Park government made secret deal to increase cash contributions for USFK facilities in 2014

Posted on : 2017-10-12 17:42 KST Modified on : 2017-10-12 17:42 KST
Critics contend that the deal represents a transfer of Korean taxpayer money to private US companies
Representatives from the US and South Korean governments met at the Foreign Ministry building in Sejong-ro
Representatives from the US and South Korean governments met at the Foreign Ministry building in Sejong-ro

The South Korean government made a behind-the-scenes deal pledging increased cash contributions on exceptional grounds while signing its Ninth Defense Cost Sharing Special Agreement with the US on support for the stationing of US Forces Korea in early 2014, it was recently discovered. Drawing particular attention is the fact that the actual designation for the additional contributions demanded by USFK was for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) inaccessible to South Korea.

The deal’s existence was concealed by the Park Geun-hye administration (2013–16) in its explanation of the implementation arrangement to the relevant National Assembly standing committee, which came when the agreement had already been ratified and entered effect. Implementation arrangements are legally binding, but, unlike the agreement proper, do not require National Assembly ratification.

On Oct. 11, the Hankyoreh obtained a copy of the implementation arrangement from the Ninth Defense Cost Sharing Agreement (2014–18) through the office of Democratic Party lawmaker and National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee member Kim Kyung-hyup. Under the category of “military construction expenses,” it included a new entry not present in the eighth implementation arrangement.

“Additional cash contributions for ROKFC [Republic of Korea Funded Construction] shall be made available in exceptional cases where ROK MND [Ministry of National Defense] and USFK agree through consultation that specific military facilities require U.S. construction award and implementation due to military needs and requirements and there is no sufficient cash reserve available for that purpose,” it reads.

In simple terms, this means the South Korean government is to provide increased cash contributions rather than goods throughout the process from construction contract signing to implementation when a US company builds special facilities within a USFK base. The terms in the implementation agreement are a reflection of a behind-the-scenes deal reached by the two sides.

 Seoul in Dec. 2013 to negotiate the terms for the Ninth Defense Cost Sharing Special Agreement regarding US Forces Korea. (by Kim Bong-gyu
Seoul in Dec. 2013 to negotiate the terms for the Ninth Defense Cost Sharing Special Agreement regarding US Forces Korea. (by Kim Bong-gyu

Additionally, the “specific military facilities” mentioned in the deal are a reference to SCIFs, which handle confidential US military intelligence at the highest level. Each contains administrative offices, operation centers, data centers, secure electrical switchgear, uninterruptable power systems, Chemical, Biological, Radiation filtration systems all with redundant capability.

From the earliest stages of negotiations, the US military continued calling for additional cash contributions toward new construction of SCIFs on the grounds of Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The facilities in question maintain the tightest security, with access denied even to senior South Korean government and military officials. Capabilities were also reportedly granted for eavesdropping on the Blue House and other key South Korean institutions. In effect, the US is receiving South Korean money to build “phantom” structures and facilities on South Korean territory that remain unknowable to the South Korean public or government.

The behind-the-scenes deal to increase the amount of cash contributions also conflicts with the aims of an Exchange of Notes on System Improvements touted by Seoul as a notable achievement following the ninth agreement’s signing. In presenting the ratification motion for the ninth agreement to the National Assembly in Feb. 2014, the government stressed its first article, which reads, “The Parties shall put in utmost efforts to enhance accountability and transparency for implementation of this Agreement. In this regard, the Exchange of Notes on System Improvements shall be adopted and enter into force at the same date as this Agreement.” Unbeknownst to the South Korean public, however, it made a behind-the-scenes pledge to increase cash contribution from its taxpayer-funded share of USFK defense costs.

Park Ki-hak, research institute director for the civic group Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea, called the deal “a matter of the government deceiving the public and deceiving the National Assembly.”

“With regard to the USFK SCIFs that are to benefit from the additional contributions, the US Army Corps of Engineers and US companies are in charge of the entire process from design to building and supervision,” Park explained.

American construction company Gilbane was selected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the combined construction of the USFK Operations Center and the Phase III Facility at Camp Humphreys. Both projects construct massive multi-story Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF’s) that total over 250,000 square feet.

“While the explanation was that our share of defense costs was intended for the defense of South Korea and would return to the South Korean economy, this is a case of South Korean money flowing into the US and providing commercial gains there.”

Park’s argument is that in addition to the defense cost sharing agreement existing as an exception to the USFK Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the cash contributions to benefit private US businesses represent a regressive practice that violates the very principle of defense cost sharing.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs source knowledgeable about the negotiations at the time avoided comment when asked for confirmation by the Hankyoreh.

“You’ll need to ask either the senior representative at the time [current South Korean ambassador to the United Kingdom Hwang Joon-kook] or the deputy representative in the Ministry of National Defense,” the source said.

By Cho Il-joon, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories