Islamic Terrorism Investigations in Europe and Japan: How They Differ and What That Means for Tokyo Olympic Security

Do handcuffs in Japan work as well as handcuffs in Europe?
Do handcuffs in Japan work as well as handcuffs in Europe?

On March 26 this blog briefly discussed the Brussels bombings, Tokyo Olympics security, and how the Japanese government coordinates with other nations during counterterrorism investigations. Today’s post will extend on that analysis and contrast recent French and Dutch counterterrorism cooperation with Japan’s approach to counterterrorism cooperation.

France and Holland Closely Coordinate Their Counterterrorism Efforts

Less than a week after the Brussels bombings the news media carried reports of a terrorist suspect arrested by Dutch authorities at the request of the French government (see the news articles linked here, here, and here). As noted in the linked news reports, on Friday, March 25 the French government requested the Dutch government to arrest and detain a terrorist suspect who was in the Netherlands. The Dutch arrested the suspect on Sunday, March 27 and both governments are now proceeding with the legal procedures to extradite the subject to France for prosecution.

A Casual Review of the News Reports Linked above Leads to the Following Conclusions:

  1. France and the Netherlands are clearly cooperating with each other and coordinating their counterterrorism investigations quite closely.
  2. Both countries are also exchanging with each other large amounts of investigative information almost as soon as it is received by either one of the parties.
  3. Within two days of a request from France to the Netherlands to arrest a terrorist fugitive the subject was apprehended. It is likely the arrest planning took a day or two and therefore the Dutch almost immediately agreed to the French request for the subject’s apprehension.
  4. The coordination, cooperation, and information exchange revealed by the arrest on March 27, 2016 demonstrate the Dutch and French counterterrorism authorities are well practiced in working with each other on counterterrorism and other types of criminal investigations.
  5. The close cooperation between the Netherlands and France led to the identification and successful arrest of a terrorist suspect.

The Japanese Approach to International

Counterterrorism Cooperation

In contrast to the highly effective joint law enforcement efforts of the Dutch and French counterterrorism authorities let’s consider how Japan views international cooperation to apprehend a fugitive. In 2004 while the writer was posted at the FBI liaison office in Tokyo he learned that an FBI criminal fugitive boarded a flight from the U.S. to Japan. She would arrive in Tokyo within eight hours where she planned to change planes and travel on to Taiwan. She would only be in the airport in Tokyo for four hours. The writer immediately contacted the Japanese police for assistance but they advised that they would do absolutely nothing until the U.S. submitted to Japan a provisional arrest warrant per the U.S./Japan extradition treaty. The writer knew from experience that preparation and communication of such a request would take at least two weeks with the U.S. working 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Furthermore, the Japanese police declared that since the fugitive would simply change planes in Tokyo they likely would not even consider that she entered Japanese criminal jurisdiction while in the Tokyo airport.

Out of curiosity, the writer asked the Japanese police if they would detain Osama bin Laden if he should happen to change planes in Tokyo. The answer was the same: the Japanese police would do nothing without a formal provisional arrest warrant per the U.S./Japan extradition treaty. Fortunately, the U.S. ultimately did not need Japanese assistance to successfully pursue Osama bin Laden.

The writer does not know the details of the bilateral or multilateral treaties which allowed the French and Dutch authorities to cooperate and arrest Reida Kriket on March 27. Clearly those treaties contain different provisions than the U.S./Japan extradition treaty.

It’s Not the Rules Per Se but How You Apply Them That Counts

But differences in legal authorities are not the only differences between the French/Dutch and U.S./Japan extradition scenarios. Another important difference between the two extradition scenarios are the two institutional cultures in which the two different scenarios take place. Although the writer has visited neither France nor Holland he has talked extensively with U.S. government officials who have. They tell him that counterterrorism authorities in both countries (as well as most NATO countries) are eager to take the initiative, especially compared to the counterterrorism authorities in Japan.

Based upon the writer’s nine years of working with Japanese law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies he can categorically say that the culture in those institutions in Japan is cautious, fretful, bureaucratic, risk averse, and to some degree xenophobic. Japanese officials like to follow the rules and happily implement procedures that are even more strict (and less effective) than what their own rules require. Japanese law enforcement, security, and intelligence officials are usually much more enthusiastic about their internal politics (their next promotion, their next assignment, their rank in the bureaucratic pecking order, their upcoming departmental budget, etc.) than they are about dealing with foreign counterparts to combat terrorism, etc. This article from the New York Times describes a rocky relationship between the U.S. and Japanese governments at the highest leadership levels. However, the same types of rocky relationships exist between the U.S. and Japanese governments at the daily working levels as well.

The Nail That Sticks Out Will Be Hammered Down

There is a saying in Japanese, “deru kugi wa utareru”. Translation: the nail that sticks out is hammered down. In short, when dealing with a terrorist incident at the Tokyo Olympics Japanese law enforcement, security, and intelligence officials will respond cautiously, bureaucratically, and in some respects ineffectively. In the event of a serious security or safety incident during the 2020 Games Japanese government communication with foreign officials responsible for Tokyo Olympic security will be restricted and perhaps even chaotic.




  1. Japanese law enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies hesitate to join foreign counterparts in aggressive counterterrorism initiatives or even aggressive information exchange. Therefore, foreign Tokyo Olympic security officials should encourage the governments of their nations to lobby the Japanese government to initiate cooperative security relationships with countries participating in the Tokyo Olympics.
  2. Foreign Security and Safety officials at the Tokyo Olympics should reach out to Japanese intelligence officials as soon as possible (even before the end of 2016) and initiate close working relationships with them.
  3. All of the foreign security officials at the Tokyo Olympics should create a security and safety information sharing network so every foreign Olympic delegation can benefit from information developed by any single delegation. The network members should tell the Japanese government about the network and invite Japanese law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies to participate. However, Japanese officials must not control the operation of this network

Author: Ed Shaw

I am a retired FBI Special Agent (25 years) who lived in Japan for a total of fifteen years and speaks Japanese. At two different times during my career with the FBI (first for five years and then for four years) I worked at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan and represented the FBI to all Japanese law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies. While in Japan with the FBI I handled everything from international fugitive and spy investigations to sensitive reviews of U.S. government national security issues. My assignments took me to all parts of Japan. After nine years I am well-acquainted with how Japanese law enforcement and intelligence agencies work, their objectives, their bureaucratic habits, and most importantly how they interact with their foreign counterparts. Tokyo has been selected as the site of the 2020 Olympics. Each Olympic country participating in the games will have security officials looking for the best way to assure the safety of its athletes and other countrymen visiting Tokyo. The purpose of this blog is to share with those security officials the best way to ensure the safety and security at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

4 thoughts on “Islamic Terrorism Investigations in Europe and Japan: How They Differ and What That Means for Tokyo Olympic Security”

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. More posts to come in the next few days. If there are any any topics you would like addressed please let me know.

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