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KOREA: Former NIS directors face probe

Ex-NIS leaders Chun Yong-taek and Oh Chung-so are among slew of figures called in by prosecution for interrogation

The Korea Times
Sunday, August 7, 2005

By Kim Rahn

Seoul -- The prosecution will question former heads of the nation’s spy agency about the eavesdropping scandal, following the agency’s confession it wiretapped conversations between politicians and business leaders until March 2002, prosecutors said Sunday.

Those expected to be investigated include Chun Yong-taek, former director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), and Oh Chung-so, former high-ranking official of the agency.

In addition to Chun, Lee Jong-chan, Lim Dong-won and Shin Gunn each headed the NIS before March 2002 during the Kim Dae-jung administration.

"As it was found that the wiretapping had been conducted by the agency during not only the Kim Young-sam administration, but also the Kim Dae-jung government, it is inevitable to investigate former NIS heads and high-ranking officials at that time," a prosecutor said.

They may face legal charges for violation of the law protecting communication privacy, he added.

Last month, the prosecution launched investigations into the illegal surveillance of influential figures in the 1990s by a clandestine bugging team, codenamed "Mirim," of the Agency for National Security Planning, a predecessor of the spy agency.

The NIS previously claimed that Mirim was disbanded in 1998 when former president Kim Dae-jung took office in February 1998.

Among the former NIS directors, Chun will likely be summoned first early this week.

Kong Un-yong, former leader of Mirim, kept 274 tapes containing wiretapped conversations in his house, and returned copies of the tapes to the NIS in 1999 when Chun served as chief of the spy agency.

However, as Chun did not punish Kong, suspicions have been raised that Chun took the tapes from Kong and used them to blackmail figures on the tapes. Investigators raided his house and office in southern Seoul on Thursday to secure evidence.

Prosecutors also plan to question Oh, who is suspected of having led the reorganization of Mirim in 1994, which had been disbanded in 1993.

Prosecutors are having difficulties in investigation because the statute of limitations for eavesdropping are over and no tangible evidence, such as wiretapping equipment, has been left.

The statute of limitations for wiretappings committed during the Kim Dae-jung administration have not expired, but those during the Kim Young-sam government have.

With the investigation expanding into eavesdropping during the Kim Dae-jung government, the prosecution has put more investigators to the wiretapping scandal probes and readjusted investigation schedules.

Prosecutors said they are also considering conducting on-the-spot inspections at the head office of the NIS.

Former bugging bureau was core of spy agency

By Seo Dong-shin

Seoul -- A former bugging team operated by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and its predecessor are coming under increasing public scrutiny for possible illegal activities beyond what has been revealed so far.

Described as "the darkest of dark places" by former NIS officials, the now-disbanded Bureau of Security Science of the NIS is known to have been in charge of eavesdropping activities concerning high-profile figures in political and business circles for decades, according to reports.

The bugging team allegedly started to operate as soon as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), a predecessor of the NIS, was launched in 1961. Gradually, the body and its scope of duties were expanded and came close to the core of the agency with its overall development of information and communication technology.

Under the Kim Young-sam administration (1993-1998), the bureau was divided into two teams, with one focusing on North Korean affairs and the other on domestic affairs. Important pieces of information did not follow the ordinary hierarchy but went directly to the director of the NIS, according to former NIS officials.

Members of the bureau reportedly bugged telephone conversations of the targeted figures 24 hours a day and later unraveled the recorded audiotapes to write memos based on them. Because of the intensity of the work, each day was divided into three eight-hour shifts.

Although the name of the umbrella agency was changed to the NIS under the Kim Dae-jung administration (1998-2003), it seems the bugging bureau went on with its activities.

Suspicions regarding possible eavesdropping were constantly raised by lawmakers of the then opposition Grand National Party (GNP) from 1998 through 2002, just ahead of the presidential election in December 2002.

In response, the NIS announced it dissolved the bureau in October 2002. But the opposition lawmakers argue the bugging did not stop, with experts dispersed inside the NIS.

"It was an unwritten law that even the NIS officials should not try to know about the bureau," a former bureau chief was quoted as saying by a local paper. "It spent the largest amount of NIS budget because it had to purchase various cutting-edge technological facilities," he said on condition of anonymity.