Okinawa's off-base housing may suffer infestation of Chinese bugs
Western media recently identified a nondescript 12-story building in the Pudong district of Shanghai as being the headquarters of a secret unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army engaged in cyberwarfare. The unit, which goes by the designation 61398, is alleged to have hacked into hacked into the mainframes of at least 141 U.S. corporations—allegations which were denied by the Chinese government.
As far as Japan is concerned, incursions of this sort are not someone else’s problem, writes Shukan Post (March 15). For one thing, the large American military presence on Okinawa appears to be the target of intelligence gathering by the Chinese.
It was about five years ago that military authorities did a sweep of off-base housing in the town of Chatan, near Kadena Air Base, and found listening devices in five or six units of a rental condominium.
On Okinawa, about 15,000 military personnel and civilian employees of the U.S. military, and their family members, live off base on the local economy, mostly in some 5,000 units concentrated in central areas of the main island such as Chatan and in Okinawa City, also close to Kadena.
According to a local realtor, many residents therein are “high-ranking officers.”
“Several years ago, a member of the U.S. armed forces living off base noticed his personal computer was behaving strangely,” a source in the U.S. Department of Defense tells the magazine. “He promptly reported this to his superior, who sent investigators to his house. Along with finding evidence that someone had broken in and removed data from his computer, they also found an eavesdropping device.”
“I can’t go into detail on the results of the investigation,” the source continues, “but it was found that people working in close cooperation with ‘Chinese investors’ could easily obtain entry to the building, and that they frequently entered and left the units. We concluded there was a strong possibility that China was engaged in intelligence gathering activities.”
While Shukan Post concedes that it has no evidence the same organization was behind the separate incidents, a common thread is suspected.
“There are ongoing moves by Chinese investors to buy up off-base houses and condos used by the military. If the owner is Chinese, he can use a passkey to open the door when the tenant is absent, to make repairs under the pretext of renovation, and this makes it possible to install bugs.”
The president of a local real estate firm says that while he received some tempting offers from interested buyers, he decided not to deal with foreign investors.
“But I heard from some other operators were selling to Chinese,” he is quoted as saying. “The U.S. military has taken steps not to deal with those operators for jobs on the bases.”
“We often get inquiries from Chinese who are interested in investing in housing for Americans,” says another real estate operator in central Okinawa. “They’ve been adopting a variety of tricks to mask their identities, such as naturalizing as Japanese citizens or by using the names of Japanese corporations that they’ve registered. We risk getting criticized for selling to Chinese. So in situations like this, it works better for us not to know who we’re actually dealing with.”
The difficulty in determining ownership of those rental properties means more potential problems for the U.S. side.
“We can’t relax any longer if personnel live in off-base housing,” the aforementioned DOD source remarks. “We’re not concerned only about leaking of secrets. If a pilot were to live there when he’s off duty, the time from when he’s called until he can report for duty and get airborne will take longer And there’s also the chance that operational information might be leaked. It’s an extremely serious situation.”