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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Aug. 9)

All News 07:05 August 09, 2021

Punish the spies

Four labor rights activists based in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, have been arrested or charged with espionage, reminding us that our society remains vulnerable to spying that can threaten the lives of the people. Intelligence authorities claim the activists carried out petitions and protests to oppose the government's procurement of U.S. F-35A stealth fighters while pocketing $20,000 from North Korean spies they met in China to fund underground pro-Pyongyang activities.

The accused argue the National Intelligence Service was framing them through illegal surveillance. But the NIS and intelligence unit of the National Police Agency under the Moon Jae-in administration won't be making up an espionage scheme, given the burden on its endeavors to improve ties with Pyongyang. NIS chief Park Jie-won ordered a strict investigation based on law and principle. Authorities have secured photos of them coming into contact with North Korean spies, documents specifying orders from Pyongyang and a copy of a pledge of loyalty to the North Korean leadership.

More shockingly, the foursome acted as special advisers on the campaign of Presidential Moon Jae-in April of 2017, ahead of the presidential election in May. They had held a press conference in support of Moon. One of them even applied as a preliminary bidder for the 2014 local elections. Another who ran a local newspaper company published their activities in articles and ran for a legislative seat as an independent candidate in the 2016 parliamentary elections.

They had attempted to penetrate into mainstream politics. Given circumstantial evidence, figures with espionage smotive posed as activists and tried to move to the central political stage from local press, councils and labor groups. They also approach a multi-term ruling party lawmaker and a senior official of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation for a campaign to plant trees in North Korea.

If spies or people working for Pyongyang move into politics, policies on North Korea can be affected. National security could be in jeopardy if they reach the presidential or government offices. The probe requires bipartisan support as well as Blue House cooperation. The Blue House must first explain how they joined Moon's camp four years ago.

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