The Cable

Japanese comfort- women deniers force White House response

Right-wing Japanese lawmakers and activists have successfully rounded up more than 25,000 signatures for a petition on the White House website asking the Obama administration to force the state of New Jersey to take down a monument dedicated to the memory of "comfort women," the thousands of women kidnapped and raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The Bergen County executive dedicated a small monument in Palisades Park, New Jersey, in late 2010 that included the following inscription:

IN MEMORY OF THE MORE THAN 200,000 WOMEN AND GIRLS WHO WERE ABDUCTED BY THE ARMED FORCES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF IMPERIAL JAPAN. 1930's - 1945

KNOWN AS "COMFORT WOMEN," THEY ENDURED HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS THAT NO PEOPLES SHOULD LEAVE UNRECOGNIZED. LET US NEVER FORGET THE HORRORS OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.

Ever since then, officials in the Japanese governmentand and elements of Japanese society that dispute the above facts related to the comfort women have been trying to get the monument, which is located in an area with a large Korean population, taken down.

Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park last month to ask local leaders to remove the monument. One of the delegations was led by the Japanese consul-general in New York, Shigeyuki Hiroki. Local officials in New Jersey refused to remove the monument, even when offered cherry trees and other goodies from the Japanese government.

Now, the Japanese comfort-women deniers have a new tactic -- to go straight to the White House. They started a petition on the White House's official website and have conducted a successful campaign resulting in over 28,000 signatures.

"We petition the Obama administration to: Remove the monument and not to support any international harassment related to this issue against the people of Japan," the petition reads. "False accusations regarding the South Korean comfort women issue have disgraced the people of Japan for decades. Over the past few years it has come to light that many of the original charges were false or completely fabricated."

"Yet despite this new information, the United States continues to lend credence to the original false charges by memorializing the comfort women in a monument in New Jersey and a street name in New York. Not only is this perpetrating historical untruths, but it also leads unnecessary racial conflict and suffering of people of Japanese ancestry," the petition reads. "We strongly request President Obama to remove the monument and not to support any international harassment related to this issue against the people of Japan."

According to the White House website, the administration must give an official response to any petition that receives 25,000 signatures within 30 days of when it was originally posted. The Japanese comfort women petition crossed that threshold more than a week ahead of its June 9 deadline.

The massive amount of signatures came mostly from Japan and due to the direct advocacy of several Japanese lawmakers and former officials. A Japanese resident in the United States, by the name of Yasuko R, created the petition. A supporter can sign for the petition once a day.

The petition was advertised in Japan on the websites of Japanese lawmakers Eriko Yamatani and Keiji Furuya, who were part of one of the delegations that visited New Jersey, which included family members of some of the 13 Japanese citizens that were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing Japanese organization, supported the petition's call to remove the monument, as did other organizations, including Nippon Kaigi Local Government (Pride of Japan), and The Spirit of Japan Party (Nihon Soshin To), which posted directions on how Japanese citizens could participate in the petition.

Major advocacy for the petition came from Toshio Tamogami, the former Japanese Air Force chief of staff who was fired in 2009 after creating an international incident by writing in an essay that Japan was "not an aggressor nation" in World War II. Tamogami not only called for petition signatures on his website, he gave instructions in Japanese for users to log onto the White House website so they could be part of the effort.

The comfort women issue and Japan's reluctance to come to terms with its wartime actions is still the No. 1 irritant in Japan's relations with its neighbors. For U.S.-based experts that are critical of Japan's handling of the issue, the petition and its underlying argument are doing great damage to Japan's ability to move past the events of the war.

"Is the Japanese right so strung out, so unpopular that it is reduced to these silly international stunts to get attention? Have they become so irrelevant that they have to prop up Comfort Women and Abductees of the North Koreans for attention? They have become as pathetic as their ideas," said Mindy Kotler, the founder of Asia Policy Point, a non-profit organization that does research on Japan.

She said one part of the problem is the failure of the U.S. government to connect its human rights and women's rights policies to Japan.

"We have built and demanded to build institutions around the world to address war crimes and human rights. In regard to historical war crimes, we have a bureau in the State Department on the Holocaust and even appointed an ambassador in the late 1990s to deal with German and Austrian war crimes," she said. "But we have done nothing that addresses the lingering, if not festering problems of Japan's reluctantly acknowledged war crimes. It eats away at our alliances and undermines our ‘shared values.'"

The White House petition response should be posted "in a timely manner," according to the website.

The Cable

Google to warn users targeted by state-sponsored attacks

UPDATE: A senior Senate aide confirmed that this evening he received a warning on his Gmail account that Google suspected he had been the target of a state-sponsored cyber attack.

Web giant Google is about to announce a new warning informing Gmail users when a specific type of attacker is trying to hijack their accounts -- governments and their proxies.

Later today, the company will announce a new warning system that will alert Gmail users when Google believes their accounts are being targeted by state-sponsored attacks. The new system isn't a response to a specific event or directed at any one country, but is part and parcel of Google's recent set of policy changes meant to allow users to protect themselves from malicious activity brought on by state actors. It also has the effect of making it more difficult for authoritarian regimes to target political and social activists by hacking their private communications.

"We are constantly on the lookout for malicious activity on our systems, in particular attempts by third parties to log into users' accounts unauthorized. When we have specific intelligence-either directly from users or from our own monitoring efforts-we show clear warning signs and put in place extra roadblocks to thwart these bad actors," reads a note to users by Eric Grosse, Google's vice president for security engineering, to be posted later today on Google's Online Security blog, obtained in advance by The Cable. "Today, we're taking that a step further for a subset of our users, who we believe may be the target of state-sponsored attacks." 

When Google's internal systems monitoring suspicious internet activity, such as suspicious log-in attempts, conclude that such activities include the involvement of states or state-backed initiatives, the user will now receive the specialized, more prominent warning pictured above. The warning doesn't necessarily mean that a user's account has been hijacked, but is meant to alert users that Google believes a state sponsored attack has been attempted so they can increase their security vigilance.

Google wants to be clear they are not singling out any one government for criticism and that the effort is about giving users transparency about what is going on with their accounts, not about highlighting the malicious actions of foreign states.

"If you see this warning it does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked. It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account," Grosse writes. "You might ask how we know this activity is state-sponsored. We can't go into the details without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors, but our detailed analysis-as well as victim reports-strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored."

Google insiders told The Cable that Google will not be giving out information on which governments it sees as the most egregious violators of web privacy.  For Google, the new initiative is not an effort against governments but a way to help its users help defend and protect themselves.

Users who click through the new warning message will be directed to a page that outlines commonly seen security threats and suggests ways users can immediately raise their level of security on Gmail.

"We're constantly working to prevent harmful activity on our services, especially attempts to compromise our users' information," the insider said. "The primary message is: we believe that you're a target so you should take immediate steps to protect your account." 

The new announcement comes only days after the company said they would alert users in mainland China when they use search terms that are likely to be censored by the Chinese government. According to another of Google's official blogs, that move was meant to improve the search experience for Chinese users by allowing them to avoid terms that would result in stalls or breaks in their search experience due to government filters.

For example, Google said that Chinese users searching the character for "river," which is "jiang" in Chinese, causes technical problems. The same character is also used in the search for former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Google didn't specifically mention Chinese censorship in its notice about Chinese search terms, apparently in an effort not to antagonize the Chinese government any more than necessary. Google and Beijing have been at odds since 2010, when the company announced it would no longer censor search terms on the Google.cn and moved the bulk of its Chinese operations to Hong Kong.

That move followed a series of Gmail attacks in 2010, directed at Chinese human rights activists, which were widely suspected to be linked to the Chinese government. Following those attacks, the government-controlled People's Daily publicly accused Google of being an agent for U.S. intelligence agencies.

While last week's announcement and this week's announcement are both being presented by Google as user based initiatives not directed at foreign governments, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been speaking out publicly and forcefully in recent months about the potential negative role governments can play in circumventing internet freedom.

"While threats come from individuals and even groups of people, the biggest problem will be activities stemming from nations that seek to do harm," he said in London last month.