Students & Alumni

IWP alumnus Gene Poteat comments on possible new Japanese intelligence service

An article for Nikkei Asian Review on a possible new Japanese intelligence service quotes IWP alumnus Gene Poteat, a CIA veteran.  The article, entitled “Japan mulls its own CIA-like agency” can be found here.

Mr. Poteat’s full response to the news agency can be found below.


Over the last half-century, Japan had little need for a central intelligence organization as it recovered from WWII; instead, it became one of the world’s leading scientific, technical, and industrial nations. Japan’s reputation for innovative, meticulous-quality and safe products gave it unparalleled economic power. Japan’s intelligence needs were primarily business, or what today is called “competitive intelligence,” provided by its “unofficial,” cooperative scientific, technical, industrial and economic community traveling, researching, and engaging in academic and scientific exchanges. Japan’s national security needs were limited and only came into play when there was exposure not already covered by America’s military and nuclear umbrella.

The world has changed. Despite treaties and the desire of allies to protect, Japan faces increasing technical, industrial, and military competition — indeed threats — from an aggressive nuclear and cyber-hacking PRK and China; both exercising their power with displays of expanding territorial ambitions and confrontations. Intelligence, espionage, and counterintelligence has changed from breaking into safes to steal a few secrets, to hacking into computers and servers, and also to the malicious destruction of the capabilities of a rival country or corporate entity. It is no longer enough that China or the PRK succeed, but they also seek to fetter and hamper their adversaries through cyber mischief and outright destruction of crucial systems. Counterintelligence has morphed from catching spies to the far more elusive, difficult task of tracking down skilled hackers, often state-trained actors, who may be in another country and bouncing signals through many other country networks to hide their tracks.

America’s intelligence agencies are leading the way by immediately making changes, mergers, and reorganizations — publicly and privately — needed in a digital world to counter new generations of cyber-savvy adversaries who are finding holes and flaws in financial and national security computer systems and exploiting them. CIA Director Brennan’s public comments are recognition of just a few of the major changes and reorganizations underway to give assurance to others, including policy makers, that he recognizes the changing threats posed by the cyber world. The CIA Counter Terrorism Center’s successful operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan validated the merging of operations and analysis. It’s now up to other components of the intelligence community to have similar successes through the joint efforts of cyber experts, intelligence officers, and technological wizards. Any new central intelligence organization being created in Japan should take advantage of these lessons and establish similar capabilities to avoid being blindsided by malevolent regional foes.

No longer can Japan meet its intelligence needs strictly on the collection and piecing together of information from its unofficial intelligence sources of the past. It now needs a central organization aggressively collecting information, developing ways to harden existing systems to make them less vulnerable to state-trained hackers, to meet its current, changing, and future intelligence needs. Japan will come to appreciate what other nations know: intelligence is the first line of defense, and good, independent intelligence is essential for any nation to quantify and qualify its national defenses and to foresee risks that may, or may not, arrive. Preparation even for risks of low certainty still serves the purpose of not leaving one’s country to the devastating impact of total surprise of the unexpected. Nations have collapsed from the lack of a will to prepare for all nature of risks. A nation’s national leadership is blind, and vulnerable, without an effective central intelligence always scanning, recording, analyzing. The effectiveness of any intelligence organization also requires establishing a good, reciprocal working relationship, including the exchange of appropriate intelligence, with allied intelligence organizations. Japan certainly has a strong ally in the U.S. who understands their vulnerabilities, but also their strengths, and can help them make the best of their assets and innate gifts for precision and wisdom.

-S. Eugene Poteat