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KOREA: Ex-NIS chiefs face probe

Former NIS director Lee Jong-chan is expected to deny involvement of wiretapping activities during President Kim Dae-jung's administration

The Korea Times
Monday, August 22, 2005
 
By Lee Jin-woo

Seoul -- Lee Jong-chan, former director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), is likely to make a statement soon, denying allegations that former President Kim Dae-jung and spy agency chiefs were involved in, or at least aware of, illegal eavesdropping during the 1998-2003 Kim Dae-jung administration.

Lee served as the first NIS director under the former president for 15 months beginning in March 1998.

Ever since Lee returned from his extended stay in Hawaii on Aug. 18, he has attracted public attention as tensions between the former president and the ruling camp intensified over the recent NIS announcement that illegal wiretapping continued during the early period of the Kim government.

Former President Kim and his aides, as well as former NIS directors during his government, denied any knowledge of the illegal practices, but have refrained from giving detailed explanations.

Lee, who spearheaded the drastic reform of the spy agency personnel and dismantled the agency’s wiretapping unit, codenamed "Mirim," is expected to claim that no wiretapping had been ordered by the presidential office of Chong Wa Dae or NIS chiefs.

Lee is considering submitting a detailed report to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly, his aides said.

Due to a regulation of the agency banning former and incumbent agency officials from revealing internal information to the public without the NIS director’s permission, Lee has already applied for an approval from incumbent NIS director Kim Seung-kyu.

"As former President Kim was discharged from his 12-day hospital stay on Sunday, Lee and former officials of the NIS will meet sometime soon to discuss the matter," one of Lee’s aides said.

Following last week’s unprecedented raid on the NIS headquarters in Seoul by the prosecution, prosecutors are planning to bring in former Uri Party lawmaker Chun Yong-taek, who headed the spy agency after Lee, and other former and incumbent NIS officials for questioning. In addition to Lee and Chun, Lim Dong-won and Shin Gunn headed the NIS before March 2002 during the Kim administration.

During the raid, the investigators found a record of the spy agency’s use of the cell phone-bugging device, but whether the list included the names of influential political figures, business leaders or journalists like the "X-File audio tape scandal" is not known.

Some critics said the NIS might have intentionally disclosed lists of criminal suspects such as drug traffickers who had been wiretapped by the agency to justify their past bugging practices.

The scandal erupted last month when local news media released information from illegally-recorded tapes of a conversation between Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Hong Seok-hyun, then president of the Samsung Group-affiliated daily, JoongAng Ilbo, and Samsung vice chairman Lee Hak-soo discussing providing slush funds to presidential candidates in 1997.

Ex-NIS chief to be called
 
By Lee Jin-woo

Seoul -- Following last week’s unprecedented raid on the National Intelligence Service (NIS) headquarters in Seoul by the prosecution, prosecutors will call in former spy agency chief Chun Yong-taek for questioning on Tuesday.

Investigators said the former governing Uri Party lawmaker is suspected of having made backdoor deals with the former head of the wiretapping team Kong Un-yong after seizing tapes from him in November 1999. He is also suspected of ordering the special unit codenamed "Mirim" to get rid of two tapes containing information against him, and he is also accused of having taken advantage of illegally wiretapped information for his own interest.

Prosecutors said that they will also summon Oh Chung-so, former senior official of the agency during the Kim Young-sam administration, for questioning on Wednesday.

Oh is suspected of having led the reorganization of the agency’s wiretapping team in 1994, which was disbanded one year ago. A few more former ranking officials of the agency under both the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations will be questioned this week.

The prosecution, however, has not yet decided whether three other former NIS chiefs -- Lee Jong-chan, Lim Dong-won and Shin Gunn, who headed the NIS before March 2002 during the Kim administration, will be summoned or not.

The three former NIS chiefs met incumbent NIS director Kim Seung-kyu late yesterday, insisting that no wiretapping had been ordered by the presidential office of Chong Wa Dae or NIS chiefs. Tensions between the former president and the ruling camp intensified over the recent NIS announcement that illegal wiretapping continued during the early period of the Kim government.

The three former directors -- Lee, Lim and Shin -- are likely to make a statement soon, probably denying allegations that they and former President Kim were involved in, or at least aware of, illegal eavesdropping during the 1998-2003 Kim administration.

Former President Kim and his aides, as well as former NIS directors who served during Kim’s government, have denied any knowledge of the illegal practices, but have refrained from giving detailed explanations.

They are considering submitting a detailed report to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly, sources said.

Due to a regulation of the agency banning former and incumbent agency officials from revealing internal information to the public without the NIS director’s permission, they have already applied for an approval from the incumbent NIS director.

During last week’s raid, investigators found a record of the spy agency’s use of the cell phone-bugging device, but whether the list included the names of influential political figures, business leaders or journalists like the "X-File audio tape scandal" is not known.

Some critics said the NIS might have intentionally disclosed lists of criminal suspects such as drug traffickers who had been wiretapped by the agency to justify their past bugging practices.

The scandal erupted last month when local news media released information from illegally-recorded tapes of a conversation between Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Hong Seok-hyun, then president of the Samsung Group-affiliated daily, JoongAng Ilbo, and Samsung vice chairman Lee Hak-soo discussing providing slush funds to presidential candidates in 1997.