Prosecutors have indicted three retired high-ranking Air Force officers including a former four-star general on charges of providing classified military information to the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin, officials said Wednesday.
Among them was a former Air Force chief of staff identified only by his surname Kim. Kim, 81, led the Air Force from 1982-84. Since 1995, he has run a local weapons brokerage firm.
The indictment has triggered seething public criticism over military retirees’ poor national security awareness and deteriorating sense of responsibility.
The other two, who worked with Kim at the same firm, are a former colonel, surnamed Lee, and a former senior master sergeant. All three have been indicted without detention, officials at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said.
According to the prosecution, the three received a total of 2.5 billion won ($2.35 million) from Lockheed Martin on several occasions in 2009 and 2010.
Investigators suspect that from 2004 and early last year on 12 separate occasions, Kim offered to the U.S. firm confidential information including the joint strategy objective plan, mid-term defense plans and other pieces on the Air Force’s plans to bolster its military capabilities.
Kim appears to have obtained the information from his high-level acquaintances in the military and the state weapons acquisition agency, prosecutors said.
“When such secrets are leaked, what our Air Force should secure to improve their capabilities would also be revealed. So, there are concerns that our desired effects of introducing such weapons will be weakened or neutralized,” a prosecution official said, declining to be named.
“They are former high-level military commanders who should have a strong sense of security. This case shows their serious lack of security awareness and moral hazards.”
Kim is also alleged to have offered information on the number of and the budget for the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles South Korea is seeking to purchase to enable its military to launch precision strikes on North Korean strategic military targets.
He also purportedly handed over minutes of military meetings to the U.S. firm. The minutes contain military discussions on how many new weapons systems need to be introduced here and when the purchases would be made.
The weapons systems mentioned in the minutes include special equipment necessary for fighter jets to detect targets at night and other precision-guided bombs. Last year, Lockheed Martin was selected by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration as a “preferred bidder” in a project to introduce this detection equipment.
Prosecutors suspect that Kim handed over confidential information to the firm via email or when he and Lockheed Martin officials gathered here or overseas for marketing meetings.
Kim currently denies most of the charges, officials said.
Prosecutors have already called in and questioned three Lockheed Martin employees over the case. They all reportedly claimed that they did not know the information was classified.
Lockheed Martin is alleged to have used such information in their marketing efforts. Obtaining information on what the Korean Air Force needed, it held sessions here to explain the advantages of its weapons systems.
Citing its policy, the U.S. firm said that it cannot comment on the details of ongoing investigations.
“We are aware of, and fully cooperating with, the ongoing investigation by the Seoul Prosecutor’s Office. Lockheed Martin is committed to complying with the laws of the United States, Korea, and every country where we do business and we require all of our employees and others working with us to comply with all applicable laws,” it said in an e-mail message.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)