National / Politics

Islamic State could attack Japan's infrastructure, public safety minister says

by Isabel Reynolds and Kyoko Shimodoi


Japan is at risk of cyberattacks on its essential infrastructure by the Islamic State group, the minister in charge of public safety said in an interview two weeks after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

Chairperson of the National Public Safety Commission since October, Cabinet minister Taro Kono supervises the National Police Agency, meaning he is closely involved with security arrangements as the country prepares for the Group of Seven meeting in Japan next year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Kono didn’t cite any specific Islamic State threats against Japan, though the group has said it considers the country a target.

“What we need to be most concerned about is the Islamic State progressing to cyberattacks on important infrastructure from using the Internet for public relations and recruiting,” Kono said Tuesday. “They have some very capable people” and are likely to make such a move in the “not-too-distant future,” he added.

While Japan has not experienced an Islamic State attack on its own soil, two of its citizens were kidnapped by the group, which announced in February it had murdered them. The killings came as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a policy of closer military cooperation with the U.S. and other partners, something opponents say may entangle the long-pacifist nation in conflict.

The shift in threats from physical attacks to cyberspace will undermine the security advantages on which Japan has tended to rely: difficulty of access to the island nation and strict gun control laws, Kono said at his offices. Japan will therefore be exposed to risks similar to those faced by the U.S. and Europe in future, and must work to seal off vulnerable points in advance of any attack, he added.

The government has been consulting with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6 intelligence service to gain expertise, Kono said.

As he seeks to bolster Japan’s ability to counter new threats, he may find himself torn by his concurrent responsibility for cost-cutting as minister for administrative reform.

“If you think about countering terrorism and security policy, you need to increase the number of bureaucrats,” he said. “On the other hand, if you think about bringing the primary balance into the black, it’s not about increases, but how far you can cut back the number of bureaucrats.”

On the security front, one of his priorities will be to prepare for the 2020 Olympics, when thousands of athletes and tourists will descend on Tokyo. Assuring safety at the games is a massive endeavor, said Sir John Scarlett, a former chief of MI6, which helped with security arrangements for the 2012 event in London.

More than 18,000 troops were involved in security for the London Olympics, twice the figure deployed by the U.K. to Afghanistan, he said. The operation also involved 52 police force members and 7,500 private security guards.

“With globalization, you potentially bring the world’s problems to Japan,” Scarlett said at a security conference in Tokyo last week. “The cyberdimension will further complicate the threat landscape.”

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