Ministry of Defense has not released any declassified secrets since 2002
Not a single declassified "defense secret" has been made publicly available since the 2002 establishment of a system for their management, it has been learned.
The system for managing defense secrets was established in 2002 by a revision to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) Act in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. It allows the defense minister to classify sensitive documents as secret, and there were 30,752 such documents as of the end of 2011, covering things such as SDF management and operations plans, types and numbers of weapons, planes and ships.
Ministry of Defense rules set the retention period for defense secrets on a case-by-case basis, with the period ranging from less than one year to 30 years, with extensions possible. If during the retention period the secrets are judged as no longer meeting the requirements for being kept confidential, they can be declassified. Historically important documents can be moved to the National Archives where they would be publicly available. So far, however, the Defense Ministry has not transferred any declassified documents.
When the retention periods for such documents end, they are either destroyed or have their secret status extended, with the permission of senior ministry officials. Over the five years from 2007 through 2011, 34,300 have been disposed of.
"We can only guess, but training scenarios and evaluations of SDF drills and joint drills with the United States are probably being destroyed. In Europe and the U.S., such documents are kept and made public after a certain number of years," said Tetsuo Maeda, a journalist and expert on the SDF.
For regular government documents, the Public Records and Archives Management Act specifies they be either sent to the National Archives or destroyed after the end of their retention period, but unlike the defense secret documents, the prime minister must agree in the case of destruction.
The investigative department of the ministry's Defense Policy Bureau has said there is no problem with the lack of declassified documents, as the law leaves the decision of whether to send documents to the National Archives to the discretion of the Defense Ministry. It also pointed out that under its internal regulations, the ministry is within its rights to destroy declassified documents.
Yukiko Miki, president of the NPO Information Clearinghouse -- which seeks public access to government documents -- said, "Documents that have been classified secret have to be evaluated to determine if that classification was correct. A system should be created to preserve important documents containing secrets related to national defense, in accordance with the spirit of the Public Records and Archives Management Act."
Meanwhile, the current "defense secret" designation is set to be merged into a new "specially designated secret" category under a new law. A draft of that bill is to be proposed at an extraordinary session of the Diet to be convened on Oct. 15. There is no indication that the new law or any related laws or ordinances will include provisions for future public releases of declassified documents under this new category. This raises the possibility that, as with defense secrets, they could be destroyed at the behest of government ministries.
On Sept. 27, the Cabinet Intelligence Research Office, which is in charge of the draft secrets bill, indicated it would consider requiring the prime minister's permission to destroy documents covered by the new "specially designated" category, matching the system for regular government documents. It also said it would consider making adjustments to the bill to allow public release of historically significant declassified documents at the National Archives. These developments came after concern about secret document destruction emerged from the ruling coalition project team evaluating the draft.
However, the office gave no specifics about how it would include these rules in the draft, and whether or not they will actually make it in remains uncertain.
October 14, 2013(Mainichi Japan)