OSI cracks espionage ring in Japan

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In May 1987, Office of Special Investigations agents at District Office 46 in Tokyo, working with the local Metropolitan Police Department, uncovered an espionage ring involving four countries and both Soviet intelligence agencies.

The ring served the Soviet Union and China by obtaining Air Force Technical Orders (TOs) on several weapon systems. The case resulted in the arrest of eight people, including four Japanese nationals and one Soviet official. According to Japanese press reports, this was the first case of Chinese espionage in Japan since World War II.

The investigation began in March 1987 when the OSI’s Tokyo office received information that a base employee was involved in espionage. Information developed from well-trained, reliable sources led agents to believe they were on the verge of uncovering an espionage ring.

Members of District 46 came up with a written operations plan that required a joint effort with the local police. 

The investigation identified several individuals involved in the espionage, and the initial takedown began. Local police conducted the arrests and seized more than 300 Air Force TOs, including several that pertained to the Peacekeeper, Minuteman and Titan missile systems.

They also recovered security police 40-millimeter grenade launchers, plus Strategic Air Command communication and Autodin Telecommunications Systems. Other TOs pertained to specialized depot maintenance, information for specialized parts and systems aboard several aircraft, air-to-air, air-to-ground, and other tactical missile systems.

The episode resulted in important lessons learned.

First, Soviet-directed espionage could occur anywhere, not just in the U.S., and could benefit several adversaries. Liaison efforts and partnerships proved very useful to a successful investigation and apprehending the perpetrators. Finally, the importance of operational security, what is now known as insider threat efforts, and prevention of espionage cannot be understated.

No matter how small the item or document by itself, in aggregate, U.S. enemies learned a great deal about weapons systems, component parts and procedures that could give them the edge in the next conflict.