[FOUNTAIN]Informants: a public necessity

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[FOUNTAIN]Informants: a public necessity

As controversy over the bankruptcy and book rigging at Enron, a U.S. energy company, continues to spread, the U.S. Department of Justice is desperately searching for an informer inside Enron. It would take enormous time for the department's task force to dig up millions of pages of documents to investigate the sudden bankruptcy of Enron and alleged political corruption related to the firm's failure. It would be difficult to expect a speedy investigation without inside information because it would take more than a year to go through all the documents and reconstruct papers destroyed by Enron's auditor. The auditor should have supervised Enron, not shielded it. The Justice Department may deal leniently with participants in the fraud if they come forward and cooperate.

Some Republican legislators said they received copies of letters allegedly detailing Enron's fraud from informers in the company, and that information appears to be correct and damaging to the firm.

"Deep Throat" is the name of a pornographic film produced in the United States in 1972. An actress in the film demonstrated some interesting oral techniques, and the movie title became a catchword when Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, an investigative reporter, picked up the term to describe his principal informant, who revealed secrets of the Watergate scandal to him. He used the term to mean that decisive evidence about the scandal came from deep in his informant's throat.

Informers are not a new phenomenon; some are mentioned in the history of two millennia ago. Roman soldiers were ordered to kill with their spears other soldiers who were unable to overcome their fear of battle and tried to drop out of the formation. There was a collective order: soldiers who failed to kill the dropouts were also slain by other soldiers. That strict rule helped discipline the all-conquering Roman army.

Even in Asian societies, the social atmosphere has been changing in a way that helps protect informers. Even in Japan, where harmony is considered as important as life, civil groups protect informants who disclose frauds in the bureaucracy. The uncovering of the most recent scandals in Korea was led by anonymous inside informers. These scandals are too shocking to question further about whether or not political conspiracy was involved. Seoul's appellate court ruled last year that a government employee who revealed problems inside the government for the greater public interest must be protected.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Chul-joo

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