The U.S. government apparently promised Korea to "review" its intelligence activities after Seoul asked whether the National Security Agency wiretapped the Korean Embassy in Washington or eavesdropped on Korean presidents.
The response is being seen here as tantamount to an admission of guilt. But the U.S. has neither confirmed nor denied it has eavesdropped on mobile phone calls made by former or current presidents.
The scandal erupted after former NSA employee Edward Snowden told the Guardian newspaper the NSA eavesdropped on encrypted faxes and conversations among staffers of the embassies in Washington of 38 countries, including Korea, France, India and Japan. European media reported recently that the NSA also wiretapped phone calls made by the leaders of 35 countries, bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel for more than 10 years since she was opposition leader.
Twenty one of the targeted countries, including Germany and Brazil, are preparing a UN resolution lambasting the U.S. for snooping.
U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Tuesday spying is "one of the first things I learned in intelligence school in 1963." He added that America's allies are also all spying on the U.S. Indeed, countries have been doing this since the establishment of the modern nation state.
In order for a country to gauge the political climate and come up with the right policies, it has to know what your allies and enemies are up to. Spying becomes a problem only when you get caught, so governments around the world are resorting to all kinds of cloak-and-dagger means of gaining valuable information on the thoughts and plans of other governments.
That is not going to change any time soon. The reason why Russia and China have not protested very loudly is that they are doing exactly what the NSA has been doing. In the world of intelligence, ethics are an expedient that can be mobilized to criticize spying by someone else. Some Republicans in the U.S. are backing their government, saying the wiretaps were "unavoidable" for America's national security.
South Korea is a hotspot for North Korean agents, and there can be no doubt that China, Japan and other countries are snooping on Seoul. It is the government's job to guard against electronic eavesdropping, which can target anyone at any time.
Intelligence is vital to South Korea, which lies in a geologically strategic location surrounded by big powers like China and Japan. And the National Intelligence Service only exists to gather and protect that vital intelligence.