June 27, 2016


Tokyo Olympic Games

HOUSTON–The recent terror attack in Orlando, Florida is still being investigated and final conclusions regarding the motivations of the shooter, his likely associations with radical Islamic terrorist groups will not be fully known by the public for days or weeks. In the meantime, security and safety officials from outside of Japan responsible for visitors and participants at the 2020 Olympics might wonder if something similar to the Orlando terrorist attack could occur at the Tokyo Olympic Games. This post will review some pertinent factors of the terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016 and consider whether or not those factors are relevant to security and safety officials planning for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Reports Indicate the Shooter was a Muslim Born in the U.S.

The Muslim population of Japan is very small, probably around 100,000. And not all Muslims residing in Japan are Japanese nationals. Unlike in the U.S., birth in Japan does not confer citizenship. Absent specific naturalization procedures under Japanese law a child born in Japan will have the nationality of at least one of his parents, not Japanese nationality. So compared to the U.S. and many European countries in Japan the number of immigrants, including Muslims, is much smaller both numerically and as a percentage of population. Therefore, it would be a challenge for radical Islamic terrorists to recruit one or more people in Japan to commit a terrorist attack at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

However, news reports assert ISIS took responsibility for the terrorist attack in Orlando. Terrorist groups such as ISIS think long term and look for opportunities to stage attacks that will garner large amounts of publicity. Surely one or more people at ISIS realize that a murderous attack during the Tokyo Olympic Games would generate huge amounts of international publicity for them. So even though the Muslim population in Japan is limited it is conceivable ISIS would be able to find sympathizers in Japan to mount a terrorist attack at the Tokyo Olympic Games. And the fact the Tokyo Olympic Games are more than four years in the future is an advantage – that provides plenty of time to recruit one or more terrorists to kill dozens or even hundreds of innocent people and dominate world headlines for weeks.

During the Orlando Terror Attacks the Shooter Killed With Firearms

Possession of firearms is legal throughout the U.S. and they are relatively easy to obtain. In Japan, however, firearms and even ammunition are strictly regulated and extremely rare. Illegal possession of a firearm or even one round of ammunition are serious crimes under Japanese law. So, the chances of a terrorist using a firearm to mount an attack during the Tokyo Olympic Games appears very low.

Although exceedingly difficult, it is possible to procure a firearm in Japan. As a Special Agent for the FBI investigating mobsters smuggling firearms into Japan from the United States, Japanese police have said they’ll patiently smuggle firearms literally piece by piece over a period of several weeks or months just to get a weapon into Japan.  And firearms have been used to commit crimes in Japan.

And now with 3D printing technology it is possible to create a firearm in any industrialized country (e.g., Japan). This Wikipedia article has more information. The same article also reports that in May, 2014 in Japan Yoshimoto Imura was arrested for creating a firearm using 3D printing technology. Imura was discovered by the Japanese police only because he was stupid enough to post blueprints and video of his firearms on the internet.

Although difficult, clearly it is possible to use a firearm to commit an Orlando style terror attack in Japan. But if a firearm is not available other weapons can be produced. The weapons used for the terror attacks during the Boston Marathon were homemade pressure cooker bombs. For someone who is dedicated (like perhaps a radical Islamic terrorist) and/or someone who has plenty of time (the Tokyo Olympic Games are more than four years away) it would be possible to obtain a firearm or produce some other deadly weapon for use in a terror attack against the Tokyo Olympic Games.

And imaginative terror weapons have been used in Japan in the past. One example is the 1986 G-7 Summit in Tokyo which was the target of a rocket attack. Another example is the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995.

The Orlando Shooter Was Not Discovered Before the Attack

As of June 12, 2016 news reports assert the man who committed the Orlando terrorist attack had previously been investigated and even interviewed by the FBI. However, no U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency discovered the terrorist’s plans before he attacked the Orlando nightclub. How does the Japanese government try to detect terrorists and prevent their attacks?

There are two types of Japanese government organizations that look for terrorist before they conduct an attack. One is the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA). It is not a law enforcement agency but operates as a domestic intelligence agency within Japan. The other type of organization in Japan that looks for terrorists before they commit attacks are the police. Specifically, the 47 prefectural police departments. Like the PSIA they try to find terrorists before they commit an attack. The PSIA and the 47 prefectural police departments in Japan do communicate with each other. Unfortunately, that communication is extremely limited and conducted in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion.

Japan has excellent physical surveillance and human intelligence capabilities. But Japanese law prevents almost all electronic surveillance. In the U.S. and Europe electronic surveillance is a critical tool for counter terrorist investigations. As with the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino attacks in late 2015 the terrorist attacks in Orlando were not prevented. Whether or not a terrorist in Japan planning an attack on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be discovered and the attack prevented is an open question.

The Orlando Terrorist Attack Could Be Replicated During The 2020 Tokyo Olympics

All in all, an Orlando-style attack would be difficult to duplicate during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But there are potential recruits in Japan for such an attack, deadly weapons can be procured or produced, there is plenty of time to prepare, it is possible for terrorists to evade discovery, and the rewards of a spectacular and deadly attack at the Tokyo Olympics would be immense. Those who are responsible for safety and security at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games should study the details of the Orlando terrorist attack as they become available and apply the lessons learned to their security preparations for Tokyo.


EDWARD C. SHAW is a retired FBI Special Agent (25-years) who resided in Japan for approximately fifteen [15] years, speaking fluent Japanese.  An Assistant Legal Attaché, assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, enjoying two tours of duty totaling nine [9] years, Mr. SHAW was the FBI’s official representative in Japan, responsible for working with Japanese law enforcement, and their security, and intelligence agencies.  While in Japan his assignments included locating and apprehending international fugitives, conducting espionage investigations involving spies and doing sensitive reviews concerning national security issues.

Because his assignments took him to every prefecture in Japan, Mr. SHAW is well-acquainted with Japanese law enforcement, and their intelligence and security agencies, and very familiar with their objectives, bureaucratic habits, and most importantly how they interact with their foreign counterparts.

Speaking on security issues facing would be travelers, readers can look forward to Mr. SHAW posting articles here about the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games looking for helpful tips thinking about attending the games.

For additional information see his website at:

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