The audacity of wiretapping

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The audacity of wiretapping

The indiscriminate wiretapping by U.S. intelligence agencies of allies and enemies alike has created a big stir across the world. The National Security Agency’s counterterrorism mission turned out to have been more interested in eavesdropping on foreign leaders’ cell phones, not to mention tapping diplomatic missions in the United States.

According to secret documents leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, the NSA overheard conversations of 35 heads of state, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose cell phone has been monitored for more than a decade. The agency also has been collecting information from embassies of 38 countries in Washington, D.C., including Korea, Japan and France. Although the U.S. bugging campaign is an open secret, we are dumbfounded by the audacity of it all.

The embarrassed U.S. government asserts it was nothing more than normal intelligence gathering. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insisted at a hearing held by the House Committee on Foreign Relations that understanding “foreign leadership intentions” was one of the NSA’s basic goals. That’s nothing but an excuse. Once the information-gathering activities are exposed, they can’t help but become a serious diplomatic issue because eavesdropping on foreign leaders’ mobile phones is a brazen infringement on the sovereignty of those countries, not to mention an invasion of privacy. Washington can hardly ease its allies’ concerns with arguments that they also benefitted from the intelligence gathering.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Cho Tae-young said that after Seoul asked Washington to confirm its alleged wiretapping of our embassy in Washington, it replied that it understands its allies’ concerns and will review its intelligence-gathering activities. That’s a de facto admission of the suspicion. Our government must sternly raise a complaint and demand an apology - and a vow to not to repeat it.

The government said it’s waiting for an answer from Washington regarding the possibility of President Park Geun-hye being on the list of wiretapped leaders. But the United States will not easily confirm it. The government should deliver presidential-level concerns. The ruling and opposition parties also must demand a resolute position from the government. Before it’s too late, the government must reinforce its counterintelligence capabilities for the Blue House, major state organizations and foreign missions.
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