[VIEWPOINT]‘X-File’ is a product of deceitGeorge Orwell described an extreme of dystopia in his novel, “1984.” The fictional totalitarian rulers of Oceania ceaselessly fabricate history in order to brainwash its citizens. The ruling clique even created a new language to control every thought and emotion of the people.
Although it was published in 1948, a surveillance device in the book called “telescreen” gives today’s readers a contemporary thrill. The telescreens, which transmitted and received audio and video, were placed on every corner and enabled the Thought Police to hear every word and watch every move the citizens made.
The Thought Police controlled, regulated and punished citizens in the name of “Big Brother.” As a result, the privacy of an individual completely died out, and criticism and resistance were eradicated. One theory is that Mr. Orwell intended “1984” to be an allegory on the communist Soviet Union at the time, but after the fall of socialism, the novel can be seen to be a cautionary tale about the advancement of information technology.
For instance, the National Security Agency of the United States operates Echelon, a global intelligence surveillance network that eavesdrops on all land-line and wireless communications such as telephone, email, fax and radio signals around the world.
Echelon is known to be connected with the intelligence agencies of England, Canada and Australia as well as the United States. The integrated intelligence is sent via satellite to the National Security Agency in Maryland, where supercomputers in the NSA headquarters extract sensitive information using voice recognition and word search systems. The National Security Agency is the most sophisticated intelligence organization, unmatched by the Central Intelligence Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation in terms of the number of employees or the size of its budget.
In 1968, the USS Pueblo, under the command of the NSA, was captured by North Korea while collecting intelligence about the North Korean and Soviet navies. Echelon, originally created for intelligence warfare against the Communist bloc, has been maintained since the end of the Cold War to prevent terrorism and international crimes. However, the BBC reported that the network has been abused to obtain industrial intelligence for the United States, and that it infringes on the privacy of civilians on a global level. Echelon reveals the two faces of the United States, which purports to advocate worldwide democracy.
The so-called “X-file,” which has heated up the already hot summer, is a case with two faces as well. The all-out illegal eavesdropping by the South Korean government’s National Security Planning Agency, which spawned the controversial material, was carried out under President Kim Young-sam’s administration. Mr. Kim was a politician who claimed to be the biggest victim of illegal wiretapping and political manipulation ― in 1993, he legislated a law protecting confidential communication. But at the same time, he himself used eavesdropping as a means of governing the nation during his presidency. All the powerful figures in Korean society then, not to mention Mr. Kim’s political enemies were reportedly the targets of wiretapping.
The X-file case has two aspects. First, it reveals a glimpse of the cozy relationships and collusion among the powerful in politics, the economy, the prosecutors’ office and the media at the time of the 1997 presidential election. The power games and unethical bargains that were going on behind the scenes while the citizens exalted in their dreams of democracy are shocking enough to make the slogan of a democratic republic null and void. The authorities must thoroughly investigate the case and punish those responsible.
Secondly, the case is about the antidemocratic and anti-humanitarian use of illegal eavesdropping by a government agency. This point is not highlighted sufficiently in the shadow of the national rage about the collusion of the powerful. Even if we exclude from discussion the illegal eavesdropping by the military regimes, which had considered surveillance on every citizen a cornerstone for the security of power, the X-file testifies to the falsehood of the “civilian government” of President Kim Young-sam, who had celebrated in the victory of democracy.
The Mirim Team, a special unit under the National Security Planning Agency responsible for creating the X-file, is known to have been broken up in 1998 after Kim Dae-jung came into power. In 1999, Lee Bu-young, then floor leader of the Grand National Party disclosed the existence of the so-called “8th Office,” or the Scientific Security Office that specializes in wiretapping under the National Intelligence Service. According to Chun Yong-taek, former head of the National Intelligence Service, the office was officially closed in October, 2002, when the NIS was reorganized. The 8th Office was the most secretive group even in the National Intelligence Service, and reportedly had both the largest staff and budget.
We are living in an omni-directional surveillance society, where eavesdropping by the state intelligence authority is considered common sense. The X-file is an example of illegally collected intelligence being abused in an ugly power game by the powers that be under the fancy title of working for national security. In light of the wiretapping, Articles 17 and 18 of the Constitution, which state that the privacy and secrecy of correspondence of citizens may not be infringed upon, became meaningless. The democratic values of Korea, which were supposed to be based on the freedom and rights of individuals, have gone up in smoke. Along with the apparent misdeeds described in the X-file, it is only proper that we tackle the fundamental crisis directly.
*The writer is a professor of social philosophy at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Pyong-joong