Information About Shipwreck Must Be Handled with Care

      April 07, 2010 12:44

      Lawmaker Kim Hak-song, the head of the National Assembly's Defense Committee, was briefed by the military in a closed door meeting on Monday. He later told reporters that two North Korean submarines disappeared from South Korean military surveillance between March 23 and 27. But military authorities have still failed to discover the whereabouts of one of them on March 26, when the Navy corvette Cheonan sank, while the other was found to have communicated with its base at Cape Bipagot in the North's South Hwanghae Province, he said. 

      Kim's comments will have allowed North Korea to grasp the capabilities of U.S. military reconnaissance satellites South Korea is using and South Korea's ability to intercept the North's communications. North Korean submarines and semi-submersibles will probably operate using the weakest points of U.S. and South Korean reconnaissance capabilities, and the North is highly likely to switch communication channels and scramble messages more often to make it harder to intercept them.

      At this point, the main concern is whether North Korea played a role in the sinking of the Cheonan. The South Korean government, military and politicians must inform the public about the details of the disaster. The public has a right to know. And it is only proper for the military to divulge what it considers "classified" information if that is what it takes to regain the public's trust. This is all the more necessary considering the amount of rumors floating around on the Internet, including claims that the South Korean military mistakenly fired on its own vessel, or that the entire stories were fabricated by the administration to make North Korea appear evil.

      But boundaries must be clearly drawn. Revealing the whereabouts of the two North Korean submarines and the failure to locate one of the subs on the day of the sinking has made it clear to North Korea what the weaknesses are in South Korea's abilities to track them. The fact that the South Korean military detected communication between one of the North Korean submarines with its commanders clearly tells the North of the South's intercept abilities. Will the U.S. be willing to share sensitive military information with South Korea under these circumstances? The South Korean military needs to find a way of gaining the public's trust by revealing information without damaging the close cooperation with U.S. military and intelligence, which is essential in protecting the nation's security.

      From the beginning, the military and the presidential office have differed in views about the possibility of North Korean involvement in the sinking of the ship. That difference may have played a role in the confusion and chaos in revealing related information. Cheong Wa Dae may have been mindful of inter-Korean relations and even the six-party talks, while the military was trying to avoid blame. Now the military and the government must discuss the matter thoroughly and reach a compromise about just how much information is going to be revealed to the public and convey a uniform message to the public.

      The fact-finding committee must take a close look at the way the military and government have chosen to release information to come up with a blueprint to bolster national security.

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