The Self-Defense Forces have opened an investigation into a senior Defense Ministry official suspected of leaking classified information to a reporter about a Chinese submarine accident in the South China Sea, sources said.
An SDF investigation squad has searched the home and office of the 49-year-old colonel so it can develop the case as a violation of the SDF Law, the sources said Thursday.
The squad has been questioning the colonel on a voluntary basis, the sources said.
But it has not targeted the Yomiuri Shimbun, which reported the incident in its May 31, 2005, morning edition, quoting defense sources in Japan and the United States.
Any raid carried out on a news agency to investigate its sources would stir intense public debate about the public’s right to know and the freedom of the press, legal experts say.
Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma admitted Friday that an investigation was being conducted but declined comment on the case because the probe is ongoing.
Current legislation is generally designed to punish those who leak secret information, not reporters who access information during work, Kyuma said.
“Regardless of whether it results in mass media reports, it is a problem if intelligence that is not supposed to be leaked ends up being leaked,” Kyuma said.
Such leaks could prevent other countries from providing Japan with sensitive information or equipment, he said.
The colonel was working at the then Defense Agency’s Defense Intelligence Headquarters when he allegedly provided a Yomiuri reporter with information about the submarine accident.
The article quoted Japanese and U.S. defense sources who confirmed that the Chinese navy’s submarine was believed to have caught fire and rendered immobile while traveling in the South China Sea several days earlier.
The colonel had been assigned to the Defense Intelligence Headquarters’ radio department to analyze communications involving foreign military forces intercepted by the SDF, the sources said.