Espionage Is Forever A Factor

Barbara Slavin - USA TODAY - September 26, 1996

Once again, a long-standing U.S. ally has been implicated in a case of purloined U.S. military secrets.

On Wednesday, Robert Chaegon Kim was charged with stealing classified documents from the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Md., and passing them to Capt. Dong-Il Baek, a naval attache at the South Korean Embassy in Washington.

Korea experts said the case, which State Department spokesman Glyn Davies called "very disturbing and puzzling," would not have lasting impact on U.S.-South Korean relations.

"The overall relationship is so strong that it will be only an irritant," said Stanley Roth, director of the research and studies program at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

But the charges came at a time of some unease between the two.

Since U.S. forces helped fight off North Korea during the Korean War, the United States has been a staunch ally of South Korea and still keeps 37,000 troops there.

But in recent years, the United States also has begun a dialogue with communist North Korea, seeking to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. U.S. officials also hope to help the country known as the "hermit Kingdom" gradually join the community of nations.

Such contacts and modest U.S. contributions of food to eliminate severe hunger in the North have been met in the South with ambivalence, even hostility.

"The North Korean situation is so complicated that you have Koreans here and Koreans there divided among themselves," Roth said.

The FBI said the classified documents said to have been pilfered by Kim, a civilian employee at Suitland for 19 years, had to do with North Korea and other Asian nations.

The charges were an unwelcome reminder that U.S. allies have their own agendas and sometimes overstep the bounds of normal diplomacy in pursuing them. It also begged the problem of dual loyalty among a tiny minority of ethnic Americans* (see commentary by Jonathan Pollard)

In 1986, Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American, pleaded guilty to stealing thousands of documents - including aerial and satellite photos of Arab military systems - and selling them to Israel. President Clinton has repeatedly rejected pleas for Pollard's release, who was sentenced to life in prison.

In the past three years, Americans also have been convicted of passing secrets to Greece, the Philippines and South Africa.

* Jonathan Pollard comments:

SO FAR, the United States Government hasn't attempted to use the Kim case as an excuse to call into question the loyalty of the entire Korean American community. Indeed, not even those Korean Americans who hold security clearances appear to have been singled out for "special treatment" by our counter-intelligence agencies. This restraint stands in marked contrast to what the local Jewish community experienced following my arrest.

Apart from a largely self-imposed sense of collective guilt which the Justice Department did everything it could to encourage, the worst his were those Jews holding clearances, who were subjected to what can only be described as an organized witch-hunt designed to purge them from the Government. Although a number of apologists posturing as "leaders" tried to calm the Jewish community by pinning the blame for this momentary "aberration" exclusively on me, subsequent events tended to discredit their fear-laden reassurances.

First, there was the confirmation that the U.S. Government did, indeed, maintain vast lists of American Jews who were considered to be "security risks" and who were under suspicion of aiding Israeli intelligence-gathering efforts in the United States. While many American Jews appreciated the fact that these lists had been drawn up long before I'd been arrested our leadership, by and large, continued to cling to its self-serving claim that I was the sole cause of the community's loyalty problem. "Quit talking about Pollard," these leaders said, "and the dual allegiance issue will simply fade away." Well, as hard as the Federation the Conference and the ADL tried to bury me under a mountain of indifference, the "problem" with our perceived reliability refused to fade away.

Things finally came to a head with the revelation earlier this year that the Pentagon had alerted industries engaged in classified work to the fact that their Jewish employees were security risks. Not surprisingly, our leaders reacted with a type of muted indignation that clearly signaled their wish to move on to other matters. Unfortunately for them, though, the Jewish community now knew that the so-called "aberration" which occurred 12 years ago was actually just the beginning of what was to become an undeclared campaign on ethnic cleansing within our national security establishment.

Sadly, it remains to be seen whether the leadership of the Jewish community, here in the United States, will be up to the task of mounting an effective response to this indirect assault on our standing as equal citizens. I am absolutely convinced, though, that had this same type of discriminatory action been directed at the Korean-American community in the wake of Robert Kim's arrest, the responsible parties in the Administration eventually would have been forced into early retirement.

What a tragedy that our so-called Jewish "leaders" simply can't summon the courage to demand a comparable amount of respect from the American Government...

  • See Also: The Kim Case Page