A North Korean defector was captured 10 times on the surveillance camera when he crossed the border in the East Sea on February 16, but the military ignored it as many as eight times. The alarm was raised twice, but there was no follow-up measure. The initial report was done 31 minutes after the man’s ninth and 10th appearance on the camera. This is the findings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so-called “flipper defection,” announced on Tuesday. Despite the failure of the coast guard, the military said it will come up with a detailed plan to transfer the coast guard duty to the maritime police by the end of this year.
The announcement of the JCS clearly shows the overall vigilance failure and slackness of discipline. Nothing in the system worked, including operation of surveillance equipment, the first measure, reporting and management of security facilities. The system did not work for more than three hours until the surveillance equipment at the civilian access control line identified the defector who came up to the coast. Reporting based on the manual was delayed for more than 30 minutes even after he was identified. The military unit did not even know about the existence of the coastal barbed-wire drain which the defector passed through. There was an order to inspect the whole area after a North Korean defector crossed the border once again from the South in July last year, but the unit did not carry it out.
The failure is said to be due to the military officer at the situation room, the surveillance guard and the guard at the guard post, but it is also because of the rampant laxity of the overall military. Soldiers at the post treated two times of alarms as malfunction and did not take an action even after the first identification, believing that it was a military officer.
But the military authority plans to accelerate the transfer of the coast guard duty to the maritime police. The plan has been laid 15 years ago in step with the improved inter-Korean relations and reduction of the military force, but has been delayed several times due to aggravated security conditions. In a situation where the ‘flipper defection’ after the ‘wooden vessel defection’ and ‘illegal boat entry’ revealed another hole in the system, transferring the duty to the maritime police which is assessed to be inferior in terms of the force and the capacity would make the hole in the coastal guard even larger.
The military’s guard against the North depends on surveillance equipment such as the GOP Scientific Guard System. Even alarms from state-of-the-art equipment is just annoying noise when soldiers lower their guard. The military said it would find a fundamental solution even if that meant a complete overhaul. That remains to be seen, but mistrust of the citizens cannot be eliminated without tightening discipline. The South Korean people are asking the raison d’être of the military.