They knew it, but they blew it.
The Ministry of National Defense and the National Intelligence Service did not prepare for North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island last week, even though they were aware of signs of it months beforehand.
The NIS had intercepted orders from North Korea to shell western border islands, including Yeonpyeong, through secret surveillance in August, three months before the attack, Choi Jae-sung, a member of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday.
The intercepted messages, which hinted of a possible strike by the North, were reported to the Blue House soon after in August.
Choi was quoting NIS Director Won Sei-hoon, who appeared at the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee hearing earlier that day to answer questions from lawmakers. The hearings were closed-door.
Another member of the committee said that the North’s military had ordered coastal troops to prepare for fire. That information was gained in a wiretap.
“The military retained a level of preparedness against possible attacks, but [North Korea] ordered the [Yeonpyeong] attack through land lines, which are difficult to tap,” Won said, according to committee members, in response to questions on what measures military officials had taken after they were aware of North Korea’s movements.
Members of the Intelligence Committee said that the NIS had merely thought North Korea was planning to shell the sea below the Northern Limit Line, a disputed maritime border between the two Koreas, as North Korea had kept up the usual aggressive rhetoric before the shelling.
During the hearing, Won said North Korea could strike again.
Tokyo Shimbun reported yesterday, citing a North Korean military official, that there would be another attack within the year, this time aiming for Gyeonggi. The report said that the official made the statement right after the Yeonpyeong attack.
The Ministry of National Defense also had its share of slipups: the ministry, too, was aware of signs as early as January that North Korea might attack the South.
North Korea’s official television station had aired footage in January of military training that showed troops conducting drills against mock cities labeled with the names of South Korea’s major metropolitan areas.
The broadcast was followed up with aggressive rhetoric from the North’s official news agency a few days later, threatening to “pulverize the enemy in one blow.”
A South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that North Korea had planned to strike on land after they had “eliminated all civilian residents” on Yeonpyeong Island and Baengnyeong Island.
The Blue House, which had received word of the possible attacks, displayed discomfort yesterday that comments made during the National Assembly hearing were publicized. A senior Blue House official yesterday said it was “regretful the NIS director’s comments were made public.”
“The meeting with the Intelligence Committee is supposed to be private, and if it’s for the sake of the people’s right to know, lawmakers have to agree what will be disclosed.”
By Christine Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]