Airports in Tokyo Have Seen Terrorist Attacks and Plots in the Past

First the airport, next Haiga Sophia!
First the airport, next Haiga Sophia!

The terrorist shooting attack and bombings at Istanbul airport on June 28, 2016 kept many travel security professionals around the world up all night. Foreign security officials responsible for the health and safety of overseas spectators and participants at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may wonder if the airports in Tokyo can be the targets of terror attacks during the Tokyo Summer Games.

Sad to say, the airports in Tokyo are just as vulnerable to terror attacks as any other major airport in the world. By way of background, Tokyo has two airports. Haneda Airport  is close to the center of Tokyo (approximately 10 miles away) and handles primarily domestic flights although it does have a significant number of international flights as well. Narita Airport is much further from downtown Tokyo (approximately 45 miles away). Narita airport handles around 90% of foreign flights serving the Tokyo market. Although it handles relatively little traffic now, Ibaraki Airport will likely be used during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to handle the large number of foreign visitors to Japan. Ibaraki Airport is smaller than either Haneda Airport or Narita Airport and is also approximately 45 miles from central Tokyo.

Although recent history has not seen any terrorist threats to any of the above three airports Narita Airport is no stranger to terrorist attacks or thwarted  plans for terrorist attacks. Perhaps the most notorious and ambitious terrorist plan to target Narita Airport is the so-called Bojinka plot of 1995. Terrorists planned to simultaneously explode bombs mid-air on airplanes that departed from Narita Airport as well as airports in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. As noted in the linked Wikipedia article one flight from Manila to Narita Airport was bombed mid-flight while in Japanese airspace. This bombing was part of the practice for the Bojinka plot. The plane was able to land but the blast killed one passenger.

In 1985 a bomb was loaded on a flight from Vancouver Canada to Narita Airport and exploded in the baggage handling section of the terminal building. Two baggage handlers were killed. The plotters who planted that bomb also planted a bomb on an Air India flight from Canada to the UK. Just about an hour after the explosion at Narita Airport the other bomb caused the Air India flight to crash near Ireland with no survivors.

In 1982 a Pan Am flight from Narita Airport to Hawaii suffered a bomb blast shortly before arrival at Honolulu. The aircraft suffered damage but the crew was able to land it safely. The blast killed one passenger and injured 16 others.

Noteworthy is the fact that in 1982 Pan Am bombing Narita was one of the most heavily guarded and policed airports in the developed world. The linked Wikipedia article discusses the violent protests against operation of the airport as does this article in the Japan Times. As the writer knows from personal experience the security measure at Narita Airport in 1982 included an off-airport security check for everyone headed to the airport and strict checks of all passenger baggage.

From his time serving at the Legal Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo the writer knows that security at Narita airport has been defeated before. One time two people who wanted to enter the U.S. illegally for jobs took a flight on a U.S. carrier from an Asian country to Narita. The two subjects hid themselves in a service area above the ceiling of one of the aircraft lavatories. Several hours later the same plane left Narita for the U.S. The two subjects then came down into the lavatory and looked for empty seats in the plane for the rest of the journey to the U.S. Unfortunately for them there were no empty seats. They were discovered and the plane returned to Narita. Needless to say, the two subjects had false passports which they planned to use to enter the U.S.

But Narita Airport in Tokyo cannot claim a monopoly in Japan on aviation terror incidents. Haneda Airport was the point of origin for All Nippon Airways Flight 61. This flight occurred on July 23, 1999. The hijacker temporarily took control of the flight (a Boeing 747) and inflicted fatal injuries on the pilot before he was subdued. The hijacker, Yuji Nishizawa, implemented the hijacking with a knife he smuggled onto the plane. Nishizawa carefully reviewed security procedures at Japanese airports and noticed a way to smuggle a knife through the security checkpoint (more details on his method are listed in the body of the linked Wikipedia article).

The purpose of this post is to point out that foreign security officials who will work at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics should understand that terror threats are a real possibility at Japanese airports and on flights to and from Japan.


Does The Orlando Terrorist Attack Mean There Will Be Terror in Tokyo?


The recent terror attack in Orlando, Florida is still being investigated and final conclusions regarding the motivations of the shooter, his likely associations with radical Islamic terrorist groups, etc. will not be fully known by the public for days or weeks. In the meantime, security and safety officials from outside of Japan responsible for visitors and participants at the 2020 Olympics might wonder if something similar to the Orlando terrorist attack could occur at the Tokyo Olympic Games. This post will review some pertinent factors of the terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016 and consider whether or not those factors are relevant to security and safety officials planning for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Reports Indicate the Shooter was a Muslim Born in the U.S.

The Muslim population of Japan is very small, probably around 100,000. And not all Muslims residing in Japan are Japanese nationals. Unlike in the U.S., birth in Japan does not confer citizenship. Absent specific naturalization procedures under Japanese law a child born in Japan will have the nationality of at least one of his parents, not Japanese nationality. So compared to the U.S. and many European countries in Japan the number of immigrants, including Muslims, is much smaller both numerically and as a percentage of population. Therefore, it would be a challenge for radical Islamic terrorists to recruit one or more people in Japan to commit a terrorist attack at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

However, news reports assert ISIS took responsibility for the terrorist attack in Orlando. Terrorist groups such as ISIS think long term and look for opportunities to stage attacks that will garner large amounts of publicity. Surely one or more people at ISIS realize that a murderous attack during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will generate huge amounts of international publicity for them. So even though the Muslim population in Japan is limited it is conceivable ISIS will be able to find sympathizers in Japan to mount a terrorist attack on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And the fact the Tokyo Olympics are more than four years in the future is an advantage – that provides plenty of time to recruit one or more terrorists to kill dozens or even hundreds of innocent people and dominate world headlines for weeks.

During the Orlando Terror Attacks the Shooter Killed With Firearms

Possession of firearms is legal throughout the U.S. and they are relatively easy to obtain. In Japan, however, firearms and even ammunition are strictly regulated and extremely rare. Illegal possession of a firearm or even one round of ammunition are serious crimes under Japanese law. So, the chances of a terrorist using firearms to attack the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are very low.

Although difficult, it is possible to procure firearms in Japan. As a Special Agent for the FBI I investigated Japanese mobsters attempting to smuggle firearms from the U.S. to Japan. Japanese police told me criminals patiently smuggle firearms into Japan piece by piece over a period of weeks or months. And firearms have been used to commit crimes in Japan.

And now with 3D printing technology it is possible to create a firearm in any industrialized country (e.g., Japan). This Wikipedia article has more information. The same article also reports that in May, 2014 in Japan Yoshimoto Imura was arrested for creating a firearm using 3D printing technology. Imura was discovered by the Japanese police only because he was stupid enough to post blueprints and video of his firearms to the internet.

Although difficult, clearly it is possible to use a firearm to commit an Orlando style terror attack in Japan. But if a firearm is not available other weapons can be produced. The weapons used for the terror attacks during the Boston Marathon were homemade pressure cooker bombs. For someone who is dedicated (perhaps a radical Islamic terrorist?) and who has plenty of time (the Tokyo Olympics are more than four years away) it is possible to obtain firearms or produce other deadly weapons to use in a terror attack on the Tokyo Olympics.

And imaginative terror weapons have been used in Japan in the past. One example is the 1986 G-7 Summit in Tokyo which was the target of a rocket attack. Another example is the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995.

The Orlando Shooter Was Not Discovered Before the Attack

As of June 12, 2016 news reports assert the man who committed the Orlando terrorist attack had previously been investigated and even interviewed by the FBI. However, no U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency discovered the terrorist’s plans before he attacked the Orlando nightclub. How does the Japanese government try to detect terrorists and prevent their attacks?

There are two types of Japanese government organizations that look for terrorist before they conduct an attack. One is the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA). It is not a law enforcement agency but operates as a domestic intelligence agency within Japan. The other type of organization in Japan that looks for terrorists before they commit attacks are the police. Specifically, the 47 prefectural police departments. Like the PSIA they try to find terrorists before they commit an attack. The PSIA and the 47 prefectural police departments in Japan do communicate with each other. Unfortunately, that communication is extremely limited and conducted in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion.

Japan has excellent physical surveillance and human intelligence capabilities. But Japanese law prevents almost all electronic surveillance. In the U.S. and Europe electronic surveillance is a critical tool for counter terrorist investigations. As with the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino attacks in late 2015 the terrorist attacks in Orlando were not prevented. Whether or not a terrorist in Japan planning an attack on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be discovered and the attack prevented is an open question.

The Orlando Terrorist Attack Can Be Replicated During  The 2020 Tokyo Olympics!

All in all, an Orlando-style attack would be difficult to duplicate during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But there are potential recruits in Japan for such an attack, deadly weapons can be procured or produced, there is plenty of time to prepare, it is possible for terrorists to evade discovery, and the rewards of a spectacular and deadly attack at the Tokyo Olympics would be immense. Those who are responsible for safety and security at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games should study the details of the Orlando terrorist attack as they become available and apply the lessons learned to their security preparations for Tokyo.

Japanese Privacy Laws and How They Affect Security Preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Employers in Japan Cannot Access Employee Criminal History Information

Are either of you a convicted felon?
Are either of you a convicted felon?

Most non-Japanese security professionals responsible for foreign visitors or participants at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will likely hire local Japanese staff to assist them (either directly or through a “temp” agency) with their security and safety preparations in Tokyo. The range of services which foreign visitors and participants at the Tokyo Olympics will require is extensive: security guard services, charter bus services, guide services, administrative services, lodging services, hired car services, and catering services are the most likely. Some services can be arranged without much concern about the background of the service provider. But for other services at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics security professionals will want to conduct due diligence investigations of the service providers (e.g., chauffer services and security guard services).

Background investigation practices used by private corporations when hiring staff vary greatly around the world. In the U.S. security professionals conducting an employment background investigation can usually can learn if the prospective employee has a criminal history.

For example, in the U.S. a company considering retaining the services of a car and driver for several days might hire a limousine company to provide the car and driver. The hiring company might want to specify in the contract that it be able to conduct a criminal background investigation of the driver. In most jurisdictions in the U.S. this condition of employment is allowed and criminal history information (an arrest or worse) is usually a matter of public record. For example, the state of Pennsylvania has established procedures expressly for the purpose of providing criminal history information maintained by that state. The vast majority of government agencies in the U.S. that maintain criminal history records have similar procedures for dissemination of that information. In addition, many states maintain additional public records of individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes or crimes against children. For example, here is a link to the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry.

But what about Japan? Is it possible for a potential employer in Japan to check government records and search for the criminal history of a citizen or resident of Japan? In most cases the answer is no. Japanese laws limit public dissemination of criminal history information. In addition, Japan recently made significant revisions to its privacy laws. Those revisions are quite new and how they will ultimately affect access to criminal history information maintained by the Japanese government is still unclear. However, based upon nine years of working with the Japanese criminal justice system the writer can confidently predict that the revisions to Japan’s privacy laws will not expand public access to criminal history information.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Criminal History

Most criminal records in Japan are maintained by the 47 prefectural police departments in the country. Usually prefectural police departments will not release criminal history information to a third party and will cite “privacy laws” as the reason. A Japanese prosecutor told the writer that he once wanted the police to review a list of potential jurors to ensure none had criminal records or membership in any criminal organizations. The police cited Japan’s privacy laws and refused to share that information with the prosecutor.

Can a Japanese resident or citizen get his own criminal record information? Absolutely! The Japanese police will allow an individual to request and receive a written statement of his own criminal history information from the Japanese police. If the requestor has no criminal history in Japan the Japanese police will instead issue an official document to certify the individual has no criminal history (statement of no criminal history).

But even if a potential employee in Japan presents to an employer an official document to certify he has no criminal history it doesn’t mean much. Japanese law allows dozens (one prosecutor told the writer the number is greater than 60) of ways for a person to nullify, expunge, permanently seal, or otherwise ensure his criminal history is not listed on a statement of no criminal history issued by the Japanese police. So when a potential employee presents an official statement of no criminal history from the Japanese police it has little meaning. The job applicant could have committed several violent felonies in the past but due to expungement laws, etc. they would not be listed on the statement of no criminal history issued by the police.

The Internet Provides No Solution

What about internet searches? If an employee committed a crime serious enough to be reported by news outlets then an internet search would likely reveal it. Well, as this news article illustrates, slander laws in Japan might hide criminal news reporting from internet search engines.

For those who wish to read further about Japanese privacy and slander laws here are some links to related information available on the internet: Japanese defamation laws; personal information privacy in Japan; the Japanese personal number identification law. Incidentally, Japan has criminal slander laws. That means that in Japan it is possible to be sent to prison for committing some types of slander or defamation. This is different from the U.S. where the constitution forbids criminalization of slander or defamation.

What is the Alternative?

So is there a solution for the overseas security professional who wants to conduct a background investigation of a potential employee in Japan? The only solution I can recommend is to hire a reputable private investigator to conduct the most thorough background investigation allowed by Japanese law.

But this answer begs the question: how do you find a reputable private investigator in Japan? My recommendation is to find a private investigator who retired from a prefectural police department and has graduated from the FBI National Academy. Before a foreign police officer is allowed to attend the FBI National Academy he is thoroughly investigated by the FBI. Another option is to find a private investigator who retired from a prefectural police department and attended another U.S federal law enforcement training program or class. At least two other U.S. federal law enforcement agencies (the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security) invite foreign police officers to participate in some of their training and education programs. Usually before a foreign officer can participate in any U.S. federal law enforcement education he must past a background investigation conducted by the agency that extended the invitation to the officer.

Japanese privacy laws and practices limit what potential employers can learn about potential employees. And the investigative methods a prospective employer can use are limited, relatively expensive, and take time. Therefore, security professionals who will investigate potential Japanese employees for work at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will need to carefully consider what information they can and cannot obtain, the price the information will cost, and the amount of time an investigation of a potential employee will take.