• Thu. May 30th, 2024

Japan Subculture Research Center

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.

I just finished re-reading Tim Weiner’s magnum opus, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA ,which is perhaps the best book ever written on the Central Intelligence Agency, and its general history of dismal failures. On the eve of the LDP’s retaking of power, December 16th 2012, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the LDP and how they came into being in the first place. It’s like a story out of a John Le Carre novel, but as is often the case, truth is stranger than fiction–and more interesting.

Operations in Japan turned out to be one of the Agency’s rare success stories. Not only did the CIA put their party of choice in power, according the book 原発 正力 CIA-機密文書で読む昭和裏面史 (What Secret Documents Tell Us About The Hidden Showa-Era History of Ties Between the Nuclear Industry, Matustaro Shoriki–the former president of the Yomiuri Shimbun and founder of Nippon Television) published by Shinchosha, but using the Japanese media, they were able to convince Japan to invest in nuclear energy. Of course, US firms reaped the profits. But that’s another very long story.

Legacy of Ashes is a phenomenal book, especially in how it documents the CIA’s many, many failures–but operations in Japan were something else.

Chapter 12: “We Ran It In A Different Way” is a must for anyone interested in the shadow history of Japan. It details how in post-war Japan, the CIA, using large amounts of cash, reinstated former war criminal Kodama Yoshio and hand-picked one of Japan’s Prime Ministers–in order to supress communist/socialist movements. Kodama had extensive yakuza ties and huge amounts of capital made in the black markets in China. ($175 million estimated). The Tokyo CIA station reported on September 10th, 1953, “(Kodama) is a professional liar, gangster, charlatan, and outright thief….and has no interest in anything but the profits.” It still didn’t keep the CIA from doing business with him up to that time and behind the scenes later. The chapter also notes how the CIA was able to ensure that Nobusuke Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and the chief of its ruling party, in order to ensure that Japan didn’t go red. The president himself seemed to have authorized huge cash payments to Kishi and his other lackeys within the LDP.

Chapter 12 “We Ran It In A Different Way” has a fascinating account of US backing of gangsters and their politicians in post-war Japan

Kishi’s links to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other organized crime groups are well-known. His former private secretary was instrumental in organizing the deal between former Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi boss, Goto Tadamasa, and the FBI; it was a deal in which Goto shared intelligence on organized crime groups within Japan and information on North Korea in exchange for a visa to the the United States. He received a liver transplant at UCLA, a transaction which the FBI did not set up or was involved in. Some of this is discussed in Tokyo Vice.

According to the excellent book, The Japanese Mafia by Peter Hill, and other sources,  Kishi also once put up the bail money for a Yamaguchi-gumi boss accused of a felony.  Goto Tadamasa, the ex-yakuza boss (currently a Buddhist priest doing charitable work) in his memoirs Habkarinagra (Pardon me but…) also discusses his close ties to ex-Prime Minister Kishi. Robert Whiting in the seminal Tokyo Underworld also covers US political connections to organized crime  in Japan in great depth and quite entertainingly. Whiting-san worked for the National Security Agency at one point in his life and what he says has great credibility as far as I’m concerned. (I’m not outing Robert by writing that he once worked for the NSA; it was mentioned in a Japan Times article several years ago and proved to be correct.) David Kaplan’s groundbreaking Yakuza:Japan’s Criminal Underworld was probably the first book to really examine the shadowy ties between the yakuza, the LDP and the US after the occupation. What makes Tim Weiner’s small chapter so impressive are the extensive notes, documents obtained from the CIA, and that he apparently conducted interviews on the CIA side as well. Impressive work.

Kodama, the right-wing industrialist mentioned above,  is notorious for his gangster connections but perhaps what best illustrates the point is that in the early sixties, Kodoma, Taoka Kazuo (田岡 一雄氏), the third generation leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi, and Machii Hisayuki  (町井 久之) head of the once powerful Japanese-Korean mafia, Toseikai(東声会) all served as board members of the Japan Professional Wrestling Association at the same time. They were all good buddies. As noted in Legacy Of Ashes, and in other sources, the Liberal Democratic Party was founded with a mixture of criminal proceeds, yakuza money, and US funds. The days when the US were able to exert control over Japanese politics are long gone but the yakuza have managed to maintain their own ties and connections to politicians across the board. For the Japanese government, they are still a useful entity, at times, and before the APEC summit, calls were sent out to all the major yakuza leaders urging them not to get into any gang wars and to keep an eye on anti-American lefties. After APEC ends, the aftermath of someone lobbing a hand-grenade into the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi Yamaken-gumi headquarters will probably result in a bloody gang war. But for the time being, the yakuza are keeping the peace.

Full Disclosure Memo: In the worst of the Japanese press and blogosphere, I’ve been accused of being an agent of the CIA several times. Or the Mossad. Take your pick. This is untrue. I’m not a Mormon, have been very promiscious, and I am not totally inept, all things which disqualify me off the bat. However, in 2006-2007,  as part of a US State Department sponsored study on human trafficking in Japan,  I worked with a company which has many retired CIA/NSA employees and has been accused of being a front company for the CIA. I don’t know if they are or aren’t a front company and I don’t really care. The study and the Human Trafficking report that came out of it had a positive impact on Japan’s attitude towards dealing with human trafficking isssues and that’s really all that matters.

If you’re interested in the outsourcing of intelligence, pick up a copy of Spies For Hire: The Secret World Of Intelligence Outsourcing *by Tim Shorrock. The CIA contractor card on the cover has a partial picture of a Jewish looking fellow but I don’t think that’s me. Not unless someone issued me a nifty little card and didn’t tell me about it. It’s an incredibly well-written book which is now back in print. (Thanks to Mr. Shorrock for letting us know.)

* I was contacted by a yakuza fan magazine journalist roughly two months ago who asserted that it was me on the cover of Spies For Hire and tried to shake me down for cash, obliquely.  So by writing this post, I’m also saying “f*ck you very much.”  Personally, what’s the most insulting thing about being accused of being a former CIA agent, and no offense to anyone working for the agency intended, but they have such a dismal success rate that it’s kind of like being accused of working for post-Bush FEMA. It wounds my pride. Most people who are in “the intelligence community” would argue that actually the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has the best actionable intelligence of any agency .

Anyway, if you’re a serious Japanologist, Legacy of Ashes is worth having on yourself for that chapter alone. (This is a revision of an article originally posted on November 14th, 2010). 

31 thoughts on “How The CIA Helped The Yakuza & The LDP Get Power & Promote Nuclear Power”
  1. The CIA isn’t completely inept, its that their operations directorate that is really bad. Its like an organization that that one arm is very, very good at what it does, which is the intelligence directorate, and one that is nigh retarded, which is the operations directorate. The Intelligence guys are the ones that does a lot of the CIA’s products which are available to the general public, like the world factbook, which I’ve used on reports and basic information when in school and preparing briefings at work. (I’m in the navy, stationed in Japan).

  2. Robert-san, I’m not enough of an expert on the intelligence business to agree or disagree with you but you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Although, I do know someone who was in the operations directorate and he had a good reputation for getting things done and done well. You should read ex-operative Robert Baer’s SEE NO EVIL. Interviewing him was one of the funnest experiences I had as a journalist.

  3. Is this the same Kodama that smuggled heroin during the war and was implicated in the 70s Lockheed Scandal? Sounds like a very slippery character.

    1. I’m not sure it was heroin and I don’t have my handy reference books with me but it was the same guy implicated in the Lockheed Scandal. One of the “puppet masters” of old Japan. You’re on target.

  4. Hello – just read through your excellent article on the CIA in Japan to see that Adelstein was accused of being the contractor on the cover of my book. Hilarious! That guy is nobody. But more importantly – want you to know SPIES FOR HIRE is NOT out of print, just hard to get. Best place (and new books are available) is the website for Barnes and Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Spies-for-Hire/Tim-Shorrock/e/9780743282253/?itm=2&USRI=tim+shorrock

    And thanks for the nice plug!

    1. Thanks for writing in Tim! And for clarifying that. :). I’m glad to know the book is back in print. Devin Stewart, who was the Carnegie Foundation, was the first person to show me the book and while I was waiting for an interview with him I devoured a chapter of it. When I tried to buy a copy, there were only used copies available on Amazon and it took a week or more to find its way into my curious large spidery hands. You’re welcome for the plug. There have been a few books on the outsourcing of intelligence but I thought yours was one of the best.

  5. Thank you for that clarification, Jake. The rumours of heroin I got from various internet sources *hangs head*. I’m doing a University Paper which digresses into, among other things, Japan’s so-called ‘Golden Lily’ project (basically looting raw materials from Asia), and Kodama cropped up frequently. Even in wartime he was ultimately focused on money!

  6. Alex-san,
    I think some of the books referenced above should help you get good materials on Kodama. I have a comic book biography of him in Japanese that is highly amusing if perhaps not accurate.

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  8. For another “insider” viewpoint of what I call the “Alphabet Army” read Operation Dark Heart by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (later versions are heavily redacted), which is not about Japan, but translates well into our current reality!
    The connection between the Yakuza and the Utility “Gangs” in Japan are now even more worrisome since so much “dirty” nuclear material at Fukushima has gone missing. Many fear that it will come back to haunt us in a future terrorist attack and give new meaning to “Made in Japan”…

  9. Thank you Jake and Tim for the excellent and important research.

    We now know nukes are a very bad deal indeed:

    When I explain the dark underbelly of Japanese/US politics to my students they can hardly believe it, but I browbeat them and show the the videos:

    Secrets of the CIA, part 1

    “CIA is a state sponsored terrorist organization”


    Nuclear Ginza

    Then they just roll their eyes and go back to sleep, but not all of them!

    Also worth a read is William Blum – Killing Hope, CIA and US Military Interventions Since WWII.

  10. Drug running by the CIA has been documented by Gary Webb (1996 book) who was suicided; Alfred McCoy (Politics of Heroin) and Alexander Cockburn (White out). We live in a world where governments are nothing but gangs of organized criminals who wear Armani suits. At least they are well dressed.

  11. Not only dd the CIA convince Japan to invest in nuclear energy they helped control and dictate the type of reactor that would be used to generate nuclear power. The convenient by-product of this approach was a generous supply of plutonium that was now available for reprocessing and weapons development. So the Japanese not only purchased, questionable reactor technology (i.e. Fukushima), but also became farms for the harvesting of nuclear weapons to add to Uncle Sam’s already enormous hideous stockpile.

    Greed coupled with madness is the definition of post-war America.

    1. Questionable reactor technology in regards to what?

      The American and Japanese reactors are among the best in the world. Japanese nuclear waste has never appeared in US weapons. You’re letting your own nuclearphobia and Anti-Americanism blind you to facts.

      1. Fun fact: The 40 and 30 year old reactors built at Fukushima were never designed to withstand earthquakes. It didn’t figure into the equation. There have been several nuclear accidents in the last twenty years in Japan—progressively worse. How many more nuclear meltdowns can Japan afford with its limited land mass. It seems like a very unsafe bet after Fukushima.

      2. The fundamental problem with reactors is that here is *no* margin of error when it comes to these things. When a windmill breaks down, whats the worst that can happen? The reactor at Fuk was not designed to tolerate earth quakes which means… catastrophic failure was *inevitable*. Certain. A sure thing.

        “Japanese nuclear waste has never appeared in US weapons.”
        WTF?!? I had to double, triple check, but at no point did anyone make this claim. Point of fact, nuclear waste does not appear in nuclear weapons. Period. Again, WTF?!? Did you just pull this out of your a$$? Or do you have problems with reading and comprehension? Find a good university and register. Today.

        And FYI, anti-Americanism is a rational doctrine given that America is arguably one of the greatest forces of death and destruction in the history of mankind. We are talking about a death toll which numbers in the millions when talking about the numbers of people killed by the direct actions of America on the global stage. Its unhindered romp since the end of WW2 is absolutely without equal and without precedent.

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  13. Fun fact: nuclear power works.

    Fun fact: “alternative” energy, like wind and solar, are inefficient and unreliable.

    1. Tell that to 150,000 evacuated from around Fukushima who now have to service the debts of their previous lives plus rebuilding new ones, including the many families who had members die because they were moved out of care to do so, and the rest of us who have to pay for the clean up.

      I’m sure they think it is “fun” to lose their homes, businesses and land.

      Of course, we know it is not “fun” because of the rise in suicides since 3/11.

      Your reactionary trolling idiocy is one thing … your insensitivity is another.

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  16. Have you ever heard of a guy by the name of Norb Schlei? He was a shipmate of mine in the fifties and got hung up in an FBI sting involving a phony securities scheme in the eighties. He was initially convicted, but subsequently exonerated on all but one charge which was categorized as a misdemeanor.

    Because the whole deal was so uncharacteristic of the man I knew, I have been doing a lot of research to try to figure out who and how he might have gotten set up.

    I wonder if you might have any input to offer.

    Loved your book. Have read it twice.

    1. I have never heard of him but that’s quite a story. Thank you for the kinds words by the way.

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