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Fears of Eavesdropping Resurgent After Recent Scandal

Posted July. 23, 2005 03:11,   


With reports that the National Security Planning Agency (NSPA), the predecessor of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), illegally bugged conversations between a former major newspaper chairman and a conglomerate senior executive, “the fear of eavesdropping” is spreading again.

Political, government, and economic figures are expressing their apprehension, saying, “Chances are that some wiretapped-tapes that contain my voice might circulate among the people.”

Eavesdropping by Mirim Team Was Tip of the Iceberg-

According to former and incumbent agents of the spy agency, the NSPA’s bugging had been widely carried out by the science security bureau (SSB) (called the eighth bureau) of the spy agency headquarters, and the bugging by Mirim Team, a team in charge of the spot of bugging, was a drop in the bucket.

Wiretapping by Mirim Team is also said to have been based on the SSB’s bugging. After specific meeting places and times that the SSB got through wiretapping phone conversations of political and economic figures were delivered to Mirim Team, the Mirim team began to bug near the meeting places. So the SSB’s bugging was called the “main bugging” and Mirim Team’s bugging was called “sub-bugging.”

An agent identified by his surname K, who is said to have led a team that bugged conversations over campaign funds for the 1997 presidential election between a former major newspaper chairman and a conglomerate senior executive, backed up these facts, saying, “At that time, the team had been run “under the orders of the spy agency,” adding, “I did not take the lead in bugging them.”

The SSB that consisted of hundreds of agents was disbanded in October 2002 when Grand National Party lawmaker Chung Hyung-keun disclosed its “large-scale eavesdropping cases,” but a team in charge of eavesdropping for national security and North Korea’s activities has been maintained under the name of a different formation.

In addition, bugging teams from the spy agency’s branches in cities and local provinces were reportedly amalgamated into bugging teams in five major cities in the process of reorganizing the NIS in September 2003. It has not been confirmed if the bugging teams are still bugging the conversations of bigwigs.

In response, the NIS said on July 21, “It is only carrying out legal wiretapping activities related to national security.”

Fear of Bugging and Security Providers Flooded with Inquiries-

Yet, figures including politicians are still feeling a sense of uneasiness over eavesdropping. Some opposition lawmakers are feeling ill at ease, saying, “Nobody knows that the spy agency is still doing such activities in a clandestine manner,” adding, “It might be better to refrain from coming in and out of major restaurants for the time being.”

Some senior lawmakers are also keeping their eyes on chance of an additional disclosure of “X-Files” with every nerve bristling. A third-term lawmaker from Gyeongsang Province expressed his concerns, saying, “There were more cases in the past than now in which figures went into a huddle in restaurants,” adding, “Nobody is certain that my words had been bugged at what time and in what way.”

The number of inquiries of services for wiretapping prevention is increasing as well. Korea TSCM Co. president Ahn Gyo-seung said, “Methods of bugging, including a method of extracting only voices from a beam that is reflected after a razor beam is shot through a window, are increasingly becoming high tech.,” adding, “We are being flooded with related inquiries.”

The Central Radio Monitoring Office under the Ministry of Information and Communication said, “The number of registered companies that offer detection of illegal bugging devices to the public is 13, but given the number of small-scale providers that are operating their services, the total number will increase significantly.”

Seung-Heon Lee In-Jik Cho ddr@donga.com cij1999@donga.com