|Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction:
A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo
Senate Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
October 31, 1995 Staff Statement
The Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) was founded in 1987 by Shoko Asahara, a forty-year old legally blind former yoga teacher. Asahara was born on March 2, 1955 as Chizuo Matsumoto in Yatsushiro, Japan. He was the fourth son of seven children - five boys and two girls. His family was
poor, his father being a tatami (mat) maker. He was educated in local schools for the blind because of infantile glaucoma. He left home at the age of six and lived in a school dormitory from then until graduating from high school. After graduating from the mamoto Prefectural School for the Blind, Asahara moved to Tokyo where he unsuccessfully sought enrollment in Tokyo University. He apparently graduated from a junior college in March 1975, and later received some informal training as an acupuncturist.
Little more is known of his early years. He apparently married a local college student in 1977 and has six children with his wife, Kazuko. Although his followers claim that before founding his cult he traveled widely in the East in the pursuit of religious training, the Staff was unable to confirm this. The Staff did corroborate that Asahara apparently worked in acupuncture for some time and also operated a pharmacy in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Police reports indicate he was arrested on suspicion of violating Japanese pharmaceutical laws in 1982 for selling unregulated medicines.
The Staff was unable to determine the disposition of this arrest but was advised that he was never jailed for the offense. However, as a result, his pharmacy went into bankruptcy shortly after his arrest.
In 1977 Asahara began the study of yoga and in 1984 he formed a company called the Aum Shinsen-no kai which was a yoga school and publishing house. From various Aum publications it appears that around 1986 he changed his own name to Shoko Asahara and, in 1987, the name of his yoga group to the Aum Shinrikyo -- a Sanscrit derivative literally meaning [error, words missing] or supreme truth."
In August, 1989, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government granted the Aum official religious corporation status. This law provided the Aum various privileges including massive tax breaks and de facto immunity from official oversight and prosecution. The Staff was repeatedly told that this was a significant event in the development of the Aum's deadly activities. Under the Japanese Religious Corporation Law, after a-group is recognized, authorities are not permitted to investigate its "religious activities or doctrine". This is broadly interpreted to cover almost everything the religious group does, including what would normally be viewed as "for profit" corporate activities. Although the police could investigate a religious group for criminal acts, the Staff was told by Japanese cult experts and government officials that in practice this would be difficult if not impossible to do because of the law and the government's reluctance to investigate religions.
Ironically, the United States is partially responsible for the broad interpretation given to the Religious Corporation Law. The law was enacted in 1947 as a reaction to excesses against religious groups by the former Japanese Imperial government. With strong American influence in post-war Japan, this law was enacted to protect religious beliefs from government interference. Since its enactment approximately 200,000 religious groups have been recognized. Their membership actually exceeds the population o Japan by almost 70 million due to multiple memberships.
Although the vast majority of these religious sects are law abiding and well respected, the Staff was told that there is effectively no government oversight over the activities of any of these groups even though some operate tax exempt "for profit" businesses and a few control their own political parties.
The Staff learned the Aum made their recognition as a religious group a high priority. They embarked upon an aggressive lobbying campaign which included picketing the offices of the agency that was to make the decision. One Aum expert who had been following their activities for some time called their efforts "scandalous" and totally out of character with other religious groups. Public sources have alleged that to ensure their registration, the Aum also aggressively lobbied local politicians to put pressure on the Tokyo government officials to approve their application.
The Staff was told that this quirk in Japanese law was a significant factor in the development of the Aum cult. With its registration as a legally recognized religion, the Aum's activities and character dramatically changed. Its net worth grew from less than 430 million yen (approximately $4.3 million) when recognized in 1989 to more than 100 billion yen ($1 billion) by the time of the Tokyo incident six years later. Likewise, its membership rose dramatically after legalization. From merely a score of members in 1984 it grew, by its own accounts, to 10,000 members in 1992 and about 50,000 worldwide in 1995. And, from one office in Japan in 1984 it expanded to over 30 branches in over six countries.
Starting in 1989 the cult also became more aggressive and dangerous. With its dramatic growth, the Staff found evidence of increased complaints from parents and family members of Aum recruits alleging kidnappings and other physical assaults by the cult. A number of anti-Aum groups were started at about this time by family members of cults.
Those that formed these groups complained that they themselves became victims of assaults and harassment. For example, as we will describe in a later section, the first Aum murders occurred within months of the sect being granted religious status when in November of 1989 cult members
kidnaped and murdered a prominent Yokohama lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their one year old son. Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Sakamoto had represented many of these anti-Aum groups.
The Staff was told that with their protective religious status in place, the cult felt so confident that they were immune from government interference that they decided to silence Sakamoto. After successfully doing so, the lack of any government response, we were told, apparently emboldened the Cult to commit even more horrible and blatant attacks upon their perceived enemies in Japan. As we now know, this "immunity" d not last. Since the Tokyo incident, the Japanese police have arrested about 400 Aum members, including most of their hierarchy.
Another event that the Staff learned was important in the changing aspect of the Aum cult concerned their brief foray into politics. The year after they became a registered religion, Asahara announced to his members that the Aum was going to run a slate of candidates in the Japanese Diet election in February 1990. Asahara and 24 other members of his inner circle ran for parliament under the banner of the Aum's own party - the Shinrito.
The Staff was told by former Aum members that Asahara was personally very confident that both he and the other Shinrito candidates would win their elections. However, all lost badly. Asahara himself only received a mere 1,700 votes out of approximately 500,000 votes cast. To add to his humiliation, former Aum members told the Staff that Asahara did not even get all the votes of his own followers who numbered well in excess of the 1,500 votes he obtained.
It is almost universally held that the 1990 election defeat was the final turning point for the direction the Aum would eventually take. Although they had already committed crimes, including murder before the 1990 election, after their defeat the Aum gave up on all legal pretensions and turned away from normal interaction with the larger Japanese society. From then on the rhetoric of Armageddon and paranoia became incessant. Cult experts in Japan told the Staff that in hindsight it appears that from 1990 onward, the die apparently was cast for a violent confrontation with the people and government of Japan.
The Aum Shinrikyo is grounded in Buddhism but with a strong mixture of assorted Eastern and Western mystic beliefs including the works of the 16th Century French astronomer, Nostradamus. The religion preaches that there are a number of steps or levels of consciousness that a member can reach through the teachings of "the Spirit of Truth, His Holiness the Master Shoko Asahara". Aum literature claims that only one person, Shoko Asahara, has attained the highest level of consciousness and exists in the state of Nirvana. The Staff interviewed one former member of the Aum who had been recruited because of his knowledge of the religious teachings of Buddha. He told the Staff that for a period he was tasked with writing all of the "divine teachings" of Shoko Asahara who, in his opinion, knew very little about Buddhism in his own right.
The Aum faith also included a number of religious views surrounding reincarnation" as well as Tibetan beliefs in extrasensory experiences including clairvoyance, "seeing through walls" and "levitation". Asahara claimed to frequently levitate and fly around rooms. The only photographic evidence the Staff reviewed concerning these flights appeared to be crude forgeries. Even to the untrained eye they show that rather than levitating, Asahara was probably bouncing on a device such as a trampoline to become airborne.
The Staff was also told by authorities that the cult was fixated with the Hindu god 'Shiva". This was significant since "Shiva" is the "god of destruction" thereby explaining in part the violent nature of the cult and its particular emphasis on "Armageddon". Although this concept is widely known in Western religions, "Armageddon" or the "end of the world" is not a normal tenet of Buddhism or other Eastern religions popular in Japan. However, it was a core element of the Aum religion with salvation only coming at the end of Armageddon to those who adopted the Aum faith. Asahara foretold salvation for those Aum members who have attained a higher state through the teachings of the "Supreme Master'-- Asahara. Asahara also preached salvation even to tse of his members who perished in the predicted Armageddon since they were assured a special status in their reincarnated state.
The Staff was told by Japanese government officials that in 1989 Asahara published a major religious treatise on Armageddon called The Destruction of the World. In it Asahara apparently described a world- wide calamity based upon a purported war between Japan and the United States which would start sometime in 1997. Asahara based his predictions on "The Prophecies of Nostradamus', the "Revelations of St. John" from the New Testament, Buddhist scriptures, and other personal revelations.
Again in 1993, Asahara publicly reiterated his predictions of Armageddon. In a book entitled Shivering Predictions by Shoko Asahara, Asahara stated that: "From now until the year 2000, a series of violent phenomena filled with fear that are too difficult to describe will occur. Japan will turn into waste land as a result of a nuclear weapons' attack. This will occur from 1996 through January 1998. An alliance centering on the United States will attack Japan. In large cities in Japan, only one-tenth of the population will be able to survive. Nine out of ten people will die."
Later that year in another book published by the Aum in July' entitled Second Set of Predictions by Shoko Asahara, he provided further revelations concerning these wars. He claimed that a Third World War would soon break out. He wrote that: "I am certain that in 1997, Armageddon will break out. By 'break out' I mean that war will erupt and that it will not end soon. Violent battles will continue for a couple of years. During that time, the world population will shrink markedly.... "A Third World War will break out. I stake my religious future on this prediction. I am sure it will occur."
Within days after the subway attack in March 1995, Asahara, in a video message wherein he denied complicity in the incident, further explained the perceived roe of his cult in Armageddon: "We act on the basis of prophecies. In 1997 and 1998 most of Japan's large cities will suffer major damage in a war between the U. S. and Japan. Then the Japanese economy will collapse. Japanese assets will be lost, reviving the nation after this collapse is one goal of ours ... salvation activities."
Although most of Asahara's prophecies predicted the Armageddon in 1997 or 1998, documents recently seized by the Jpanese police from Aum facilities indicate that sometime starting in 1994 the date for this cataclysmic event was moved up to November of 1995. The Staff was told by Japanese government sources that they were concerned from analyzing cult teachings that the Aum may have "decided to speed things up' by instigating the predicted war between Japan and the United States in November, 1995.
The new November timetable for Armageddon appears to have coincided with public statements by Asahara that he and his people were already the victims of gas attacks by Japanese and U.S. military aircraft. In a public sermon delivered by Asahara at his Tokyo headquarters on April 27, 1994, he claimed that: "With the poison gas attacks that have continued since 1988, we are sprayed by helicopters and other aircraft wherever we go.... The use of poison gases such as satin were clearly indicated. The hour of my death has been foretold. The gas phenomenon has already happened. Perhaps the nuclear bomb will come next." (Emphasis Added)
The date of this speech is significant since it predates by two months the June 27th sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Japan. This event, which left 7 deadys publicly denied any involvement in any gas attacks, evidence developed after the Tokyo incident from arrested cult members clearly implicates the cult in the Matsumoto incident. Juxtaposed, the prediction of the new Armageddon in November with the discussion of sarin, leaves a clear impression that the Aum may have been planning a gas attack in November 1995.
The November prediction is troubling as it coincides with the fact that President Clinton and 17 other world leaders are scheduled to gather in Osaka, Japan for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting on November 16th - 19th. The Staff has not discovered a link between these two events. We have no credible evidence that the Aum planned an attack directed at the APEC gathering. The timing of the two events, however, raises some concern.
Just two weeks ago, the Japanese press reported that the Japanese police have launched one of their nation's largest security details to protect the November 16-19 Asia-Pacific conference. The articles specifically note that the police are guarding against a possible nerve gas attack similar to the sarin attack in Tokyo. They aim that the Osaka police have stocked up on gas masks and chemical protection suits in order to guard against any such attack. Takaji Kunimatsu, the Commissioner General of the Japanese National Police Agency, is also quoted as ordering all of his police commanders to be on "full alert", saying: "Particularly after the subway incident, it has become extremely difficult to predict who would do what... " Kunimatsu is also said to have called on all senior police chiefs to step up their investigations of the Aum sect since "the truth of the sect remains unclear".
Concern that the Aum may have sought out United States targets is fueled by the rampant anti-American rhetoric historically used by the cult. As early as 1993, Asahara accused the United States of planning the attack on Japan that would foreshadow the Armageddon. The cult's literature also disparaged the United States, blaming the West for using the rampant materialism and internationalism that the cult claims is at the root of the current problems with Japan. The cult has repeatedly accused the United States of masterminding and of carrying out a series of chemical attacks on it. These accusations go back to early 1994 and the cult produced a 1994 video tape entitled Slaughtered Lambs that allegedly documents these attacks.
The anti-American rhetoric became more personalized in January, 1995 when the cult's monthly organ, Vairayana Saca printed a series of anti-American and anti-Japanese government articles. The Staff obtained one article called Will Clinton Be Assassinated? In which the cult wrote: "Clinton will be without doubt a one-term president. At best, he will not be re-elected. At worse, it would not be strange if he were assassinated, making [error, words missing] That same publication also contains an article raising the specter of planned terrorist assassinations of various Japanese officials. A number of prominent Japanese officials were listed as "blackhearted aristocrats who had sold their souls to the devil" . Included were Daisaku Idoda, the Honorary Chairman of Sokagakkai, a Japanese religious group; Yukio Aoshima, the Governor of Tokyo; and Ochiro Ozawa, the Secretary General of the New Frontier Party of Japan. Ozawa, was especially singled out and placed at the head of the list as "the king of darkness" for his close ties with the United States. The Staff was told by a number of Japanese sources that President Clinton was also named on another similar list prepared by the cult; but to date we have not been able to find this document and list.
Some credence can be given to this being a list of potential assassination targets. On May 16, 1995, on the evening of Asahara's arrest, Tokyo Governor Aoshima, who was prominently mentioned on the January list, was the recipient of a mail bomb. Although he was not injured, his secretary lost a number of fingers when the bomb detonated outside the Governor's office.
Unconfirmed press reports assert that the cult was targeting the United States. Japanese Public Television (NHK) issued a story in mid-June, 1995, that it had obtained portions of the confession of the cult's chief physician, Ikuo Hayashi, in which he admitted the cult was planning, as early as November of [error 2 words missing] to mail packages of sarin to unnamed locations in the United States. It quoted Hayashi as saying that the Intelligence Chief of the cult, Yoshihiro Inoue, wanted Hayashi to travel to the United States to receive the parcels for further delivery. The broadcast indicated that the plan was never carried out but that Inoue still planned to use sarin gas in America. Both Hayashi and Inoue have been charged along with others for murder for the March 20th Tokyo subway attack.
The Staff learned that the cult's Intelligence Ministry Chief Inoue kept a number of detailed diaries or notebooks in which he jolted down random thoughts and plans concerning the Aum. These notes were seized by the police. Allegedly, Inoue wrote down a plan to carry out some kind of indiscriminate terrorism in major U.S. cities, including New York. The terrorist attacks were to be similar to the Tokyo sarin gassing. Although some portions of these notes have been corroborated, those specific sections describing the New York attack have to date not been confirmed. Although the Japanese media claim that the police have possession of these sections that describe the New York plot, the Staff, to date, has been unable to obtain access to them.
It is a vexing task to quantify the level of threat a group such as the Aum presents to U.S. security. As this report indicates, the Aum was highly dangerous and extensively erratic and unpredictable, obtaining much of their direction from the "prophecies" and rambling of a charismatic madman. However, it is clear that a core belief of the Aum was that the United States was an enemy of the Aum and that a war with the United States was a central component of their prediction of Armageddon. Although no specific threat against President Clinton has been documented, the Staff has learned that both the United States Secret Service and the Japanese government take such a threat seriously and have taken security precautions.
The Aum was also virulently antiSemitic. As an example, in a 95-page publication issued two months before the Tokyo incident, the Aum attacked the Jews as the 'hidden enemy". This special edition of the Vajrayana Sacca was entitled Manual of Fear and began with a declaration of war on the Jewish people: "On behalf of the earth's 5.5 billion people, Vajrayana Sacca hereby formally declares war on the 'world shadow government' that murders untold numbers of people and, while hiding behind sonorous phrases and high sounding principles, plans to brainwash and control the rest. Japanese awake! The enemy's plot has long since torn our lives to shreds."
The tract quotes liberally from a number of anti-Semitic writings and blames the Jewish people, for among other things, the mass murders in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, the massacres by Serbs and Croatians in Bosnia, and the tribal warfare in Rwanda. It claims that the Jews are planning similar massacres in other areas of the world in order to carry out a sinister plot to reduce the world's population by three billion people by the year 2,000. The Aum also has linked the Jews to its other enemies within Japanese society --- the "black aristocracy' of Japanese "internationalists" including a number of current and former Japanese politicians and statesmen.
Although the Staff found no evidence of specific attacks upon Jews or Jewish cultural, religious, business or political institutions, this may have been more the simple result of the absence of such targets in Japan. On the other hand, the Aum did target for its rhetoric those it called "Jewish Japanese". These people were not Jewish but rather cosmopolitan Japanese, government officials and members of the business establishment in Tokyo who in the Aum's view exemplified the internationalism and materialism that the Aum hated. Eventually, these. "Jewish Japanese" became the victims of the Aum's indiscriminate Matsumoto and Tokyo sarin attacks.