[TODAY]A history lesson on wiretapping

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[TODAY]A history lesson on wiretapping

If there were something like a Nobel prize for wiretapping given out to public figures, the first to receive that prize would probably be U.S. President Richard Nixon, who had to step down in disgrace. Mr. Nixon had ordered his Attorney General John Mitchell to tap the phone conversations of journalists and government officials, including those who worked in the White House. The wiretapping, which was carried out under the aegis of national security, was nicknamed the "Mitchell Doctrine." The purpose of the wiretapping was to track down journalists who were unsympathetic to the president and officials who were leaking government information to those journalists. When the New York Times published papers from the Pentagon that listed classified information about the Vietnam War, the wiretapping became focused on the newspaper's journalists and people working under the White House national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Mr. Kissinger was disgraced when it was found that he had personally approved wiretapping of his own staff members.

J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was smarter than either Mr. Mitchell or Mr. Kissinger. When the wiretappings began in 1969, he did not forget to tell his employees to wiretap only when there was an order signed by the attorney general. When President Nixon asked for his resignation, he threatened to disclose the entire wiretapping business. Mr. Nixon backed down.

After the Watergate scandal broke, wiretapping became a crucial operation for President Nixon to survive in the depths of the crisis. The subjects of the wiretapping were Washington Post reporters, White House officials and Justice Department officials. The man behind the operation was the White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. Mr. Haldeman was to Nixon what the Blue House chief of staff, Park Jie-won, is to President Kim Dae-jung. The difference between them, however, is that while Mr. Haldeman was found guilty of conducting the wiretapping operation, Mr. Park is one of the many potential victims of the alleged wiretapping by the National Intelligence Service.

The fate of President Nixon should be a big lesson to the intelligence officials now accused of wiretapping: Those who wiretap come to a disastrous end.

The disclosure of widespread wiretappings conducted on journalists and government officials made Mr. Nixon's popularity and moral standing plummet, and, not surprisingly, the public did not sympathize with him when he was pressured to resign. It was also a big blow to him that the Supreme Court ruled decisively that the wiretappings were illegal.

No one expected the National Intelligence Service to admit to the allegations made by the Grand National Party. But the disclosed contents of the alleged wiretaps are concrete. The dates and the parties in the conversations of the alleged wiretapped subjects, including two top news media managers, are clearly recognizable. One of those who allegedly had his conversations tapped is the National Assembly speaker. There are also transcripts of conversations containing a voice that sounds too similar to that of Mr. Park, the Blue House chief of staff, for it not to be true.

Obviously, it was not the most altruistic of intentions that led the Grand National Party to wait until the election period to disclose the wiretappings. Illegal wiretapping is too important a problem to let its condemnation be influenced by politics. Before dismissing these allegations as a political ploy, the National Intelligence Service and the Millennium Democratic Party should think of the possibility that the public has already accepted these disclosures as the truth and fear the rampant wiretapping that they believe is going on.

Telephones are an indispensable part of our everyday lives. This has become even more so with the widespread use of cellular phones. Think of the fear one would feel knowing that a powerful authority was listening to one's conversations behind one's back. It is almost like George Orwell's "1984," where the people of Oceania, the grand dystopian country in the novel, have their every movement watched by a looming omnipotent authority they call Big Brother.

Nothing is as effective as shock to cure a bad habit. If we do not use the shock of this disclosure for a cure and take decisive measures, the next administration will also find it difficult to resist the temptation to wiretap illegally.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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