A former member of a special Ground Staff Office unit has told Kyodo News about intelligence activities long conducted without the knowledge of the prime minister or defense minister, including paying several million yen to collaborators and sending a spy to North Korea.
The unit’s very existence has been kept secret, even within the Ground Self-Defense Force, the source said. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Wednesday denied the unit exists.
The source described enrolling in a psychological warfare and security course at a GSDF school in Kodaira, western Tokyo, under orders from a superior.
The Kodaira school is believed to trace its roots to the Imperial Japanese Army’s Nakano school, which specialized in teaching espionage and counterintelligence during the war.
At Kodaira, there were about seven to eight classmates, the source said. They were mostly GSDF personnel, but occasionally included members of the other two branches of the Self-Defense Forces.
The students were trained in such areas as tracking people, infiltration and surveillance, the source said.
After completing the course, the source was assigned to a “team” and was prohibited from contacting outsiders. The source was prohibited from carrying any ID or sending New Year’s cards, for example. The source likewise skipped gatherings among former classmates of the National Defense Academy.
Members of the special unit were treated as taking a temporary leave of absence from the GSDF or giving up their affiliation entirely, but still received full salary and retirement benefits, the source said. People in charge of the unit in the Ground Staff Office’s human resources department take care of these hidden arrangements, according to the source.
The intelligence unit was headquartered in the basement of the Defense Ministry in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district, the source said. It had several “hideouts” — rooms rented in commercial buildings — around Tokyo and the source’s team relocated frequently between areas such as Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Shinjuku to stay anonymous.
Members worked in groups and saw those of other groups only occasionally at the headquarters and did not know each others’ real names, the source said. The source recalled having bribed an ethnic Korean resident in Japan and sent the resident to North Korea as a spy.
Members came under strong psychological pressure as they had to work while hiding their identity as SDF members. Half of the team members mentally broke down, the source said.
The team’s leader gave tough orders, resulting in some members quitting, saying they felt they could no longer operate outside of the law, the source said.
When funds for activities ran short, members could request more from the intelligence headquarters in the Defense Ministry, the source said. When members had leftover money, they held lavish parties among themselves, and kept no receipts, the source said.