The United States has for years been intercepting phone calls between Japanese officials on sensitive issues including trade, climate change and bilateral relations, according to a cache of cables that anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks released Friday.
With American and Japanese officials meeting in Hawaii — along with representatives of 10 other Pacific Rim nations — to try to close the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, WikiLeaks released the potentially damaging cables that included conversations about trade.
The release could pose another hurdle to the already difficult TPP negotiations and will compound Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s domestic woes. Abe is facing loud protests at home over his attempts to loosen the restrictions on Japan’s military and allow it to play a more active role in its alliance with the United States.
In Friday’s cache, dubbed “Target Tokyo,” WikiLeaks alleges that the National Security Agency had 35 targets in Japan going back at least as far as 2006, when Abe began his first stint as prime minister.
The targets included the switchboard for the Japanese Cabinet office, the official workplace of the prime minister, and the line of the executive secretary to Abe’s chief cabinet secretary. Officials from the central bank and the finance and trade ministries also had their phones tapped, as did the natural gas division of Mitsubishi and the petroleum division of Mitsui, WikiLeaks claimed.
“The reports demonstrate the depth of U.S. surveillance of the Japanese government, indicating that intelligence was gathered and processed from numerous Japanese government ministries and offices,” the group, which is led by Julian Assange, said in a statement.
Four of the reports that WikiLeaks released are classified “top secret,” and one is categorized so that it can be shared with the United States’ “Five Eyes” intelligence partners: Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand.
One of the reports, from 2009, purports to show that the NSA intercepted talking points drafted for the agriculture minister to present at World Trade Organization negotiations with the U.S. trade representative.
“The minister could also address the need to ensure that the results of the WTO agriculture negotiations do not curtail agriculture in the member countries, and Japan’s anticipation of an early appointment by the USTR of a chief agricultural negotiator,” the report says. Fisheries subsidies, and tariffs on forestry and fishery products, might also come up, it said.
Other parts of the leak deal with climate-change negotiations and a feud between the United States and Japan over cherries, but the trade component will probably be most controversial.
Japan has an entrenched agriculture lobby, and farm products have been one of the most difficult parts of the TPP negotiations between the United States and Japan, by far the two biggest economies in the proposed 12-nation pact.
The United States is pushing to seal the deal this weekend at the talks in Hawaii, and any delay could imperil the whole proposal. The completed deal will need to go through Congress before the end of the year — before lawmakers begin their 2016 election campaigns in earnest.
The documents were released in the middle of the afternoon in Japan, but the initial response in Tokyo was muted.
“We are closely communicating with the U.S. on NSA’s information gathering, but we refrain from commenting on this matter because of the character of this issue,” said Kenko Sone, a spokesman for the prime minister. “The government continues to make every effort to secure the information.”