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

The Brussels Bombings and Tokyo Olympic Security

Your humble correspondent joins millions of other people in offering condolences and prayers for the victims of the bombings in Brussels. A future posting will discuss in detail what the Brussels bombings mean for the security and safety of the Tokyo Olympics. In the meantime the Brussels bombings bring to mind the following points for foreign safety and security officials to consider at the Tokyo Olympics.

Japan Has a Small Immigrant Muslim Community

There is no large community of Muslims in Japan in which radical Islamic terrorists could easily hide. However, there are thousands if not tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants who live in Japan and a disproportionate number of them live in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Tokyo Has Many More Soft Targets than Brussels

The Tokyo Olympics will be focused in a relatively small geographic area with 30 million or more residents. Therefore, Tokyo presents a richer and more easily accessible selection of soft targets than does Brussels.

Japan Boasts an Exceptional Human Intelligence Capability

Some news commentary about the Brussels bombings asserts that electronic surveillance of terrorists has become less effective due to encryption, etc. and Belgium lacked adequate human intelligence sources. Japanese law severely limits electronic surveillance and therefore Japanese law enforcement and security agencies have developed extensive and robust human intelligence surveillance resources. This is a plus for Tokyo Olympics Security.

Japan Has Relatively Close Relations with Iran

For decades Japan has maintained diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations with Iran. These bilateral ties might be exploited by Iran to assist terrorist plots during the Tokyo Olympics. This could be a challenge for Tokyo Olympics Security.

Japan Conducts Minimal Intel Sharing with Other Countries

Belgium shares broad and deep cooperative and intelligence sharing relationships with many countries in Europe and beyond. This is done through EU organizations, NATO, and bilateral relationships. Compared to Belgium Japanese law enforcement and intelligence agencies have limited cooperative and intelligence sharing relationships with foreign counterparts. This will affect security for the Tokyo Olympics.



When I grow up I want to join Greenpeace.

Japan has drawn the ire of many around the world for hunting whales. In fact, a U.S. cable television series, “Whale Wars”, was devoted to chronicling the attempts of whale lovers to disrupt and stop Japanese whale hunts on the open seas. As you can see on this YouTube link, sometimes the attacks on Japanese whaling ships became quite dangerous for all involved.

These attacks on the high seas are just one manifestation of world-wide protests against Japanese whaling that have continued for many years. Opponents of Japanese whaling frequently employ extreme tactics to gain attention for the anti-whaling cause. Some of the more notable protest techniques include the following:

  • Blocking and illegally boarding ships on the high seas.
  • Attacking and disabling Japanese web sites.
  • Mounting demonstrations which employ vivid and highly emotional images of blood and gore.
  • Civil disobedience.


Whale lovers employ protest tactics that can be violent, shocking, and incredibly disruptive. Generally, however they do not deliberately direct violence at innocent bystanders. That does not mean that innocent bystanders are never affected. For example, boat owners can suffer damage to their property, whalers can suffer economic loss when they cannot catch enough whales to make a profit, commuters can be delayed when a protest blocks public transit, etc.

By and large pro-whale activists seek out opportunities to protest at times and in ways and locations that will generate large amounts of international media coverage of all types. The Tokyo Olympics will be especially attractive to whale loving activists and this will affect Tokyo Olympic Security. Japan is not just the host nation of the Olympics in 2020. It is also the country pro-whale activists love to hate. Combining the Olympics with Japan creates a “Perfect Storm” for security at the Tokyo Olympics. Anti-whaling activists can hijack a high profile international event taking place in the nerve center of their biggest enemy.

The types of protests possible are limited only by one’s imagination. In less time than it takes to drink a single beer your humble writer dreamed up the following protest scenarios:

  1. Hackers could take control of athletic scoreboards to display anti-whaling propaganda.
  1. A small group of activistscould purchase strategic seats for the opening ceremonies and disrupt the emperor’s welcoming speech by unfurling a graphic banner detailing a whale hunt while screaming hysterically.
  1. Activists could by the dozens suddenly converge on a bullet train platform at Tokyo station, hop on to the tracks, stage a die-in and disrupt rail traffic on some of the world’s busiest and most famous train lines.
  1. Just outside of a high-profile Olympic venue several dozen activists could quickly converge and toss numerous balloons filled with a red liquid to represent whale blood and then disappear into the crowd. Since the nature of the liquid would be unknown the targeted venue would likely be closed until hazmat teams could assess the situation. This type of event can temporarily overwhelm Tokyo Olympic security staff.
  1. Hackers could take over Olympic information websites (event schedules, transportation information, ticket sales and verifications, building access control systems, etc.) used by contestants and spectators, steal all of the original information and offer to return it only when the Japanese government agrees to ban all whale hunting.



All of these scenarios require a relatively small number of people and minimal resources to execute. None of them require sophisticated logistical planning and indeed the planning lead time for some events can be as short as a few weeks. In the case of the computer attack scenarios none of the perpetrators needs to even enter Japan. In the other scenarios all of the planning and execution can be carried out by non-Japanese activists who only need to enter Japan just a few days before they will stage their protests.

From a whale lover’s point of view these types of disruptive protests present an overwhelmingly favorable “risk to reward ratio”. By utilizing relatively few resources the protesters will garner worldwide and high impact news coverage. They could even stream live video of their own exploits and immediately send their message around the globe.

Most anti-whaling activists live outside of Japan and that is where most of the planning for protests in Japan would take place. Japan does not have the authority or resources to identify and handle disruptive protesters before they arrive in Japan. The activists could travel to Japan with the hundreds of thousands of other foreign visitors to the Olympics and escape detection until the moment they stage their protests. Japanese law enforcement agencies have few means to identify anti-whaling activists and their plans before they arrive in Japan.



First, most potential whale protesters are located in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and western European counties. As a general rule most democratic governments will not readily provide information about their nationals to another nation unless a crime has occurred or there is a high likelihood a crime has occurred. For example, even if the U.K. learned some of its nationals planned to stage protests during the Tokyo Olympic Games the U.K. government might not want to share this information with the Japanese government. Why? Well, simply staging a protest is not a crime in either the U.K. or Japan. The U.K. would need very strong and compelling justification before it would send the names of British citizen whale protesters to the Japanese government before any protests occur.

Second, Japanese law enforcement agencies have limited information sharing relationships with the countries from which most anti-whaling protesters and activists at the Tokyo Olympics would likely originate. Greenpeace has its headquarters in the Netherlands and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is based in the U.S. As of 2012  the U.S. had at least two full time law enforcement representatives assigned to its embassy in Tokyo and France had one. However, and based upon the writer’s personal experience, as of 2012 Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.K. had no full time law enforcement representatives in Japan. Due to limited contact with foreign police agencies of the countries from which most anti-whaling activists come it is likely Japanese law enforcement agencies would have little or no advance information about anti-whaling activists before they arrive in Japan.

Third, even if Japanese law enforcement identifies likely pro-whale activists after they arrive in Japan they have very few tools to penetrate their organizations and learn what they plan to do. Undercover investigations are almost entirely forbidden by Japanese law. Law enforcement interception of electronic communications (telephone, e-mail, etc.) is severely limited by Japanese law and can’t be used to identify plans for illegal disruptive demonstrations. Japanese law enforcement is exceptionally good (probably the best in the world) at physical surveillance. But physical surveillance usually takes a long time to develop useful information. In addition, physical surveillance is extremely labor intensive and drains manpower from other priorities.

In summation, if whale loving disruptive activists choose to target the Tokyo Olympics their demonstrations could create confusion and even chaotic conditions at some Olympic events and venues. Therefore, foreign public safety and security officials at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics should be ready in the event disruptive anti-whaling protests occur during the games.




  1. Prepare as many back-up plans as possible. E.g., alternate transportation to Olympic and other venues; alternate access to internet data and telephone service; paper back-up copies of critical schedule and event information, etc.
  2. Research how participants at other large events around the world have coped with disruptive protests and adopt their best practices.
  3. Inform Olympic contestants that disruptive protests are a possibility and encourage them to report any unusual activity to Tokyo Olympic security officials promptly.
  4. Arrange for a central point of contact for Olympics contestants to call for advice and instructions in case they are affected by anti-whaling protests.
  5. Well in advance check to see if any vital Olympic services (medical care, identification records, venue access authorization records, etc.) rely upon workable data links. If you find such services talk with Tokyo Olympic security officials as soon as possible and find out what alternative plans they have in place in the event the data links are disrupted.
  6. As soon as possible identify officials in Japan (law enforcement, Olympic officials, the media, foreign embassy security officials, etc.) who will provide timely and helpful information in the event disruptive protests occur.


Image courtesy of jannoon 028 at
Image courtesy of jannoon 028 at

March 11, 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The date also marked the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. This anniversary presents an opportunity to discuss nuclear issues which safety and security experts should consider when planning for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. For readers who wish to refresh their memories of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima the London Telegraph recently published two informative articles which are linked here and here.

The Fukushima disaster dominates any discussion of nuclear safety in Japan. However, before the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March, 2011 there were other nuclear incidents in Japan that threatened public health and safety. Three of these incidents are relevant to those preparing safety and security plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The first incident is the 1995 Monju nuclear plant sodium leak and fire. The second and third incidents occurred at the Tokai-mura nuclear power plant and facilities in 1997 and 1999.


Of the three incidents the 1999 Tokai-mura incident is most relevant to Tokyo Olympic safety and security officials for several reasons. First, Tokai-mura is much closer to Tokyo than Fukushima. The Fukushima nuclear power plants are 141 miles from Tokyo while the Tokai-mura nuclear power plant and facilities are only 77 miles from Tokyo. During the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami the nuclear power plant and facilities at Tokai-mura were also hit by a tsunami similar to the one that battered Fukushima about 70 miles north. According to Wikipedia, “a cooling system pump for the Number 2 reactor had stopped working. Japan Atomic Power Company stated that there was a second operational pump and that cooling was working, but that two of three diesel generators used to power the cooling system were out of order.” In other words, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami came within an eyelash of creating a second nuclear meltdown much closer to Tokyo than Fukushima. It is conceivable that several Tokyo Olympic events could take place in suburban Tokyo venues relatively close to the Tokai-mura nuclear facility. Indeed, this newspaper article discusses an Olympic practice venue to be located on land still today troubled by radioactivity.


Second, and as noted in the linked Wikipedia article, at Tokai-mura the accident took place in a uranium reprocessing facility and not the nuclear power plant. Everyone realizes that a nuclear power plant can create an incident that spreads nuclear contamination far and wide. However, the Tokai-mura incident shows that other nuclear facilities can present a real threat to public health and safety. While nuclear power plants in Japan are easy to for anyone to locate it is more difficult to determine where other potentially dangerous nuclear facilities in Japan are located.


Third, the Tokai-mura incident caused two fatalities and presented a serious threat to residents in suburban Tokyo. This demonstrates that even a relatively minor nuclear incident in Japan during the 2020 Olympics could lead to serious consequences.


  1. Identify and verify potential sources of information for details about such an incident in advance. These sources can be Japanese officials, officials of foreign embassies in Japan, Japanese academics in the nuclear field, and members of the mass media. The more sources of information the better. If the Fukushima incident is any indication it will be difficult to get safety information in a timely fashion in the event of a nuclear incident during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
  2. Plans should be prepared to provide safety information to Olympic participants and spectators for whom each public safety and security official is responsible. Regular and constant communication can help to prevent panic and ensure the safety of everyone involved.
  3. Consider bringing nuclear incident equipment (protective clothing, radiation detectors, battery-operated satellite phones to get information from outside of Japan, etc.) and have them readily available during the entire Olympic schedule.
  4. Since a nuclear incident could contaminate food and water plans should be in place to provide emergency supplies of bottled water and preserved food. In March 2011 once the population learned that the Tokyo drinking water supply had been contaminated with radioactive particles bottled water disappeared almost immediately from store shelves.
  5. The availability of emergency transportation at each Olympic venue should be researched and known in advance. Nuclear contamination could close roads and rail lines and even airports (Tokyo Narita airport is only 50 miles from Tokai-mura). Japan is an extremely mountainous country with a rugged coastline and this geography creates numerous transportation choke points.
  6. Study and research in advance what to do (shelter in place, etc.) in the event radioactive contamination spreads to an Olympic venue.
  7. To the extent possible and well in advance identify and locate nuclear facilities that would be close to Olympic venues and learn as much about them as possible before the Olympics.


The writer was posted at the U.S. Embassy during the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. He knows from experience that a nuclear meltdown can lead to panic and that timely and helpful information about the incident will be difficult if not impossible to obtain. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo was as well prepared as anywhere for a large earthquake but there were few plans in place to handle a nuclear incident. The American embassy found it difficult to get helpful information from the Japanese government. Advance knowledge of the risks of a nuclear incident during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and some advance preparation can go along way to help prevent injury and panic in the event of a worst case scenario.

The Japanese Law Controlling Firearms and Swords

I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News

The good news: Japan has some of the most severe restrictions on possession of knives and firearms in the world. The bad news: Japan has some of the most severe restrictions on possession of knives and firearms in the world.

Taboo in Tokyo?
Taboo in Tokyo?

Let’s Discuss the Good News First

Those responsible for the safety and security of participants and attendees of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will be interested to learn that Japanese laws have created a practically gun-free country. Even possession of one round of ammunition is a serious criminal violation. Many crimes and most terrorist attacks are committed by people using firearms. The almost complete ban on legal access to firearms in Japan certainly makes it more difficult to plan and stage a successful terrorist attack on the Tokyo Olympics.

Based upon the writer’s own experience of working in Japan for nine years with Japanese police officials he can state that almost no one in Japan has a firearm. Also, Japan border security is strong and it is extremely difficult for someone to smuggle a firearm into Japan. Indeed, Japanese police are normally not allowed to take their firearms with them after they have finished their work for the day. Instead, at the end of a shift a Japanese police officer will secure his firearm at a police facility. He will not have access to it again until he reports again for work.

And now the Bad News

First, firearm restrictions mean very few Japanese police officers have access to a weapon other than a side arm. There are very few shoulder weapons available for use by police officers anywhere in the country. For example, several years ago some bears escaped from a small zoo in northern Japan. A side arm is not useful for killing a bear and the local police department did not have ready access to any type of shoulder weapon. So the police enlisted the assistance of members of a local hunting club. Of course the weapons of the hunting club members were stored and secured per Japanese law and it took a while for them to access their shoulder weapons, answer the call for assistance from the police, and shoot the bears.

Let’s consider more bad news. What if criminals or terrorists patiently smuggle firearms into Japan and use them in an attack on the Olympics? It is conceivable such an attack would lead to a situation in which the police are out-gunned by those who mounted the attack. Those responsible for the safety of participants and attendees at the Tokyo Olympics may want to explore exactly what resources the police in Japan will have to protect Olympic participants and attendees.

Those who will participate in shooting events at the Tokyo Olympics might wonder if they can use firearms in Japan. Happily, the first linked article shows the law does take into consideration “athletes who compete in national or international competitions.” Presumably those participating in Olympic shooting events will be allowed to bring firearms into Japan for Olympic events. However, the writer is certain that the bureaucratic requirements one must meet to import and use a firearm during the Olympics will be tremendous. From the shipping of the weapon to Japan, to the storage of the weapon and ammunition at the Olympic venues, to access to the firearm for practice, etc., contestants using firearms at the Olympics will face bureaucratic hurdles like no others. So, those participating in shooting events should plan early and leave nothing to chance when dealing with Japanese government officials who will handle the firearms used in Olympic competitions.

But What about Swords?

Finally, another aspect of the law that could snag Olympic participants and attendees is a portion of the law that restricts possession of various types of knives or bladed weapons. That law is discussed in this article published in a newspaper distributed on U.S. military bases in Japan. The writer is aware of at least one U.S. government employee who visited the U.S. embassy in Tokyo for business and during a stroll on nearby streets was charged by the police with possession of a knife blade that violated Japanese law. Also, the writer talked one time with a Japanese police officer regarding someone (an American) who was arrested for possession of an illegal knife. The subject was a chef and he was charged for carrying his professional cooking knives. The writer asked a Japanese police officer if Japanese sushi chefs, etc. carry their professional knives with them. The officer answered in the affirmative and admitted to the writer that the Japanese police had great discretion to decide when to enforce the knife possession law. Recommendation: those who travel to Japan should leave any knives or tools with blades at home.


Japan experiences more earthquakes than just about any other country in the world. The earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan on 3/11/11 were widely reported around the world. The loss of life (nearly 20,000 dead and missing) was devastating. This article will discuss how Japan prepares for earthquakes and present two simple and easy earthquake safeguards for visitors to Japan. Those two safeguards are listed at the end of this article and those in a hurry can skip ahead and read them now.

Japan is probably the best prepared country in the world for earthquakes. Safety and security professionals responsible for participants and attendees at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games should take comfort in the measures Japan takes to be ready for earthquakes. What does Japan do to get ready for earthquakes?

Strict building codes. After every major earthquake Japan reviews and if necessary revises its building codes. This habit clearly saved lives during the 3/11/11 disaster.

The city closest to the epicenter of the 3/11/11 earthquake (80 miles) was Sendai, a metropolitan area with four million people. The ground shook violently in Sendai for almost SIX minutes! And numerous aftershocks later that day walloped the city with more shaking shortly after the initial tremor. Yet no major building in Sendai or anywhere else affected by the violent shaking collapsed. True, many buildings had to be vacated and demolished after the quake but thousands of lives were clearly saved by Japan’s strict building codes.

Practice, Practice, Practice. First responders, emergency personnel, and the general populace in Japan regularly practice what to do in an earthquake. Schools and employers conduct training for students and employees to help them survive an earthquake.

Social Capital. In the areas devastated by the earthquake there was almost no looting or civil disorder. The writer confirmed this during numerous discussions with Japanese law enforcement officials and U.S. aid workers who were on site in the most devastated areas during the disaster and during the clean up and recovery. What was reported in the west as scattered looting was really just desperate people scavenging for food and emergency survival supplies in the ruins. There were no civil disturbances after the quake. As people moved into crowded evacuation shelters and stayed there for weeks or months everyone behaved in an orderly fashion (e.g., kept their quarters clean, waited patiently in line for food or supplies, and assisted others in need of aid).

Lifelines & Warnings Not only are buildings constructed to very high standards, but electrical, telephone, water, gas, highway, and other public facilities are built to survive earthquakes and continue operating. Also, Japan operates a vast network of seismic sensors all around the country. Within milliseconds of the initiation of a quake this network identifies the epicenter and magnitude and calculates how many seconds later other areas will feel the tremors, This information is then broadcast out to TV and radio broadcasting stations and even personal cell phones so people have at least a few seconds to prepare. More and more elevators are being equipped to receive these advance warnings and move the elevator to the nearest floor and open the doors even before the shaking begins in that building, Most high speed trains in the country also receive similar advance warnings and stop automatically.

But What About the Tsunamis? Most of the fatalities on 3/11/11 were caused by the hundreds of tsunamis which battered Japan. Didn’t Japan prepare for tsunamis? The answer is yes, Japan did prepare for tsunamis. And many more people would have died from the tsunamis if Japan had not prepared for them. Tragically, on 3/11/11/ tsunamis many orders of magnitude larger than any in recorded Japanese history battered the coast. Areas that were ready for 15 foot tsunamis were devastated when a 50 foot tsunami arrived instead. Also, many areas that were believed to be safe from tsunamis (e.g., a town 3 or 4 miles from the coast) were inundated by tsunamis which traveled that far inland.

As soon as immediate relief and recovery efforts were concluded the Japanese government began reviewing tsunami risk and today is busily revising plans and preparations for future tsunamis.


There are two easy earthquake preparations everyone in Japan can undertake.The first preparation I recommend is simple, cheap, easy to implement, and can be a life saver. Everyone in Japan should carry a small pocket flashlight. Below is a photo of one I carried when I lived in Japan. It is powered by a sealed LED battery and is still working after five years. A really bad earthquake will knock out electrical service and at night or in a darkened building or subway tunnel a flashlight can help one escape to safety and avoid danger while doing so.

LED Final

Second, everyone traveling to Japan should install the earthquake advance warning application (discussed above) on his cell phone and know how to understand the warnings. Even though the advance earthquake warning may be only a few seconds that is plenty of time to take basic safety precautions such as covering one’s head for protection from falling objects, moving away from windows which might break and spew glass shards, etc.

The Zika Virus and Tokyo Olympic Security

MosquitoWhat if Something Like the Zika Virus Outbreak Occurred During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

At the time this commentary is being posted news reports about the Zika Virus in Brazil are filling the broadcast, social, and print media. Those responsible for the safety and security of participants and visitors during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might wonder how the health and public safety authorities in Japan would respond to a similar public health concern during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. A review of reporting about how Japanese authorities responded to three similar threats in the past can indicate how they might respond to a threat like the Zika virus in Tokyo in 2020. Our review will begin with a look at a public health threat quite similar to the threat posed by the Zika virus.

2003 – SARS

With regards to the SARS (Severe Acquired Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in Asia in 2003, a Japanese doctor published an article in a Chung Shan Medical University (Taiwan) publication which asserts the Japanese authorities distorted information about the severity of the SARS outbreak in Japan. You can download a pdf copy of the article here.

2001 – Anthrax Scare

2001 – Anthrax Scare Some readers might remember the anthrax scare that occurred shortly after the radical Islamic terror attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001. The anthrax scare was followed in the U.S. by a rash of media reports of “white powder” incidents when people saw white powder and were afraid it represented an attempt to infect a location with anthrax. More information is here.

The writer was posted to the FBI liaison office at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan during all of 2001. The writer learned that several false reports of anthrax attacks occurred in Japan as they had in the U.S. But unlike in the U.S. the Japanese mass media carried very little reporting about these incidents. A high level Japanese police official confirmed to the writer that Japanese law enforcement authorities had told Japanese mass media companies (primarily newspapers and broadcasters) that they should limit reporting of anthrax hoaxes. The same Japanese police official claimed that Japanese media companies followed this police guidance and self censored numerous reports of suspected anthrax attacks.

2011 – The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. The nuclear power plant meltdown event in Japan in March 2011 was a public health and safety threat of the highest order. Late in 2011 a Japanese government-appointed investigative panel issued an interim report on the Japanese emergency response to the disaster. The New York Times published an article on the topic here.

The chairman of the panel that produced the report was Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus in engineering at the University of Tokyo. According to the New York Times article, Hatamura stated that when responding to the Fukushima nuclear disaster the Japanese authorities” failed to think of the disaster response from the perspective of victims.” In 2011 the writer was posted to the FBI liaison office at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan and based upon his first hand observations at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster he heartily concurs with Hatamura’s statement.


The three events described above indicate that the Japanese government, similar to many governments around the world, might hide, limit, or distort information that could embarrass the government or its officials or the nation overall. Regardless, those responsible for the safety and security of participants and spectators at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will receive from the Japanese government information regarding the safety of those who participate in or attend the games. However, safety and security officers should keep in mind that the Japanese government may be neither the best nor most complete source of information regarding potential public health and safety threats in Japan that might develop during the games. Therefore, as they prepare for 2020 they may want to develop sources of safety and security information outside of the Japanese government.