Dumping classified documents
Lawmakers caught for mishandling military information
By Lee Tae-hoon
Piles of documents, including sensitive information, have been thrown outside offices of lawmakers in corridors of the National Assembly Members Office building, it was discovered Sunday.
One document discarded outside the office of Rep. Chung Ui-hwa, a five-term lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, contains the country’s blueprint for its attack helicopter acquisition program.
The document, titled the “Progress of the Korean Attack Helicopter Program,” is by itself not classified but should now be labeled as a military secret as someone wrote down specific items and schedules of deployment.
These include the number of heavy attack helicopters Seoul plans to buy and deploy in the next couple of years and the number of light attack choppers that will be up for development under a mid-term plan, and other sensitive military information.
Defense officials claim that lawmakers and their staff are allowed to read and be briefed about classified information on the condition that they do not record, keep or distribute it, not to mention discarding it.
“This is a clear legal breach for legislative members to write down such classified information, not to mention carelessly disposing of it,” a spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense said.
The spokesman said it will be inevitable for investigative authorities to look into the case to determine whether they constitute violations of the Military Secrets Protection Act.
Under the act, those found guilty of obtaining classified information without due process face up to 10 years imprisonment, and officials for two years if they have mishandled it. .
A senior staff member to Chung told The Korea Times that it was possible a mistake had been made, saying the lawmaker has been moving from the vice speaker’s room to a new office.
“I thought we left only promotional materials and other trivial documents in front of his office,” he said.
Outside the office of Kim Jang-soo, a former defense minister and member of the Saenuri Party during the previous National Assembly, piles of documents on arms procurement plans and military operations were stacked without being guarded.
They were left there at least since May 30 when The Korea Times first reported on the situation.
One coversheet had a printed caution, saying, “This document is restricted as it contains military information. Reproduction or copying is forbidden.”
An aide to Kim, however, said all documents left behind were regular parliamentary reports that were not classified.
“We have carefully destroyed all classified documents. I don’t see any problem in putting parliamentary reports in the corridor for cleanup,” he said.
An official at the Defense Security Command pointed out that the disposal of such documents might not be a direct breach of the law but still should be handled with caution because information in them could be damaging, if they ended up in the wrong hands.
A senior official of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration pointed out that anyone found to have discarded such parliamentary reports in such a fashion could face disciplinary action by his state-run agency or other government bodies.
Kim Hak-song, a former three-term Saenuri Party lawmaker and former chairman of the Assembly’s defense committee, appeared to have also been careless enough to dump a document containing contact information for the nation’s top defense officials.
Among the piles of military-related documents lying in front of his office was a document containing phone numbers of 17 heads of defense-related organizations.
“Direct numbers for top military officials should be dealt with carefully and should be kept among ranking officials or lawmakers with access to them,” a defense ministry official said.
An aide to Kim said that some of the documents were put in front of the former lawmaker’s office because his staff couldn’t distinguish between what should be destroyed from what must be kept.
Rep. Won Yoo-chul, chairman of the 18th National Assembly Defense Committee, apologized for the alleged mishandling of sensitive information, saying there cannot be an excuse for the inappropriate disposal of sensitive military documents.
“The members’ building has been chaotic because lawmakers have been moving in and out over the past several days,” he said. “I’d like to express my regrets.”