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Japan probes blog post of flight plans for Obama

By Martin Fackler
New York Times / September 11, 2011

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TOKYO - Japanese officials moved to control diplomatic damage after an air traffic controller was questioned for posting secret US flight information on his blog, including the detailed flight plans of Air Force One last November.

The Transportation Ministry said yesterday that the controller, who works at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, could face charges of leaking national secrets. Japanese officials appeared embarrassed by the breach, which also included the flight data of a US military reconnaissance drone.

Tokyo is apparently worried that the incident could raise new doubts in Washington about Japan’s ability to handle delicate information, after a scandal four years ago over the leak of US naval radar secrets.

The newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda may apologize to President Obama for the breach during a meeting this month in New York.

The ministry said the controller, who was identified only as a man in his 50s, posted the flight plan of Air Force One during Obama’s visit to Asia in November. It said the blog contained two pages of detailed information about the flight, including numerical data and a map showing the plane’s route.

Air Force One’s flight details are usually kept secret to protect the president. The ministry said the blog contained no explanation of the numbers or images, which would have been largely incomprehensible to a layperson.

It said the controller was being questioned after a caller tipped off officials last Monday. The ministry also said that the controller did not appear to have acted with ill intent and told the authorities he posted the information to show his friends.

The controller posted 12 pages of delicate information that included flight plans of a Global Hawk drone that was gathering radiation readings near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the ministry said.

For Japan, the episode is uncomfortably similar to a 2007 information leak about the US Navy’s advanced Aegis combat radar system, which is also on Japanese warships.

A Japanese Navy officer was arrested for copying data about the radar onto CD-ROM disks and distributing them to classmates at a naval school.

Obama traveled to Japan in November to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama. It is unclear whether the blog was posted before or after Obama flew from South Korea to Japan for the summit. The information has been removed from the site.

Noda, who took office eight days ago, is expected to explain the findings of the blogging investigation to Obama when he travels to Washington. Noda has said he wants to strengthen ties between the countries and has expressed strong support for the US-Japan security alliance.

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