Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday that another set of logs — this time from Air Self Defense Force activities in Iraq — were found on Thursday, the latest in a series of revelations that have reignited doubt over the ministry’s civilian control over the SDF.
Onodera pledged to further probe the ministry’s careless handling of data and promised to announce the result as soon as possible.
The logs found on Thursday were in a PDF format and included three pages covering three days of ASDF activities in Iraq, which in total spanned from 2003 to 2009.
The revelation is particularly troubling for Onodera because he has now been forced to revise the date of discovery of SDF logs from Iraq on three occasions.
On Monday, Onodera announced that daily operation logs from Ground Self-Defense Force activities were discovered two months ago despite an earlier claim by the ministry that they had been discarded.
On Wednesday, Onodera said the GSDF’s research unit had actually discovered the logs in March last year but didn’t report that to top ministry officials until Wednesday morning.
Opposition lawmakers have long demanded the disclosure of logs from the controversial Iraq mission, and the Defense Ministry is legally required to release such records, except those including sensitive information.
“Depending on the result of the investigations, it could be a huge problem that may be linked to civilian control,” Onodera told reporters during a regular news conference on Friday.
Onodera said the logs were discovered in the Air Staff Office on Thursday evening. He said the ASDF chief told him about the discovery on Friday morning.
He added that Shin Miyakawa, of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, had asked the ministry on Thursday to release any logs related to the “ASDF’s activities of transporting troops to Baghdad,” and found them by surprise.
“We said in February last year that activity logs from Iraq didn’t exist. I feel much regret about it,” Onodera said, adding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had advised him earlier on Friday to announce the discovery as soon as possible.
Onodera also admitted that the logs had not been found until now despite the ministry’s effort to avoid a repeat of a similar scandal last year, in which logs related to GSDF activities in South Sudan were found even after then-defense chief Tomomi Inada claimed they didn’t exist. Inada, who resigned last July over the scandal, had also said the logs from Iraq didn’t exist.
Since last July, the Joint Staff Office has been in charge of managing logs in a unified manner in an effort to prevent further trouble, and an internal task force was established on Wednesday to further investigate the lapses.
“I was told that the search was finished by February last year. But the search was not enough,” Onodera said.
“We will continue searching for logs,” he said, adding that he will order the GSDF, ASDF and MSDF to continue their search as well.
Gen. Yoshinari Marumo, chief of the Air Staff, apologized during a regular news conference on Friday, saying that past searches were insufficient. He explained that the logs were found in a shared computer folder used by the Air Staff Office’s Operations Support Division. He said they could not find the documents in past searches because they were in a folder for weekly reports, not in a folder for daily reports as expected.
“We may have been taking the wrong approach,” Marumo said.
Later Friday, Onodera held an instructional briefing attended by hundreds of ministry officials, where he said he is feeling “a sense of crisis” over the recent scandals.
“It’s a huge problem that risks Defense Ministry and SDF trust from the people,” Onodera said.
The latest scandal is sure to add to the recent furor over the government’s handling of official documents. It emerged last month that the Finance Ministry falsified dozens of documents related to a shady 2016 land deal with nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
Last fall, the education ministry was hit by a scandal involving leaked documents produced by ministry officials over allegations that Abe used the power of his office to help a close friend open a veterinary department in a special economic zone. In that scandal, which centered on school operator Kake Gakuen, the government had initially denied the records in question existed.