Special duty: A history of the Japanese intelligence community

Special duty: A history of the Japanese intelligence community

Special Duty, Richard J Samuels' fascinating history of the intelligence community in Japan, has been cited as "a masterpiece" that offers "much needed insight to academics and policymakers."

July 16, 2019 | Cornell University Press
Richard Samuels and book
July 16, 2019

The prewar history of the Japanese intelligence community demonstrates how having power over much, but insight into little can have devastating consequences. Its postwar history—one of limited Japanese power despite growing insight—has also been problematic for national security.

In Special Duty Richard J Samuels dissects the fascinating history of the intelligence community in Japan. Looking at the impact of shifts in the strategic environment, technological change, and past failures, he probes the reasons why Japan has endured such a roller-coaster ride when it comes to intelligence gathering and analysis, and concludes that the ups and downs of the past century—combined with growing uncertainties in the regional security environment—have convinced Japanese leaders of the critical importance of striking balance between power and insight.  Using examples of excessive hubris and debilitating bureaucratic competition before the Asia-Pacific War, the unavoidable dependence on US assets and popular sensitivity to security issues after World War II, and the tardy adoption of image-processing and cyber technologies, Samuels' bold book highlights the century-long history of Japan's struggles to develop a fully functioning and effective intelligence capability, and makes clear that Japanese leaders have begun to reinvent their nation's intelligence community.


"This book is a masterpiece that incisively analyzes the Japanese intelligence community and its activities. I learned a lot from this book. I think that Japan wants to overcome the various problems facing its intelligence and become a part of the Five Eyes as soon as possible."
—Satoshi Morimoto, Former Minister of Defense, Japan

"With deep mastery of Japanese and American archival material and a raft of interviews with key players, Professor Samuels has captured in a single, valuable volume the successes and failures of Japanese intelligence since 1895 and, above all, the political cross-currents and unique restraints under which its agencies have operated since 1945."
—Joel Brenner, former head of US counterintelligence, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and former Inspector General of the National Security Agency

"Special Duty is a timely book, and a suitable next installment in Richard Samuels' influential oeuvre on modern Japanese security policy."
—Michael Green, Georgetown University, author of Arming Japan

"This is a truly wonderful book written by a leading and highly respected scholar in the field of Japanese security and politics. It offers much needed insight to academics and policymakers alike as they seek to understand the changes in Japan's security choices."
—Sheila Smith, Council on Foreign Relations, author of Intimate Rivals

About the author

Richard J Samuels is Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Einstein Visiting Fellow at the Free University of Berlin. His books have won prizes from the American Political Science Association, the Association for Asian Studies, and the Society for Italian Historical Studies. His most recent book is 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan. Follow him on Twitter @dicksamuelsMIT.