[VIEWPOINT]Leak deserves harsh punishment

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[VIEWPOINT]Leak deserves harsh punishment

It has been revealed that the person who leaked the National Security Council’s classified documents concerning the strategic flexibility of U.S. forces in Korea was an administrative staff member, Lee Jong-heon, of the Protocol Secretary’s Office of the Blue House. As was speculated, the leak came from inside the Blue House. The only thing that could be said to be fortunate is that the culprit was not a National Security Council official who actually produced the document. Seeing it from another standpoint, however, there lies an even bigger problem,namely that the working discipline of the Blue House is down to a dangerous level.
The person who leaked the information became attached to things unrelated to his original duties. I cannot understand the reason he did such a thing because a “protocol secretary of the president” has nothing to do with “strategic flexibility.” In addition, the person who relayed the confidential documents to the person who leaked them is on the administrative staff of the first secretariat attached to the Office of the President, also known as “the door handle of the president.” It is a position from which one can easily observe what kind of reports are made to the president. In other words, a person in a position of power gave confidential documents to a staff member of the Protocol Secretary’s Office who obviously did not have access to such confidential documents. Important confidential documents directly linked to the security of the nation were handed over for the reason that the one who received them was “a senior colleague at the Foreign Ministry.”
The leak itself is shocking, but the bigger concern is in knowing the background that led to carrying out such an act without hesitation. Was it possible because the forces devoted to such beliefs as “independence from the United States” are linked to each other in and out of the Blue House? After all, it is hard to believe such a big task was carried out solely at the level of a few administrative staff members. In this respect, what then Blue House Personnel Affairs Secretary Chung Chan-young said about the reshuffle of Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan on Jan. 15, 2004, is very significant. He said, “Some officials at the Foreign Ministry have not overcome the dependent foreign policy of the past and fail to fully pursue the basic spirit and direction of the new independent diplomatic policy presented by the participatory government.” It was an announcement that the diplomatic route of the current government is “self-reliance”― “independence from the United States” to be exact ― and that forces who strayed from this idea would be replaced. Therefore, it is hard to erase the suspicion that perhaps the strong forces that support “independence from the United States,” which are established in Korea’s diplomatic and security related offices, are the cause of this leak of confidential documents.
Currently there are still many sensitive and volatile issues between South Korea and the United States. The transfer of the U.S. bases in Korea is still creating fuss due to blunt obstruction maneuvers by anti-U.S. forces and because the cost of the transfer is rising drastically compared to the level when the agreement was first made.
Voices against a free-trade agreement with the United States are also getting louder. It appears that the power of the group that supports independence from the United States will weaken due to the exposure of the one who leaked the documents, but it is still a big force, not only in the Blue House but also in various military and civic groups.
On top of that, policies pursued under the slogan of “independence from the United States” are making little progress. The “balancer of Northeast Asia theory,” which claimed we would use our alliance with the United States to play the role of a balancer between China and Japan, is nowhere to be seen. The same goes for “strategic flexibility.” Of course we appreciate that negotiations with the United States have been smooth. However, if we consider the agreement contents, which seem to take a few steps backwards when we see them from the position of “self-reliance” that was first taken, doesn’t this mean it was all a useless fuss created in the meantime?
Therefore, President Roh Moo-hyun now needs to squarely face the confusion in the fields of diplomatic and security affairs and take special measures to find a solution. The leaking of classified documents by Blue House staff is a mockery of the president because it is an act that tries to reverse a decision of the president through illegal action, which a government official should never take.
This incident, therefore, must not be glossed over by saying it was due to “negligent conduct” by the persons involved. In any organization, mistakes to do with handling of secret documents are dealt with by punishing one case harshly so others will not follow. This is even more so when it is a case directly linked to the national security of a country. After such a punishment, key officers working in the diplomatic and security affairs should be reshuffled so that no further confusion will arise.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Ahn Hee-chang
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