Stiff penalties for selling secrets

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Stiff penalties for selling secrets

It is shocking that three retired Air Force officers, including former Air Force Chief of Staff Kim Sang-tae, were indicted on charges of leaking top military secrets to a foreign company. Working as arms dealers, they reportedly handed over classified documents on military strategy, including the Korean military’s plans to purchase new weapons, to Lockheed Martin on as many as 12 occasions after signing a contract with the U.S.-based aerospace and technology company. The allegedly leaked information included plans by the Korean military to buy joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, night vision equipment, cluster bomb units and medium-range GPS-guidance kits.

The three men used their ties with officials at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration to obtain the information and then turned it over to Lockheed Martin for as much as 2.5 billion won ($2.36 million) in 2009 and 2010.

Former Air Force Chief of Staff Kim has participated in arms deals since 1995. Besides the charges filed already, he may also have been involved in passing other confidential military information to his trading partners. The prosecution, however, is unable to file those charges as the statute of limitations has expired.

This and other security leaks are like an alarm bell for our national security. Fifty officers have been tried for 25 cases since 2005 for violating the military secrets protection law. Many of them were high-ranking officers, including generals and colonels. Though not active in the military now, they pledged to dedicate their lives to our national security. That’s why they receive special treatment from the government, including larger pensions than ordinary citizens. Yet they’ve attempted to make a profit by selling military secrets to earn even more.

The government should mete out far stronger punishment for such unpatriotic behavior. Statistics say that all 50 retired officers were either given probation or received a deferred sentence rather than doing time in jail. Under such circumstances, it is impossible to root out the unscrupulous practice.

A revised bill on criminal law - proposed by Democratic Party lawmaker and former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon - should pass the National Assembly as soon as possible. The revision mandates a charge of espionage for those who leak military secrets to foreign countries. Our government must not forget that a U.S. court sentenced Korean-American Robert Kim to nine years in prison for passing information on North Korea to our embassy in Washington.
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