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How Was the Illicit Wiretapping Conducted?

Posted August. 06, 2005 06:18,   


Case 1: In early 2000, a journalist from a major daily newspaper was told by a senior official at the National Intelligence Service (NIS), whom he had been familiar with, that he should “be careful when making cell phone calls.” The official hinted that as the intelligence agency adopted a new machine for wiretapping cell phone calls, he should be cautious while talking on his cell phone. The journalist recalled that he “felt a chill go down his spine at that moment.”

Case 2: In 1999, a secretary of a high-ranking Grand National Party (GNP) official was shocked when he picked up the phone to make a call to outside at his office in the National Assembly Members Building. from the receiver of the phone, he could hear the recorded conversation between him and an outsider on the previous day.

“I guess that the intelligence agency had wiretapped the conversation. Due to some technical errors, however, that record was linked again to the phone at my office and I happened to listen to the conversation,” said the secretary.

According to a NIS announcement revealed on August 5, suspicions over illicit eavesdropping and cell phone wiretapping during the Kim Dae-jung administration turned out to be the case. Who were the subjects of unlawful bugging attempts, and how was the obtained intelligence utilized?

The National Intelligence Service stated that the number of subjects and the range of the wiretapping were much less than those of the previous governments. The agency also added that related documents were already disposed of and relevant officials refused to talk, making it hard to investigate the details and subjects of the eavesdropping cases.

As in two examples above, however, it is highly likely that full-fledged eavesdropping attempts might have been made on prominent politicians, senior journalists who are critical to the government, and high-ranking government officials.

Even NIS Director Kim Seung-gyu said on this day, “While serving as the justice minister, I sometimes felt nervous that my conversations might be wiretapped.”

Rumor has it that there might have been a “blacklist” of wiretapping subjects.

Given the NIS report that bugging efforts continued until March 2002, some suggest that wiretapping attempts might have also been made on the likely presidential candidates of each party at that time. It is needless to say that the outcome of a presidential election is the biggest matter of concern for an intelligence agency.

The NIS, however, denied such accusations, saying that “in the People’s Government, no wiretapping efforts had been made on presidential candidates of both the ruling and the opposition parties.”

It seems likely that the intelligence gained from illicit wiretapping was delivered to only a fraction of a number of key figures in power circles.

Influential figures were known to have utilized the intelligence reports when they met in person and blackmailed journalists who criticized the government, saying that they were “aware of everything.” It is highly likely, though it has not been confirmed, that they also used the information as a means to pressure opposition parties.

There is evidence that the intelligence was utilized even in conflicts within power circles. “At the time when Kwon No-gap and Han Hwa-gap were in a dispute, a deputy general manager-level NIS official created a stir when he was disclosed to have wiretapped Cheong Wa Dae officials and aides to former President Kim Dae-jung,” said an official in the political circle.

Was Kim Dae-jung informed of the cases?-

Regarding whether former President Kim Dae-jung was aware of the illegal bugging incidents and received the intelligence reports, the National Intelligence Service drew a fine line, saying, “We did not report those cases to the top, as then-President Kim Dae-jung ordered us to stop illicit wiretapping attempts.”

“Being the biggest victim of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) and its successor, the National Security Planning Agency (NSPA), [Former President Kim Dae-jung] ordered the NIS directors to stop wiretapping, politically-motivated investigations, maneuvering, shadowing, surveillance and torture,” reiterated Choi Gyung-hwan, secretary of the former president, on this day. “Until the last days in office, he continued to emphasize such willingness, and no illicit activities were reported.”

Former NIS director Shin Geon said in a telephone interview that he “ordered illicit wiretapping to be suspended at the request of former President Kim,” and that he had “not received any reports on unlawful eavesdropping, even when he was serving as the deputy general manager of the relevant department at the agency.”

Many point out, however, that it does not make sense for the head of an influential agency and the President to be unaware of the intelligence collection activities of the NIS.

Yong-Gwan Jung yongari@donga.com