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Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011

'Terrorists' got redefined after 9/11

Term now used by state, public to paint all kinds of activists, groups

Staff writer

OSAKA — Ten years after al-Qaida attacked the United States on Sept. 11, Japan has strengthened efforts to combat domestic and international terrorism through new legislation, policy directives and tougher immigration procedures.

But although police powers have been boosted in the name of preventing terrorism, the official use of the word "terrorist" has expanded to encompass not only internationally recognized terrorist organizations, but also groups and individuals protesting — sometimes violently — against government policies.

After the 9/11 attacks, Tokyo announced it would work with Washington to combat international terrorism. But strengthening domestic laws to prevent terrorists and suspected extremists from entering or transiting through Japan, or from funneling money through its banks, took many years.

According to cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo released by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks last week, Washington was particularly concerned about the time Tokyo was taking to toughen its immigration procedures after 9/11.

In March 2006, a cable about an upcoming visit to Tokyo by then Department of Homeland Security head Michael Chertnoff emphasized the importance that the U.S. placed on Japan revising its immigration laws.

"The revision would authorize the government to collect foreigners' biometric data, deport suspected terrorists, and mandate airline participation in a Japanese version of the Advanced Passenger Information System," the cable said.

But the cable added that competition between Japan's ministries and public opposition was delaying legislation.

"The government of Japan has been receptive to our ideas, but bureaucratic stovepiping impedes the sharing of information among ministries. In addition, a complacent attitude about threats directed against domestic targets means that many Japanese do not share the same urgency in developing and implementing domestic antiterrorist measures as we do in the United States," the cable said.

The controversial biometric control system, which requires all foreigners entering Japan to be photographed and to submit to fingerprinting of their index fingers, went into effect in November 2007.

In 2010, Tokyo informed Washington that between the time the new system was introduced and Oct. 31, 2009, 1,465 foreign nationals were caught trying to enter or re-enter Japan using forged passports. But it was not made public how many of them were on international terrorist watch lists.

Other measures to counter terrorist threats were enacted between 2007 and 2009, often in cooperation with the U.S.

In January 2007, Japan revised its foreign-exchange law, requiring banks to confirm the identity of customers who wired ¥100,000 or more overseas. The rules were also changed so that domestic financial institutions would have to confirm the identity of those sending wire transfers of ¥100,000 or more from abroad.

The new measures were not limited to the flow of people and cash. Concerns about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear material to make a dirty bomb prompted governments around the world to increase protection of cargo facilities in port areas.

In March 2009, radiation portal monitors were installed at the port of Yokohama and began screening containers for the presence of nuclear and other radioactive materials under the U.S. Megaports Initiative, which Japan had in 2008 agreed to join.

As was the case in the U.S., Japan's new laws and initiatives resulted in the term "terrorists" being used in an increasingly broad sense, both officially and colloquially. Its use among Japanese politicians, bureaucrats and the media was no longer limited to mass murder in the name of political or religious causes. Antiwhaling activists, such as those protesting the dolphin hunts at Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, and other groups both in and outside Japan, found themselves directly or indirectly referred to as terrorists.

Two surveys conducted last November by the Metropolitan Police Department, just before and immediately after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Yokohama, illustrate how the term has come to be officially used and employed, as well as its effect on public perception.

The survey's first question was: "Do you know that the threat of terrorism is increasing?" A total of 84.9 percent of respondents prior to the APEC summit and 80.3 percent afterward replied that they did.

This was immediately followed by: "Do you know about the activities of antiglobalization groups?" In response, 49.2 percent answered yes prior to the meeting, and 46.0 percent gave the same answer after it ended.

Although there were no terrorist incidents at the APEC conference, when asked afterward how they felt about the possibility of future terrorism and protests at international conferences in Japan, 14.9 percent of the respondents said they felt an attack would definitely occur, while 58.1 percent believed the possibility to be high.

The responses garnered show that, at least for some Japanese, the definition of terrorist activities is no longer limited to those murdering innocent people on political or religious grounds, but has come to be used in a much broader sense.

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