[FOUNTAIN]Informers everywhere

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[FOUNTAIN]Informers everywhere

Criminal investigators often use informants, called “mangwon” in Korean. In order to round up organized criminals involved in drug trafficking, illegal gambling and prostitution, mangwons with insider information are indispensable. It is hard even to discern the structure of an organized gang without the help of a mangwon. In theft cases, a fence dealing stolen goods can play the role of a mangwon. In a narcotics investigation, investigators often bring in a drug dealer as an informant.
U.S. investigation agencies make similar use of informants. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation managed a network of informants who were members of criminal syndicates and mafias. Informants received $100 per tip or a salary of $1,000 per month. Police used to overlook minor theft or assault cases committed by the informants.
The word mangwon is not in Korean dictionaries. Under the military regimes of the 1970s and 1980s, the term was used to refer to spies working for intelligence and investigative agencies. At the time, these bodies had countless mangwons working in officialdom, the labor world, colleges and universities, and religious circles. Secret service agents managed paid and unpaid mangwons. The paid informers received a regular “activity allowance.” The mangwons would report to the agents on the movements of the figures they watched.
“Mangwon politics” prevailed during the Chun Doo Hwan administration, which promoted the “Green Project.” The Military Security Command conducted a “special discipline training” to educate student activists who had been forcibly enlisted. They were ordered to gather information on former colleagues and friends involved in the student movement during holidays. The project was an inhumane training program forcing young soldiers to squeal on friends.
Mangwon appears again in the prosecutors’ probe into the illegal eavesdropping case. During the Kim Young-sam administration, the Mirim Team, a secret wiretapping network under the National Security Planning Agency, was granted 10 million won every month for “special surveillance expenses” and paid mangwons assisted the eavesdropping from 200,000 won ($197) to 700,000 won. Owners and managers of popular restaurants and bars in downtown Seoul served as mangwons.
While it is not the most honest way, employing mangwons is inevitable in criminal investigation. However, the intelligence authorities have to stop using them as a means of surveillance.

by Ko Dae-hoon

The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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