Defense Minister Told Off for Speculating About Shipwreck

      April 06, 2010 12:18

      Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was apparently given a drubbing by the presidential office for relating the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan near the border with North Korea on March 26 to a North Korean attack.

      Defense Minister Kim Tae-young reads a handwritten memo from Cheong Wa Dae at the National Assembly on Friday. /Courtesy of NoCut News

      According to a memo to the minister that was caught on camera, Cheong Wa Dae was unhappy that Kim speculated that a torpedo attack was the likeliest cause and that reporters have written stories based on that speculation.

      NoCut News, an online daily, on Monday carried a close-up of the minister reading the memo that makes it possible to read some of it. "Either answering questions from ruling party lawmakers or making your own statements about a possible link between the disappearance of two [North Korean] submarines or submersibles" from their base around the time of the shipwreck, "please make sure to say that you will know only after the sunken ship is salvaged as we [the government] have maintained, and that the military is investigating all possibilities and you are not leaning toward any possibility," the handwritten memo read.

      "The VIP [President Lee Myung-bak] wants you to say that the two submarines being unaccounted for means that the military didn't identify their whereabouts, that the military is currently investigating their disappearance, and that as for their possible link to the shipwreck [there is no] direct evidence or clue."

      On Friday morning, Kim was in the National Assembly to answer questions about the sinking of the Cheonan. When asked, "Now there are only two possibilities -- a torpedo or mine attack. Which do you think is the likelier cause?" Kim said, "Both are likely. But in my opinion, a torpedo attack is the likelier possibility."

      It appears that the memo in question was handed to Kim during a break after the morning session. Cheong Wa Dae passed its worries about his answers on to a Defense Ministry official who was standing by at the National Assembly, and the official summarized the message and handed it to the minister in writing.

      After the photo was published, Cheong Wa Dae in a damage-limitation exercise claimed the instruction did not come from the president but from the presidential secretary for security and defense, who became worried when he watched Kim on TV. "The Defense Ministry seems to have mistakenly believed that it was from the president after hearing it was from Cheong Wa Dae," a spokesman said.

      Since the Cheonan sank, there has been some discrepancy between Cheong Wa Dae and the Defense Ministry over the cause of the explosion.

      The presidential office has officially maintained that it is necessary to investigate all possibilities, including internal and external explosion, though apparently some Cheong Wa Dae insiders are also leaning toward a possible torpedo attack.   

      The ministry has given priority to reviewing the possibility of a torpedo or mine attack claiming that back-tracing of the situations at the time of the shipwreck excludes other possibilities. It reported its opinion to a security meeting on March 28, two days after the sinking.

      Right after the shipwreck, military officers were instructed not to perform any guesswork over the cause of the sinking. But some spoke off the record, apparently miffed that the presidential office was transgressing on what they considered their turf. When Kim said a torpedo attack is the "likelier possibility," some officers predicted that Cheong Wa Dae would be unhappy, and the memo seems to prove them right.

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