Intelligence release draws fire from the government

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Intelligence release draws fire from the government

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Kim Hak-song

Grand National Representative Kim Hak-song, who heads the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, faced fierce denunciations yesterday following his revelations of key military intelligence before the media.

Kim met with reporters Monday afternoon and discussed the March 26 sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan after he received personal briefings from the Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kim gave reporters detailed information he had obtained from the military, linking the Cheonan’s sinking to a possible torpedo or mine attack.

His revelations prompted concerns that the release of confidential military information could lay bare American and South Korean methods of gathering intelligence on the North.

The Defense Ministry said yesterday that firm measures will be put in place to prevent the release of sensitive information.

“Recently, some leaders of society were thoughtless enough to expose crucial military secrets on intelligence-gathering methods, such as Navy ships’ communications logs and the operation of thermal observation devices, as well as other information such as the Navy’s weapons system and the inside plan of a warship,” said Won Tae-jae, ministry spokesman. “We are extremely concerned about it, and we will sternly and fully counter such leaks.

“Military secrets are necessary to successfully conduct operations and protect our soldiers’ lives in times of emergency,” he said. “They are not only the secrets of the military, but also the secrets of all this nation’s people.”

Won said a joint investigation team of military and civilian experts will do its best to transparently explain the situation to the public, while keeping sensitive information confidential.

Other government officials joined the censure. At the Blue House, presidential spokesman Park Sun-kyoo said yesterday, “This is a national security crisis, but more and more confidential military information was leaked from the National Assembly. Some of the unconfirmed information spread recklessly.”

Won Sei-hoon, the head of the National Intelligence Service, told the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, “When high-resolution [satellite] images provided by the United States are revealed, our relationship with the U.S. and bilateral trust can be damaged. We urge lawmakers to refrain from revealing military confidences.”

Democratic Party Representative Ooh Che-chang condemned Kim for “fueling the confusion among the public” rather than stopping speculation.

“Kim received personal briefings from the Defense Ministry and then briefed reporters, acting as if he were the spokesman of the ministry,” Ooh said.

On Monday, Kim told reporters the South lost track of two North Korean submarines between March 24 and 27, though the military does not believe their movements were related to the explosion that sank the Cheonan.

Kim went into details, saying that other 300-ton shark-class North Korean submarines were spotted six times on March 23, three times the next day and once on March 26 near the North’s Bipa Cape. He added that no unusual movement of the North’s semi-submersibles was detected.

“We cannot say for sure if the submarines crossed the inter-Korean border,” Kim said. “Two of them were on the move, and one’s location was once confirmed based on intercepted communication, but the other’s whereabouts were unknown.”

The National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee said yesterday there was no abnormal activity in the North when the Cheonan sank.

Kim also released details about the condition of the Cheonan.

“The military said the welded parts were removed from the bottom of the Cheonan and the top part’s metal plates were torn,” he told reporters. “The military said the damages were more likely from a torpedo or maritime mine, not metal fatigue.”

Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that he was aware of the sensitivity of the information that he had provided. However, he said the North’s submarine activities had been discussed by Defense Minister Kim Tae-young before the National Assembly last week, and he had no choice but to elaborate to stop suspicions from growing.


By Ser Myo-ja, Jung Hyo-sik [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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천안함 침몰사고 이후 군당국의 자료 공개 수준을 놓고 논란이 일고 있다.

1천200t급 천안함이 순식간에 동강 나 침몰한 전후 사정을 밝히려면 군당국이 관련자료를 감추기보다는 제대로 공개해야 한다는 주장과 함께 민감한 대북첩보 사항까지 공개할 필요성이 있느냐는 지적이 교차하고 있는 것이다.

우선 이번 천안함 침몰사고가 해군 창설사상 초유의 사태라는 점에서 당시 천안함과 관련된 군의 자료가 소상하게 공개되어야 한다는 목소리에 힘이 실린다.

군도 이런 흐름에 부응해 뒤늦게 백령도 기지에서 열상감시장비(TOD)로 촬영한 침몰상황이 담긴 40분짜리 동영상을 공개했다. 처음에는 이를 편집한 1분20분초 분량을 내놓았지만 침몰장면을 의도적으로 감춘 것 아니냐는 의혹이 일자 이를 완전히 공개했다.

그러나 사고 전후로 침몰함과 2함대, 인근 속초함과 주고받은 교신록의 공개 여부는 논란의 핵심이다.


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