Sportswriter Bill Simmons came up with something called “The Tyson Zone,” named after Mike Tyson. According to Simmons’ definition, once a celebrity is in the Tyson Zone, you will believe just about any outlandish story about that celebrity. “Mike Tyson walked into a hostage situation and saved the hostages? Of course he did.” “Mike Tyson ripped off an arm from a guy’s socket in a bar fight? Of course he did.” The term essentially describes an utter loss of expectation that trumps any anchoring to reality.
To me, Lee Myeong-Bak administration just entered the Tyson Zone with this news. “Lee Myeong-Bak administration ran a massive surveillance program on anyone who is remotely opposed to it? Of course it did!” The KBS news labor union released a portion of 2619 documents, composed between 2008 and 2010 by the Prime Minister’s office, that detailed the surveillance results on numerous citizens that may potentially oppose the administration. This news has so many dimensions, all of them appalling:
- The scope of the program is breathtaking. The big targets were former Roh Moo-Hyun administration officials and heads of national corporations, including former police chiefs, former head of Korea FDA, former head of Korea Expressway Corporation, etc. But even the NFP was not free from surveillance. Several maverick NFP Assemblymen (such as Nam Gyeong-Pil, who had been vocal about addressing the administration’s corruption allegations) were also targets of detailed reports of their whereabouts and remarks.
But the surveillance targets were not merely big names in Korean politics and government. Civic leaders, journalists and businessmen, including Hyundai Motors Union, Lee Geon-Hee of Samsung, former head of Kookmin Bank, former head of Korea Red Cross, and the heads of KBS, MBC, YTN, Hankyoreh, etc., were also under surveillance. Low-level policemen who wrote critical posts in internal message boards were under surveillance. Further, anyone who even met with them was also a target for surveillance. Someone who simply had two meals together with a former GNP Assemblyman Jeong Tae-Geun had a surveillance report under his name.
Some of those reports give a minute-by-minute breakdown of activities, facial expressions and words spoken. For example, one surveillance report describing a meeting between a target and his mistress reads: “Purchased two bottles of beer and three bags of snacks. While paying, the woman dropped one of the bottles, which broke. [Target] asked the woman what to buy for her daughter; she replied ‘chocolate’.”
- There are indications that the Blue House was involved. The normal line of reporting runs to the Blue House. Also, some of the reports — for example, surveillance on the broadcasting station unions – bore the remark: “From BH.” BH obviously stands for the Blue House. Blue House released a statement that it is waiting to see the results of the investigation by the Prosecutors’ Office.
- Blue House official ordered the evidence to be destroyed. A Blue House staffer Lee Yeong-Ho ordered the Prime Minister’s office staffer Jang Jin-Su to destroy the HDD of the computer that contains the surveillance reports. Jang blew the whistle, which put this entire issue into motion. Lee held a press conference to claim that he was the brain behind the entire plot, which was roundly mocked by conservative and liberal newspapers alike. Even a Blue House staffer who watched the press conference wondered out loud if Lee was drunk. Jang, the whistle blower, claims that the destruction of evidence was reported directly to Lee Myeong-Bak.
- Prosecutor’s Office may have covered up the extent of the program. Allegations of a surveillance program, in fact, were made back in 2010. At the time, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that there were two instances of surveillance, although the office had in its possession the same 2619 documents that the KBS union just released. In fact, when the Prosecutor’s Office submitted evidence to indict the defendants in those two cases, it submitted documentary evidence that redacted to show only those two instances. In the original, unredacted copy released by the KBS union, the same document shows 23 more surveillance programs.