Suspicious spyingIn a questioning session Thursday by the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly, Kim Jin-wook, head of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), was expected to answer questions about its spying on the press and opposition lawmakers. But he did not. He repeatedly defended what he called a “lawful act,” adding he will take a second look at the practices.
Kim refuted questions from lawmakers from the opposition People Power Party (PPP) as if he found no problem with the CIO spying on telephone records of 80 percent of lawmakers from the PPP. “Your remarks are excessive,” he sniffed. In reaction, PPP legislators threatened to disband the law enforcement agency established by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) in January.
We are dumbfounded at Kim’s argument that the CIO spied on only 135 phone conversations while the prosecution did on 590,000 cases and the police on 1.87 million cases in the first half of the year alone. Criticism immediately arose over the Moon Jae-in administration’s investigation agencies indiscriminately looking into communication records of civilians just like past governments did.
But Kim could not appropriately answer why the CIO spied on Kakao chat rooms of PPP lawmakers. It seems that the agency also looked into a number of chat rooms used by academic groups. The list even includes Park Ji-won, chief of the National Intelligence Service.
Suspicions about the CIO are nearly endless. It has been confirmed that it often tracked communication records of Kim Keun-hee — the wife of PPP presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, former prosecutor general. A Korean reporter working for the Seoul bureau of Japan’s Asahi Shimbun demanded Kim answer why he was included on the list of the CIO.
The Blue House was no different. An official avoided questions by describing the CIO as “an independent organization.” Does that mean the presidential office would just look away now matter what the body did? The Blue House must clarify how many communication records the government kept watch on since its launch in 2017.
CIO head Kim defended the legitimacy of its spying activities. But he avoided answering questions about why it spied on conservative journalists, saying, “The case is under investigation.” How long can the CIO avoid questions with such pitiful excuses? An anti-corruption unit of the police has launched an investigation of the CIO after a civic group accused it of spying on private citizens. If the agency cannot explain its suspicious acts, Kim must take responsibility once and for all.