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Japan probing leak of sensitive information to Russian attache

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members participate in the opening ceremony for Operation Rising Thunder training exercises in Yakima, Wash., Sept. 2, 2014. Kazushige Izumi, 64, a former JGSDF lieutenant general, and five other current or former Japanese military officials could face charges for leaking sensitive military information to an attache at the Russian embassy in Tokyo.

CODY QUINN/U.S. ARMY

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2015

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A former Japan Ground Self-Defense Force general and five other current or former Japanese military officials could face charges for leaking sensitive military information to an attaché at the Russian embassy in Tokyo, Japanese police officials said.

“I am aware that it is an extremely regrettable incident, which betrays the public trust of the Self-Defense Forces and could invite internal and external mistrust in the defense of our country,” Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said in a statement.

Japanese police and ministry officials would not discuss a motive and declined to say whether U.S. military secrets could have been mishandled. U.S. Forces Japan officials did not respond to requests seeking comment Tuesday. The U.S. has a defense treaty with Japan, which gets much of its military hardware from the U.S. government.

Former Lt. Gen. Kazushige Izumi, 64, is accused of illegally procuring military manuals from two former and three active-duty Self-Defense Forces personnel, including Lt. Gen. Hiroyuki Watabe, head of Fuji, the combined JGSDF training school. Izumi then allegedly passed the information in May 2013 to a Russian intelligence agent the Japanese media has identified as Sergey Kovalev, 50. Japanese police and Ministry of Defense officials declined to name Izumi’s four other alleged co-conspirators.

The manuals — which were not to be shared with anyone outside of the Japanese military — contained basic rules for personnel and unit operation, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

A committee has been set up at the Defense Ministry to investigate how far Izumi’s relationship went and will consider future preventative measures. The case is particularly alarming because Izumi served as a high-ranking Self-Defense Forces official who commanded the eastern army in 2007-09.

None of the suspects have been arrested, but the case was referred to the Tokyo prosecutors’ office Friday, a Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman said.

Watabe was relieved of his command and reassigned to the Ground Staff Office because it is necessary for him to cooperate with the investigation, Nakatani said. The attaché has left the country.

Russia has been flexing its muscles in the region, announcing plans last week to build a series of military garrisons on islands claimed by Japan in the western Pacific. Russian pilots also have buzzed Japanese airspace hundreds of times since Japan supported sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, and the Russian military has held robust exercises in the region.

burke.matt@stripes.com
kusumoto.hana@stripes.com

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