[Viewpoint] The danger is in the cover-up

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[Viewpoint] The danger is in the cover-up

The time has come. Two years ago, the illegal surveillance of government critics by the Prime Minister’s Office made headlines, and the case has resurfaced with less than a year left in the Lee Myung-bak administration. Jang Jin-su, a working-level officer at the public ethics division under the Prime Minister’s Office, made explosive remarks in an interview with the OhmyNews podcast last weekend.

He was rather inarticulate and seemed to be nervous. But he sounded determined to reopen the can of worms. One of his most shocking claims was that the Blue House was behind the surveillance. Jang claimed that his team got rid of evidence on a computer on orders from a Blue House officer. He named Choi Jong-seok of the Office of the Secretary for Employment and Social Welfare at the Blue House as the link. Choi’s involvement was suspected two years ago as it had been confirmed that he provided a phone to Jang registered in someone else’s name.

After an investigation, Choi was not charged with anything and is currently working at the Korean Embassy in the United States. Choi was saved because Jang covered up for him. Jang said he helped Choi because Choi had promised, “I will support you financially for life.” But Jang obviously had a change of heart in the matter and has become a whistle-blower.

Another notable point is the prosecutors’ behavior. Choi ordered computers to be thrown into the Han River, and when Jang was reluctant, Choi said that he had a talk with the Office of the Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs and that prosecutors would not raise the issue of the missing computers. Choi was notified of the search in advance, and the prosecutors were not very thorough about it. Documents related to Choi were not transferred from the prosecution to the court. The testimony of Jang was very detailed.

The illegal surveillance that has been confirmed so far already suggested excessive loyalty and abuse of power by some members of the public ethics division. However, Jang’s claims completely alter the nature of the case. The Blue House allegedly ordered illegal activities, organized destruction of evidence and otherwise covered up implicating information. In the course of the investigation, the prosecutors, who are expected to execute the law strictly, collaborated in the cover-up. If that’s the case, this is not mere corruption by civil servants but a collective crime by the administration.

Of course, not all claims by Jang can be trusted. He insists that he is speaking out of conscience, but he has contradicted what he said two years ago.

Nevertheless, his claims have power. If proven to be true, he is disclosing a serious crime that may shake the foundations of the government. Therefore, a reinvestigation into the case is necessary.

The Blue House had been suspected as being behind the illegal surveillance from the beginning. The public ethics division was created as a special task force executing the orders of the Blue House, and a document with a memo - “Blue House Order” - has been confirmed. Jang’s whistle-blowing has ignited national suspicion.

This case reminds us of the Watergate scandal that brought down U.S. President Richard Nixon. It may have begun with a trivial incident - the famously described “third-rate burglary” - but more serious illegal acts were committed in the course of a cover-up. Nixon had to resign not because of the Watergate burglary itself, but because of his repeated lies and abuse of power in the course of covering it up. A fundamental background to the case was Nixon’s wrong philosophy about politics and how they should be played.

The Watergate scandal began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters before the presidential election in 1972. The head of the campaign for Nixon, who was running for re-election as a Republican candidate, denied any involvement. When the money paid to the burglars was tracked down to the White House, Nixon lied, saying his staff was involved without his knowledge. When it was revealed that key parts of Oval Office tape recordings submitted to a court had been wiped out, Nixon claimed the portions were accidentally erased by his secretary.

Until he passed away, Nixon denied his involvement or awareness. According to David Gergen, a former aide, Nixon was a Machiavellian figure who believed that unfair means may be used to hold onto power. He had the conviction that a leader with power should be able to enjoy power. While Nixon made outstanding accomplishments in diplomacy and in running the economy, he is remembered as a president who did not live up to the expectation of the American voters politically.

Old allegations and scandals are resurfacing as the end of a presidential term nears. If President Lee Myung-bak does not want to be remembered as a failure, he needs to dispel the suspicious and disprove the allegations.

* The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang
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