Sophisticated Disinformation Technique a Necessity? Stress from Japan’s Close-knit Interpersonal Relations
In my daily perusal of the Japanese print media via news websites and a weekly magazine or two, I sometimes come across fascinating juxtapositions that would be rarely seen in Western popular press. One recent example is a personal advice column in an popular tabloid penned by no less than one of the country’s foremost authorities on international espionage and intelligence gathering. A former diplomat whose detailed accounts of his extensive under-cover activities at the Japanese embassy in Soviet-era Moscow and at the Tokyo headquarters became best-sellers, Masaru Satō, 54, is known for his intimate knowledge of the intricacies of intelligence gathering and his insight into inter-governmental wheeling and dealing. His nickname: “Rasputin of Gaimushō (Foreign Ministry)”
However, the problems he’s consulted on are so mundane as to be almost comical. One 31-year-old company employee writing in to seek advice says he used to spend nearly all of his monthly salary at a nightclub and still owes nearly three-million-yen (about $30,000) in unpaid bills. He reveals that “I’m still paying it back little by little, but my girlfriend is pressing me to marry her. Her parents keep asking When are you going to put our daughter on your family registry (i.e. get married)? but I’m afraid of being found out about this debt.”
He whines on: “She’s very quick-tempered, so if I lie and say I spent the money gambling, she’ll probably beat me up, and if I told her I spent it on drinks at a bar, she’ll check everything like Email messages on my cell phone and probably find out I was spending money on a bar hostess.” He pleads for advice.
Under no less a title than Writer and former Gaimushō Chief Analyst, Mr Satō, ever serious, gives his response. “Professional intelligence officers do not tell unnecessary lies. The reason is that with truth, one needs only to recall it in the normal way and organize one’s thoughts, whereas with lies, one has to memorize it thoroughly. In the intelligence business, of course, tales for the purpose of falsification (we call them cover stories in our business) are essential. A professional’s technique is not to tell unnecessary lies in order also to minimize the energy needed for maintaining cover stories.” He goes on to explain that “telling a total lie, and the technique of not telling the complete truth and giving somewhat skewered information in order to create an advantageous situation for oneself (disinformation = information control) are two separate things.” Mr Satō then gives his crucial advice. “This man’s girlfriend is said to be short-tempered, so if he should tell her I ran up a debt frequenting a night club, the possibility that the matter will continue to be rehashed over the long-run even after marriage cannot be ruled out…Anything could trigger it off, she may explode saying you, who ran up a three-million-yen debt spending money on a hostess! Therefore I recommend that you fastidiously cover up your history of frequent nightclub visits.”
The espionage expert is also very practical about the critical money matter. “On the business of the debt, it is better for you to be frank. For instance, I think it would be good for you to develop a cover story that thinking we should have as much money as possible considering our future together, I tried my hand in the futures market but took a loss, so I’m still saddled with a three-million-yen debt. If you read up on a couple of books about the futures market, I think you will be fully capable of convincing her. If she should persist by asking what sort of futures did you trade in? you should deflect the point of the question by saying I don’t even want to recall the hell I went through back then…now I’ve set up a such-and-such repayment scheme.
Moreover, the expert advises that since repaying three million yen out of his monthly salary is ”quite a burden,” if his girlfriend and/or her parents are willing to extend a loan, “I think you should accept it without reservation.” In that case, he should go to a lawyer and have him make out an IOU with interest at the same rate as the banks, so that “it would create the impression that the man is honest.” Truly a professional advice or two from Mr Satō for a consultee who seems utterly lost.
Probably all of us have been taught that lying is wrong and still hold to it. But as the expression “to tell little white lies” goes, we might tell a little lie or two from time to time. After my weekly jazz jam at a Broadway pub, I used to drive someone home on my own way home from time to time but one night a few months ago, another person whom I’d driven home once also asked for a ride again. I had another place to got to afterwards that night and frankly driving two people home would be a big hassle. So using the false excuse (something I might do at most a couple of times a year, I swear!), I told them “My wife just phoned me to say I’m needed at home right away” and practically scampered out of that pub. But to develop a fake cover story, study up on it using reference materials so that it won’t be blown, and if a loan is forthcoming, have a lawyer draw up an IOU with fair interest in order to create an impression that one is an “honest person.” Right or wrong aside (if that can ever be), wouldn’t a person who schemes so meticulously be a bit scary?
In Japan, in the good old days before the spread of small terminal devices like cell phones along with hand-held electronic games, many of the commuters on city trains and buses would have their noses buried in newspapers and weekly magazines. For a popular tabloid to run an advice column (evening daily Yūkan Fuji, 20/7/2014) containing such a sophisticated tactic like disinformation, the stress arising from the close-knit and complex group dynamics at home, work or school must be as severe today as it was back then.