We’ve seen this before

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We’ve seen this before


Koh Dae-hoon
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

There is a unique feeling when a scandal involving powerful people in the Blue House is reported. The special inspection team of the Blue House was suspected of collecting information on civilians, and the feeling is overwhelmingly ominous. There seems to be something wrong with this Blue House. Heinrich’s Law said that for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries. It seems that this law applies in this case.

In a scandal involving the Blue House, nothing is a coincidence. Everything has a reason. The president has said he will exercise his presidential power to pardon the suspects of an ongoing trial related to Jeju Island’s Gangjeong village. The presidential chief of staff was accompanied by ministers when he made his inspection.

The presidential senior secretary for civil affairs insulted an incumbent judge in a post on social media. That was a demonstration of power.

Some say these officials became intoxicated with power when checks on them were loosened. Some say the Blue House has become “imperial.” These are unfortunate signs. An inspector from the special inspection unit investigated private citizens without restriction, and he was able to obtain power under such circumstances.

The recent corruption involving the special inspection team and a bombshell revelation by one of the dismissed inspectors is caused by the contaminated air of the Blue House, not slack individual discipline. The Blue House downplayed the scandal as an act by one individual, but it also demonstrated its arrogance.


The Blue House’s lame explanation is like one of Zeno’s paradoxes involving Achilles and the tortoise. The paradox argues that Achilles will never be able to outrun the tortoise that he gives a head start to. For example, if the tortoise had a head start of 100 meters (328 feet), the distance between Achilles and the tortoise can be decreased. But for each time Achilles catches up halfway between the two, the tortoise will be adding new distance, however small it will be, for him to catch up to again, the argument says. Therefore, the tortoise will always outrun him. It seems convincing, but it is nonsense.

The Blue House gave a weird argument that the special inspection team’s activities were in a grey area between the legal and illegal. It said the investigations into private citizens, including the son of a former prime minister, were “to collect information to make a policy. It said the inspection on Korail were conducted because the team “mistakenly” treated the private company as a public company. It said the investigation reports on politicians, bank presidents, professors and journalists were discarded after being labeled as “impurities.”

The Blue House seems to think it has done nothing wrong. The special inspection team is allowed to investigate corruption among high-ranking public servants and public institutions. Their investigations of private citizens were clearly illegal.

Although one individual inspector went after civilians, it must not be seen as illegal because the “Moon Jae-in administration has no gene for civilian surveillance to begin with,” said Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. That is a distortion. It feels wrong to see the Blue House’s strong belief that it had done nothing wrong because it had good intentions.

The Moon Blue House’s case seems no different from past administrations’ scandals. During the Lee Myung-bak administration, the public servants’ ethics team conducted illegal surveillance of civilians in 2010.

During the Park Geun-hye presidency, a Blue House surveillance report on Chung Yoon-hoi, the ex-husband of Park’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, leaked in 2014. When the scandals broke, the Blue House first denied them to the media. It then pressured the whistleblower and media with rebuttals and filing legal suits. When the scandal turned out to be true, the Blue House tried to dismiss it as a rogue act by one individual.

The Lee Myung-bak administration once called itself as an “ethically perfect administration.” The Park Geun-hye Blue House dismissed suspicions surrounding Choi and Park’s three key aides as groundless rumors. The Moon Blue House asked the prosecution to investigate the dismissed inspector who made the revelations of illegal activities on charges of leaking secrets obtained while working as a public servant. The Blue House is ignoring the past intentionally, and it is worrisome.

If the team was left alone to produce intelligence on civilians, someone must take responsibility. If the Blue House did not know about the illegal nature of the activities, it is guilty of being incompetent. If it knew but did not stop them, then it is guilty of negligence.

Kim Tae-woo, the dismissed inspector, argued that other members of the team all created reports on civilians. It is possible that several inspectors produced massive amount of intelligence by blurring the lines between what is legal and illegal.

Someone is hiding the entire picture, and we cannot make a conclusion now. The public believes that, unless Kim — who is just a mid-level public servant — is crazy, he has no reason to fabricate a scandal against the presidential office. This public sentiment is also an ominous sign.

When the scandal first broke out, Moon said, “Have a faith in me. I will make a country of justice.” But justice is suffering. When the people’s instinct to know the truth is fulfilled, justice will be realized. The public has the right to know what the inspection team did. The people’s rights and the morality of this administration depend on this scandal.

Prof. Kim Kwang-woong said it is the nature of public authority to maintain its power under the name of justice. A truly trustworthy government must abandon the disguise of justice.

Justice, for now, is making the wise decision to lay bare the inappropriate activities and content of the investigations conducted by the special inspection team. That is the only way to resolve our concerns.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 21, Page 35
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