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[Editorial] Sorry excuse

Apology would have settled controversy over bodyguard’s exposure of submachine gun

Ha Tae-keung, a Bareunmirae Party lawmaker, disclosed a photo of a plainclothes presidential bodyguard exposing a submachine gun as President Moon Jae-in visited a provincial market.

Moon went to the Chilseong Market in the southeastern metropolitan city of Daegu on Friday to talk with the people about economic problems that directly affect them.

Ha called the scene in the photo “frightening,” and called on the presidential office to explain the situation. He argued it is a rule for guards to keep submachine guns in bags unless an armed terrorist attack occurs.

The bodyguard exposed the gun from inside his overcoat, his finger appearing to touch the trigger guard.

“Revealing a submachine gun is one of the basics for presidential bodyguards of any country in the world,” Cheong Wa Dae said. “The security agent was undoubtedly performing his duties as usual.”

In its own defense, it released six photos showing security service agents for former and current governments exposing submachine guns.

And yet in the photos released by Cheong Wa Dae, uniformed agents either slung submachine guns over their shoulders or held them with both hands visible. Suited bodyguards exposed tiny parts of a muzzle or a magazine and a shoulder strap from their jackets, but inadvertently. The occasions included international sporting and outdoor events attended by foreign heads of state.

None of the six photos shows a situation similar to the Chilseong Market visit. None of the plainclothes bodyguards in the pictures touched a finger to the trigger guard in a crowd of common people.

It is unquestionable that presidential bodyguards must be ready at all times to quickly respond to an emergency. Yet no one would deny that it is high-handed for a bodyguard to openly display a submachine gun in a crowded market.

Plainclothes bodyguards in a bustling public place are one thing, and uniformed agents guarding locations of events attended by foreign heads of state are another. Cheong Wa Dae made a poor excuse. It should have released comparable photos. It should not have equated uniformed agents with plainclothes bodyguards, an open square with a narrow market street, and a crowd close to the president with people far away from the president.

The plainclothes bodyguard in question may have been displaying the submachine gun to frighten people from approaching the president.

Cheong Wa Dae said he performed his duties properly, but considering the circumstances of the visit, that explanation falls short of convincing. Most members of the public would think the bodyguard went too far.

When Moon took office, he asked Ju Young-hoon, the head of the Presidential Security Service, to be friendly and “open” to people in protecting him in public places. Moon received a favorable evaluation for trying to make his security service less overbearing and to reject authoritarianism. But the security service went in the opposite direction. Its heavy-handed security created an air of fright and even raised concerns that Cheong Wa Dae may be becoming domineering and authoritarian.

In the absence of an emergency, plainclothes bodyguards ought to conceal their firearms. If the bodyguard in question detected something so unusual that he had to reveal a submachine gun, Cheong Wa Dae should clarify that.

Few could oppose bodyguards carrying guns to protect the president. However, if the situation requires them to conceal their firearms while on duty, they should do so perfectly.

Unconvincing explanations only add to criticism of the security service. Admitting errors and issuing a prompt apology would have been enough to settle the controversy.

But Cheong Wa Dae ignored public concerns and argued nothing was wrong, saying only that past governments had done the same thing. It seems to have become routine for Cheong Wa Dae to deny its faults and blame others. Was it so hard to say, “We are sorry that we were far from perfect. We will be more careful”?