Clandestinely obtaining secret information on a country or organization and handing it over to another state or group is an act of spying. In this case, another state could mean competitor nations and allies, not to mention enemies. Three people, including Kim Sang-tae, the head of an arms broker who served as chief of staff of the South Korean Air Force from 1982 to 1984, have shocked the nation by being indicted without detention for violating the law on military intelligence protection. This has prompted fears that leaks of confidential information are widespread in the military.
Kim and the two other suspects are alleged to have leaked military secrets on 20 occasions to U.S. arms developer Lockheed Martin from 2004 until early last year. Several of Korea`s key military secrets, including the Joint Strategic Operations Plan and the mid-term defense plan, were handed over for money. Kim and his colleagues are said to have received 2.5 billion won (2.4 million U.S. dollars) from Lockheed. Kim founded his company in 1995 but prosecutors cannot investigate what he did before 2003 given the seven-year statute of limitations. So far more military secrets might have been handed over to the U.S.
Since 2005, about 50 people in South Korea have been gone to trial for violating the military intelligence law. Most of them obtained secrets on their militarys future strategy and new weapons procurement after serving in military logistics, intelligence and operations. Such breaches of national security are in large part due to officials of the Defense Acquisition Management Administration giving preferential treatment to their former seniors and colleagues. Leaking military secrets is an act of selling out the nation. The government should further strengthen regulations on former military officers being employed by defense companies.
In 1996, the U.S. sentenced Robert Kim, a former Korean-American official at the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, to nine years in prison for informing a South Korean military attaché in Washington of the whereabouts of a North Korean submarine. U.S. federal prosecutors indicted Steven Kim, a senior adviser to the U.S. State Department, for leaking secret information about North Korea to a Fox News reporter. Any country comes down hard on those who leak military secrets.
In South Korea, however, none of the 50 people indicted for leaking intelligence have received a prison sentence. Most judges have been lenient over such violations because they failed to properly understand the severity of military intelligence leaks. The judiciary should change its recognition of this crime.