Photo: the Blue House. Credit: Office of the President.
In the wake of the US wiretapping scandal, in which confidential documents from the Pentagon showed US intelligence agencies listening in on South Korea’s top security officials, the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration is once again repeating its familiar pattern of compounding a bad situation with an even worse response.
This week, Deputy National Security Advisor Kim Tae-hyo 김태효 국가안보실 차장 faced derision when he attempted to explain away the US eavesdropping by arguing that the US did not do so with “malicious intent”. The statement naturally begs the question: is there a distinction between a “good” wiretap, and a malicious one?
Remarkably, however, many in the South Korean right-wing would answer “yes.” A common theory among South Korea’s conservatives is that Yoon Suk-yeol was compelled to move the presidential office out of the Blue House 청와대 to the Ministry of National Defense 국방부 compound in Yongsan 용산 because liberals had planted wiretaps all over the Blue House. (See previous coverage, “Yoon Moves Out of Blue House.”)
In this narrative, the Democratic Party, being little more than North Korean spies, extensively bugged the presidential office to monitor the president’s every move, prompting Yoon’s hasty move out of the Blue House and into the military headquarters. Because of the rush in moving, the US may have eavesdropped on the Yongsan compound - but that’s acceptable as “good wiretapping,” as opposed to the “bad wiretapping” Yoon would have been subjected to by North Korea had he stayed in the Blue House.
This conspiracy theory is not quite as fringe as it seems. National security journalist Kim Min-seok 김민석 of Aviation Week found that “an expert who is deep into his career seriously believed this to be true, and he was not alone.” Kim wrote: “Some conservatives believe that they are being generous by refraining from arresting the anti-state liberals en masse. To them, there is a distinction between ‘a malicious wiretap’ and ‘an innocent wiretap,’ and the incomprehensible Yongsan move is understood as a moment that saved the nation.”