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.

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.

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