South Korea says one of its generals is under arrest. News media report his detention is part of a widening spy investigation that has some officials thinking North Korea may have obtained part of a critical U.S.-South Korean battle plan.
The South Korean Defense Ministry has revealed little about the case, although it confirms a two-star general has been detained for allegedly violating the law protecting military secrets.
The major general, according to published reports here, is being questioned about whether he gave a friend confidential information, including some elements of "Operational Plan 5027." That document, revised annually, details the joint U.S.-South Korean defense plan in case of another war with North Korea.
The major general, only identified by his surname, Kim, allegedly leaked elements of the plan from 2005 to 2007 to a former South Korean intelligence agent. The agent, identified as Park Chae-seo, was recently arrested and accused of selling classified information to Pyongyang.
Denny Roy is an Asia-Pacific security specialist at the East-West Center in Hawaii. He says the arrest of a South Korean general on such charges is unprecedented. But Roy says Seoul and Washington should not worry that the South Korean military is compromised.
"Certainly the South Korean military has some serious investigative work to do. Nonetheless the rarity of this kind of a case ought to indicate that, by and large, the South Korean military is quite professional, quite dedicated to the task of carrying out the mission assigned to them by the South Korean government," he said.
Roy explains that while the battle plan is a highly desirable document for North Korea, the ramifications of Pyongyang obtaining elements of it may be limited.
"The differences and capabilities are very great between the two countries. I think North Korea is very much in a defensive mode, very insecure, even paranoid," said roy. "So I wouldn't expect even providing them with what might be seen as a temporary edge like this would have any lasting or profound security implications for South Korea."
The two Koreas technically remain at war following a 1953 truce that halted three years of open conflict.
The spying charges are surfacing at a time of renewed tension on the Korean peninsula. Seoul blames Pyongyang for the March sinking of a navy ship, killing 46 South Korean sailors.
South Korea is taking the incident to the United Nations Security Council and plans joint maritime maneuvers with the U.S. Navy. North Korea denies involvement and has threatened to retaliate for any sanctions imposed on it for the incident.