlined by Kawabe included gathering information from the Japanese people still remaining in Soviet-occupied Sakhalin and the Kuril islands, sending repatriates back into the Soviet Union as agents, and utilizing radio intercepts, according to the memorandum.
The documents do not include information on how successful the operations were, though they show that contacts between the Kawabe group and the G-2 side continued from 1949 to at least 1952.
The Kawabe Organization was disbanded sometime in or after December 1952, when the G-2 informed it that U.S. funding would be stopped for the next fiscal year, while also calling for a “radical reduction” of personnel and scope of operations.
“Kawabe was offended at the sudden and one-sided decision, and he and his colleagues decided to dissolve the group rather than accept G-2’s terms,” according to an information report dated Jan. 16, 1953.
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