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Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010

Officials fear WikiLeaks' potential to harm U.S. ties


Staff writer

What's next? What disasters await in the pipeline?

Those are the big questions for diplomats and senior government officials in Tokyo as they closely watch what WikiLeaks uploads onto the Internet about Tokyo-Washington ties.

Documents from various sources are posted onto the WikiLeaks website on a regular basis, and the recent trove of unauthorized data suggests more will follow.

Despite a deluge of information that made headlines worldwide last week, nothing damaging has been leaked about Japan — so far.

But depending on information forthcoming, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Democratic Party of Japan-led government could face serious damage, critics said.

Yoshimitsu Nishikawa, a professor of international relations at Toyo University, said that in this post-9/11 age, information is like a "bomb" being fought over not just by states but by terrorist groups, international organizations and even influential individuals.

"Even war is not about country versus country anymore," Nishikawa said.

"It is inevitable that we are now in an era when countries need to (protect) information from being stolen not by other countries but by other sources."

Up to now, the information divulged by WikiLeaks pertaining to Japan has been of little scandalous nature, critics said. Cables disclosed include one showing Washington had asked Tokyo to relax its long-standing ban on arms exports and another reported former Prime Minister Taro Aso's impression of Chinese leaders.

According to the website, however, among the more than 250,000 documents uploaded, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo sent the third-highest number of cables, next only to Turkey and Iraq.

"Diplomatic negotiations are about trust," Nishikawa said. "No one is going to trust a country whose information is going to be leaked the next day."

Japan-U.S. relations have been strained over the past year due to a contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

The issue is far from being resolved and Nishikawa said the information held by WikiLeaks may state the reality that the U.S. government does not trust the DPJ.

Kan is trying to rebuild Japan-U.S. relations, but if any documents show that the U.S. will no longer recognize the DPJ-led government as a trustful partner to maintain the Japan-U.S. alliance, it could be a serious blow for his administration, Nishikawa said.

WikiLeaks started on Nov. 28 disclosing some of the 251,287 U.S. diplomatic cables it obtained, making headlines worldwide. The information ranges from security issues to insults directed at the leaders of other nations. Because of the leaks, Washington has been scurrying to douse the fire created by the fallout.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara called WikiLeaks' action illegal and outrageous.

"They stole information from others and released it without permission," Maehara told a recent news conference.

"The government has authority over disclosing classified information and we should not by any means praise (WikiLeaks) for it."

WikiLeaks is a nonprofit organization that leaks government information, some of it classified, obtained from anonymous sources. The group was launched by Australian activist Julian Assange in 2006.

Kenichi Ito, president of the Japan Forum on International Relations, a nonprofit think tank, said leaking classified diplomatic documents cannot be condoned.

According to Ito, a former senior Foreign Ministry official, diplomatic secrets have the highest degree of public interest because they are based on what the government believes are in the national interest.

"Protecting such information is in the interest of every citizen and it is unforgivable to collect and expose it this way," Ito said.

But he pointed out that governments are ultimately responsible for protecting diplomatic secrets.

The U.S. promoted information-sharing after the independent 9/11 Commission concluded that one of the reasons the government failed to prevent the attacks was that various agencies failed to communicate with each other.

The U.S. government "should have been prepared to secure the classified information but did not take such precautions," Ito said.

"In that sense, it is the U.S. State Department and the U.S. government that need to be criticized, not Assange."

Ito stressed that it is crucial not only for Japan but also for governments all over the world to rebuild their information management systems to prevent future leaks.

"Governments have been running things without imagining (threats) like the Internet, and that is why they were caught off guard by Assange," Ito said.

"All governments need to immediately review and redo their management of classified information . . . to make sure their information management systems are geared for the Internet age."

U.S. briefs Maehara

Kyodo News

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has been briefed by the United States on the recent massive leak of classified diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks, the top government spokesman said Friday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said at a news conference that Maehara was briefed by U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos during their meeting Thursday at the ministry.

But Sengoku refused to go into detail, saying the substance of the meeting is "very delicate diplomatically."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has so far called leaders or foreign ministers of 11 countries to express her regret over the leak of its diplomatic cables.

Japan was not among the 11 countries.



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