Fri, Mar 22, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: Claims and counterclaims

The accusations leveled against former National Security Bureau (NSB) cashier Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍) have grown from embezzlement to leaking state secrets. Caught up with the furor surrounding Liu has been Next magazine, whose offices and printing plant were raided on Tuesday after the NSB filed a complaint against the magazine, alleging national security violations. Those raids and the confiscation of 160,000 copies of the magazine drew criticism both in Taiwan and abroad. It also turned what had been a case of alleged wrongdoing by a former NSB official into a question of whether the government was reverting to the bad old days of suppressing freedom of the press.

Liu's alleged escapades have put a spotlight once again on the question of the loyalty of Taiwan's intelligence, military and government personnel. Many of these people were brainwashed by the KMT to believe that loyalty to the party equalled patriotism. The KMT is out of power, the territory of the country is changing and some people have not been adapting well to the changes. Confused about national identity, they run the risk of harming national interests, whether by pushing for unification, pulling their capital out of Taiwan, or spilling secrets. Don't forget that Liu tried to blackmail the government by threatening to defect to China and provide Beijing with secret documents unless Taiwan gave him a pardon in the embezzlement case.

A careful read of the documents published by Next and the China Times shows that their content has more to do with state secrets than any corruption scandal. PFP Legislator Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) and his cohorts insist that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) must have known about 0the abuse of the NSB's secret funds because he had signed off on the necessary documents. However, Lee's critics have yet to provide any evidence so that that he misused any funds or that the individuals or institutions that received funds from these accounts violated the law.

The reports do provide detailed information about the government's non-official diplomatic channels in the US, Japan and South Africa. Names, positions and the amounts of money involved in such projects have been revealed. The laying bare of such details could embarrass Taiwan's friends in the international community and damage the country's reputation. It could also create a sense of insecurity among those working for Taiwan's interests in the international community -- a fear that their identities could be exposed some day.

An action that seriously compromises national security and interests cannot be viewed from the perspective of press freedom alone. The prosecutors did act legally in carrying out the raids, in that they had obtained the Taiwan High Court's authorization. So perhaps the real question is just how secret these "national secrets" really were. The existence and scope of the NSB's secret funds was publicized two years ago when Liu fled Taiwan. The fact that Taiwan has spent a lot of money to maintain its diplomatic presence has been the subject of debate in the legislature for years, along with questions about the scale of the funding.

National security is one thing, secrecy is another. It's time for a thorough house-cleaning of the NSB to get rid of the incompetents and those who have been obstructing efforts to make the agency more accountable. More oversight of military, intelligence and diplomatic budgets would limit the chance of improprieties occurring under the guise of national security.

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