The Plot Thickens…
Media outlets are reporting the resignation of South Korean spy chief Kim Man-Bok after Kim admitted to leaking transcripts of a December 2007 meeting with his North Korean counterpart The conversation in question was, quoting the Chosun Ilbo, “strikingly innocuous.” Thus, this strange series of events raises two questions:
- Why did Kim Man-Bok go to Pyongyang in the first place?
- Why did Kim Man-Bok feel the need to leak the conversation to the press?
The official explanation for the trip was to discuss the erecting of a monument commemorating Roh Moo-Hyun’s recent visit to Pyongyang.
Chosun Ilbo observes:
According to one intelligence source, Kim had “a deal to close” with the North, connected with a rumored underhand agreement [sic] the Roh administration made with Pyongyang to make the inter-Korean summit happen.
During this period, the Transition Committee was fed with plenty of information about what Kim had done during his term, including the suspicions about his role in delivering the underhand payment to the North. Meanwhile, Kim’s request for a one-on-one meeting with president-elect Lee Myung-bak was turned down. In view of this, Kim may have leaked the transcript and a photograph of a stone monument to save himself.
The transcript quotes the NIS chief as saying, “It is certain that candidate Lee Myung-bak will win the presidential election tomorrow (Dec. 19). The incoming government will likely push for a more drastic North Korea policy than the current government in the South.” The document quotes Kim Yang-gon as asking, “Are you staying in your post as the NIS chief even after the presidential election?” At a glance, their conversation appears to be a mere idle talk, which might otherwise have cleared the NIS chief of suspicions about why he went to Pyongyang at that point.
On this issue of timing, the Chosun Ilbo reports that Kim claims he was just trying to strike a balance between going too early, and thus seeming like he was trying to influence the election and going to late, and thus risking the possibility that he would be barred from travel by the incoming administration:
Asked why he went there on the eve of the presidential election, the NIS said if he had gone much earlier, he could have caused the misunderstanding that he was trying to influence the election with the help of the North. But Kim did not wait until after the election because he feared it would by then be impossible.
The Hankyoreh notes:
According to the report, Kim talked with his North Korean counterpart about the prospects for inter-Korean ties and the election outcome. The timing of the visit, however, sparked suspicions that Roh may have intended to help a pro-government party’s candidate in the election against the more popular conservative opposition candidate by sending the spy chief to the North.
On the issue of why the transcripts were leaked, Kim himself claims to have done so in the name of inter-Korean relations:
“I delivered the transcript and explained to my acquaintances that the suspicions could hurt inter-Korean relations. I also wanted to show that my agency maintained its political neutrality during the election period”
However, the Korea Times believes otherwise:
The leak was apparently designed to publicize Kim’s efforts to curry favor with the President-elect. Kim was once slammed for drawing too much attention to himself during negotiations with the Taliban for the release of Korean hostages in Afghanistan last August.
Kim may face criminal prosectution for disclosing state secrets.