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S. Korea demands explanation for U.S. eavesdropping

South Korea has requested an explanation from the U.S. over a recent news report that it was among numerous countries spied on by the National Security Agency, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The New York Times has reported that the largest U.S. intelligence agency classified South Korea as a “focus area,” regarded as a critically important target for its intelligence gathering.

The report claimed Washington routinely spies on friends as well as foes, citing 2007 documents obtained by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who shocked the world by revealing U.S. intelligence-gathering activities.

“After the report came out, we expressed deep concerns to the U.S. government over the document and requested that it provide to us understandable explanations and measures promptly,” foreign ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young told reporters.

“When we have these allegations, the first measure we can take is to verify the facts. After that, we will take proper measures to handle this.”

South Korea was mentioned in the leaked documents, entitled “January 2007 Strategic Mission List,” of the U.S. SIGINT System, America’s key intelligence collection program. The list spells out mission priorities and risks associated with them.

The NYT report followed a series of allegations that the NSA carried out wiretapping missions against U.S.-based diplomatic missions of 38 countries and heads of 35 nations, including South Korea.

Seoul recently made similar requests for explanations over these allegations. Washington, in response, said it would review the allegations.

Some intelligence experts initially downplayed the diplomatically sensitive scandal, saying all countries conduct similar intelligence activities with similar methods.

But as allegations emerged that even national leaders have been the routine targets of U.S. intelligence gathering, public sentiment has soured here with some calling on the U.S. to stop the controversial activities and offer an explanation.

The strategic list includes a wide range of missions concerning South Korea, apart from other potential U.S. adversaries including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The list indicated that the NSA followed up on sensitive bilateral issues with Seoul including the conclusion of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the long-stalled six-party denuclearization talks and the handover of wartime operational control, currently slated for December 2015.

The list also shows the U.S. kept close tabs on South Korea’s leadership’s intentions as to Operational Plan 5027. OPLAN 5027 is a South Korea-U.S. joint war plan to respond to the possibility of an all-out war with North Korea. The allies are to reshape it as it prepares for the OPCON transfer.

Revealing Washington’s extensive intelligence activities targeting global leaders, the NYT article said that the NSA intercepted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s talking points for his meeting with President Barack Obama in April. The leaders were to discuss Syrian chemical weapons, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and climate change.

The article added the NSA’s mission list included using its surveillance powers to achieve a “diplomatic advantage” over such allies as France and Germany and an “economic advantage” over Japan and Brazil among others.

Aside from South Korea, the NSA document listed China, Russia, Cuba, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, France and Venezuela as “focus areas” in terms of intelligence activities.

By Song Sang-ho (