It Looks Isalmic So Let's Monitor It.
It Looks Isalmic So Let’s Monitor It.

Shortly after the radical Islamic terrorist attack in Nice, France on July 14, 2016 New Gingrich, a prominent U.S. political commentator and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, recommended a change in U.S. counter terrorism policy. He said that American intelligence agencies need to more closely scrutinize mosques in the U.S. in order to prevent future radical Islamic terrorist attacks on American soil. The proposal drew the predictable reactions from the usual suspects all across the U.S. political spectrum. And while currently the U.S. government does not routinely monitor Islamic mosques or Muslims one U.S. ally does so with gusto: Japan.

Foreign security officials who will be responsible for the safety of participants and spectators who will travel to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics should understand the policy of the Japanese government. Any Muslims who will travel to Japan will likely be the target of government investigation and surveillance while in Japan.

The Japanese Government Can Monitor Anyone and Anything Islamic as Long as It Does So Secretly

This surveillance came to light recently via publication of a Japan Supreme Court ruling. More information about the  court ruling is here, here, here, and here. In short, Japan’s courts ruled that the Japanese government can monitor Muslims and anything Islamic for domestic security purposes. The mere fact a person is Muslim justifies government surveillance and collection of information about that individual. The mere fact an organization has Islamic associations (mosques are the most obvious example) justifies government surveillance and collection of information about that organization and related individuals.

In a strange bureaucratic twist (at least to this American’s way of thinking) that could only occur in Japan the Muslim plaintiffs simultaneously won and lost. A Muslim in Japan monitored by the police cannot successfully sue to stop the monitoring. But the same Muslim can force the police to pay him damages if the police publicly disclose the information they collected about him.  And that is what happened. Someone in the Japanese government placed information collected about specific Muslims on an insecure server. The server was then hacked and the information the government had collected about the Muslims in Japan was published on open Internet sites.

However, per the court rulings, the Japanese government can continue to surveil all things Muslim as long as it keeps secret the information gained by the surveillance. In the claim reported in the linked articles above the Japanese government had to pay damages to the Muslims it monitored for the violation of their privacy that resulted from the hacking of the government server.

What does all of this have to do with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Well, many Muslims will travel to Japan for the Olympics. While they are in Japan there is a high likelihood the Japanese government will monitor them and gather information. The government agencies that could monitor Muslims at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are: the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (when it issues a visa for travel to Japan); the Japan Ministry of Justice (via the Japan Immigration Agency and the Public Security Intelligence Agency); the various Japanese prefectural police departments; and the Japan National Police Agency.

Sometimes the agencies in question will monitor foreign Muslims at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in an open way (e.g., an applicant for a Japanese visa knowingly provides information to the foreign government that will issue the visa and a visitor to Japan talks directly with immigration officials when entering Japan). Even so, these Japanese government agencies will obtain and retain information that identifies Muslims who visit Japan for the Olympics.

How Do I Secretly Monitor Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.

Other Japanese government agencies will monitor foreign Muslims in Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by using secret techniques. The two government entities that will do most of this monitoring will be the the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA) and Japan’s various prefectural police departments under the supervision of the National Police Agency (NPA). Based upon the linked news reports and the writer’s experience in Japan it is likely the following techniques will be used to monitor Muslims in Japan:

  1. Obtain information from Japanese staff at the Olympic village and other Olympic venues. This can include information about people who visit Muslim athletes at the Olympic village; information about the times Muslims enter and leave the Olympic village each day; information about doctor visits by Muslims at the Olympic village; information about the food the Muslims eat (maybe they will eat some juicy Japanese style pork cutlets!), etc.
  2. Obtain information from all security monitoring systems at every Olympic site (electronic access control systems, video monitoring systems, etc.).
  3. Obtain information from ongoing monitoring at mosques and locations of other Islamic organizations in Japan when foreign Muslims in Japan visit those locations.
  4. Obtain information about the people foreign Muslims visit in Japan. Japan may get requests from foreign governments to watch certain Muslims who travel to Japan. If these “targets” visit a Muslim residing in Japan information about that visit (both the visitor and the host) will flow back to the foreign government that originally made the request for information.
  5. Obtain Information from Japanese companies providing services at the Olympic village (e.g., a bank could provide information about money transfers, including account numbers; a travel agency could provide information about train and other travel bookings made by Muslim athletes, etc.).
  6. In the event the Japanese government wants more information about a particular foreign Muslim at the games it can arrange for a Japanese volunteer Olympic guide to directly “assist” the person of interest.

In short, Japan will use various techniques and tradecraft traditionally employed by most intelligence and security agencies around the world. The one technique that might not be used is electronic surveillance of video, audio, and written communications. Except for some extreme situations Japanese law does not allow this investigative technique, at least in criminal investigations. However, based upon a total of nine years of working with Japanese law enforcement and intelligence agencies the writer is certain that either the PSIA or the NPA or both would secretly monitor telephonic, e-mail, and other conversations if they believed the situation justified it. This information could never be used in a Japanese court but that would not be a problem since the information would not be collected for use in a prosecution. Indeed, the Japan times article linked above reported that, “that police had at times planted cameras inside mosques…”.

Foreign security officials responsible for the safety of Muslims who travel to Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might shrug at the information gathering and consider it to be a minor nuisance. But those who are monitored can suffer inconvenient effects long after the Olympics. Consider the following examples:

  • Japan will keep the information about foreign Muslims it gathers for years. Japan also sometimes shares terror threat information with other countries, especially other industrialized countries. Information about a Muslim in Japan could make its way to third countries and result in denial of a visa, inclusion on the U.S. “No Fly” list, or a myriad of other consequences.
  • If Japan collects information about a Muslim visitor’s foreign bank account it might share that information with a foreign government. In turn, that foreign government might monitor or blacklist transactions with the bank account and other linked financial accounts.
  • Just as a leak of Japanese government information led to the lawsuit discussed above, information (accurate or not) about foreign Muslims at the Olympics and held by the Japanese government could be mistakenly released into the public domain. Japanese bureaucrats are detail oriented and this information could discuss dietary habits, health records, bank account numbers, ATM passwords, credit card information, dates of birth, personal hygiene habits, passport numbers, visits to Internet sites, etc., etc., etc.

Grin and Bear It

There is no way to prevent the Japanese government from collecting information about Muslims who will travel to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. However, foreign safety and security officials who will be responsible for the safety and security of Muslims who travel to Japan for the Olympics should inform them about Japan’s Muslim monitoring programs. They should be advised that anything they do while in Japan could be recorded by the Japanese government and shared with other countries. In this way the Muslims who are targets of this surveillance will at least know of the monitoring and be able to make informed decisions about what they do, whom they see, and anything else they do while in Japan.