[Editorial] Suspicious claims about spy case

Posted on : 2008-09-02 13:10 KST Modified on : 2008-09-02 13:10 KST

Everyone from civic groups to conservative media say something is “strange” about the case of the “female North Korean agent,” announced by intelligence authorities last week. They are saying there are more than a few things that do not make sense.

The only real evidence that Won Jeong-hwa is a spy is her own testimony, which contradicts itself. Most of the intelligence she is said to have passed on to the North is easily available on the Internet, and almost none of it consists of state secrets. Her behavior was amateurish for an elite operative, having made statements praising the North in public settings. You don’t know how much to believe as fact, since we are being told that intelligence agencies in both North and South tried to use her. The prosecution says she has a criminal record (theft), so it is odd that she committed a serious crime and was then released so easily in North Korea. She has also made statements that do not match with circumstances in the North. The case is a collection of oddities if you look at the details. What is also strange is that the case was supposedly part of a three-year informal investigation only to now, at this point in time, be made public in such an amateurish fashion. Any spy case requires the appropriate punishment, but if the case is being so excessively packaged that it no longer meets the facts, then you have to ask what the motive is.

Already you see symptoms that are cause for worry. Reportedly, there was a memo was circulated at a Ministry of National Defense meeting immediately after the case was made public. It claimed that there are around 50 suspected spies in the South Korean military. A high-ranking Grand National Party official went to an official party function and predicted this would be “another big case in which individuals won over by Northern spies, or who have impure ideology, are found to have infiltrated government organizations.” That is a wild claim. If true, however, it is something that needs to be strictly and carefully investigated, not used to create an atmosphere of fear. Even without all this there was already criticism that the police and the prosecution have been going beyond reasonable bounds to apply the National Security Law against people critical of the government. It makes you doubt whether the public security authorities are really trying to catch spies or whether this is an attempt to paint people as “reds.”

Our country has a history of painful confrontation between ideologies, and all too frequently “public security” has been abused for political purposes. All too often, claims by various administrations that there are “spies and impure elements” lurking about have been used as tools to garner conservative support and hurt critics by turning them into “commies.” If the same tools are now wielded against civil servants, it could end up being the same as putting McCarthyism to work to remove unfriendlies in the government and replace them with people close to the administration. You have to ask what the administration is trying to accomplish by dividing people into different sides.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

Most viewed articles