Korea asks U.S. if Park was bugged

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Korea asks U.S. if Park was bugged

After the U.S. National Security Agency was accused of tapping the phones of 35 world leaders, on top of embassies of allied nations, Seoul asked Washington if the Korean president was among those monitored. It has yet to receive an official answer.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it submitted an official query to the U.S. government through its embassy in Washington Sunday, asking whether Korea’s president was one of the targets of phone-conversation tapping as revealed in classified documents from 2006, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

According to diplomatic sources, the United States gave a vague initial response to Korea’s inquiry, stating that it understood the concerns of the victimized countries and leaders.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said at a briefing yesterday that the reply was not accepted as final and that Korea is “still awaiting an official answer” from Washington.

“It was reported that 35 leaders were tapped and our question [to the U.S. government] was whether Korea was included in the 35 nations,” Cho said. “If the report is true, that itself is a very serious situation and our government will act with the seriousness befitting the situation.”

Classified documents dated October 2006 were leaked to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper by whistle-blower Snowden indicated that NSA intelligence officials monitored phone calls of as many as 35 world leaders over many years, without naming actual names.

The Korean leader in 2006 was the late President Roh Moo-hyun, who was involved in a series of sensitive negotiations with the George W. Bush administration, including the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

Cho did not say how long Korea will await an answer, nor what serious actions the ministry could take.

Washington also allegedly tapped conversations in foreign embassies located in the U.S., targeting at least 38 diplomatic missions for surveillance, including allies such as Korea, according to reports in June of other documents leaked by Snowden, to which Seoul demanded an explanation.

Washington gave a similar explanation at that time, stating that it understood the concerns of its allied countries and was reviewing its intelligence gathering procedures.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week accused the U.S. of tapping her cell phone, an act she called “a serious breach of trust.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney responded that it “is not monitoring and will not monitor” Merkel’s calls, evading the issue of past surveillance.

Carney told reporters on Monday that the U.S. recognizes that “there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said in a statement Monday that President Barack Obama was not aware that Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being monitored since 2002 and called it “a big problem.” She said the U.S should not be “collecting phone calls or e-mails of friendly presidents and prime ministers” or “intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies.”

“The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support,” she said, adding that the committee will begin a review of all its intelligence collection programs.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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