Keeping secrets badly

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Keeping secrets badly

It is deplorable that the transcript of conversations between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at a 2007 summit in Pyongyang was leaked to the ruling Saenuri Party during last year’s presidential election campaign.

Kim Moo-sung, a Saenuri Party lawmaker, allegedly said at a meeting that he had read the transcript of the conversation after obtaining it. After his remarks raised controversy, he withdrew his earlier remarks and amended it to say that he only saw the document and didn’t actually read the original transcript.

But his explication doesn’t make sense. At a rally in Busan five days before the election, he quoted President Roh’s remarks at the summit, including ones in which Roh said, “When North Korean issues cropped up, I came under attack for playing the role of North Korea’s spokesperson or attorney. I am ashamed,” and ones in which the former president said, “Though South Koreans argue that the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea is a constitutional issue, I don’t think so. I can stand up to the conventional view.” Chung Moon-hun, a representative from the same party, also made similar remarks about Roh’s conversation with Kim.

As it turned out, the two lawmakers’ allegations are included in the transcript, which strongly suggests that the ruling party obtained the full text of the transcript or at least heard about it from outside sources.

Given the explosiveness of Roh’s remarks, the conversation deserves a harsh judgement from the people. We wonder if Roh was really our president or whether he was crossing his fingers when he read the presidential oath: “I will protect our territory and Constitution as well as represent our country abroad.” All this chaos stems from President Roh.

Yet the fact that a transcript of a president’s conversation with his counterpart at a summit belongs in the realm of state secrets does not change. Even if a president made a statement that is wrong, it should have been corrected while keeping the secret intact. Who can call us a normal state if our state secrets are not treated with proper seriousness?

We must take this fiasco as an opportunity to overhaul our state secret management system. The dual status of presidential conversations at a summit must also be resolved. Currently, they are classified as president-designated records which are sealed for 30 years, while they are also treated as public records (a second-level secret) in the National Intelligence Service. If the head of the spy agency can declassify and release presidential records at his discretion, which president will hand over transcripts of his or her conversations with other state leaders to the NIS? The spy agency must toughen its control of the records and give only the precious few access to them.
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