[FOUNTAIN]Spies who failed, except at home

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[FOUNTAIN]Spies who failed, except at home

The Russian Embassy in Seoul’s Jeong-dong neighborhood was completed in 2002 after three years of construction. Samsung Corp., which was in charge of building the structure, was awed.
The Russian guards observed even the smallest procedures, such as the mixing of cement. There were rumors that the embassy had been coated in iron so radio waves would not leak out.
The U.S. intelligence community is a frightening thing. It does not yield an inch in the national interest. It dug a tunnel under the Russian Embassy in the United States, and planted transmitters on doves at the embassy. It bugged the Chinese presidential plane. But the United States strictly restricts eavesdropping on civilians.
The wiretapping capabilities of Korea’s National Security Planning Agency had developed rapidly since 1994. To prepare for an inter-Korean summit, the South needed to closely monitor movement within the North. The government spent a huge portion of its budget on expensive wiretapping equipment.
According to a story that former presidential chief of staff Park Kwan-yong told in 1998, Mr. Park was having tea in his Blue House office at noon on July 9, 1994, with Kim Deok, then director general of the National Security Planning Agency. They were planning to have lunch after watching a report on North Korean television. After about 30 seconds, Mr. Kim’s secretary, who had been standing outside the room, came in yelling, “Kim Il-sung is dead.”
Mr. Kim’s face turned white. He had nothing to say, since he hadn’t had a clue that Kim Il-sung had been dead for 34 hours. “What a waste of money on all the equipment the agency bought,” Mr. Park said.
But it seems to have been Mr. Park who was made a victim of wiretapping. Despite the revelations of the last two weeks, he seems to be having a hard time believing what happened. He said, “During the Kim Young-sam administration, political surveillance was prohibited, and the National Security Planning Agency was never able to function properly.” But those involved in the tape scandal say unanimously that Mr. Park was dismissed after he was caught on tape criticizing the abuses of power committed by President Kim Young-sam’s son, Kim Hyun-chul.
The wiretapping devices that were supposed to be used in North Korea were instead used at a dining table. Last weekend, prosecutors found 274 tapes inside the house of a former secret agent. The bugging team was not so good at uncovering North Korea’s secrets, but performed outstandingly in the South. One wonders what the National Security Planning Agency has to say about this.

by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.
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