Published : 2013-10-11 20:14
Updated : 2013-10-11 20:14
One dictionary definition of intelligence is secret information, especially about an enemy or potential enemy. Intelligence is also defined as the gathering or distribution of such information.
These definitions aptly apply to intelligence gathered and distributed by the nation’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service ― secret information focused on activities inside North Korea.
Earlier in the week, Nam Jae-joon, NIS director, shared what appeared to be highly sensitive intelligence on North Korea with members of the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly. Included in his report, delivered in a closed session, was the reactivation of the reactor in Yongbyon and the testing of an engine for a long-range missile in Dongchang-ri.
The intelligence, however, lost much of its value when it was made public by committee members. Still worse, it was downgraded to the level of mere allegation when the Ministry of National Defense said neither the restarting of the reactor nor the testing of a missile engine was confirmed.
Nam continued to tell the committee that the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, vowed to communize the South with the use of force for a Korean reunification within three years. He also said that the North reinforced its artillery on its west coast and naval force in the West Sea against the five South Korean islands in the sea off the coast.
All the intelligence he shared with the committee had serious security implications for the United States as well as South Korea. But his testimony was not well received by his detractors, notably including the opposition Democratic Party, who suspected he had his own agenda when he allowed secret information on North Korea to be made public.
Indeed, it did not take long before the opposition party accused him of attempting to deflect the pressure for reform that is demanded of his agency.
True, he reported his plan for reform on his agency to the committee on the day he testified. But the reform he outlined was far from what the opposition party demanded ― the separation of intelligence from counterintelligence.
His reform plan boiled down to the agency’s commitment against political intervention, the merger of its intelligence and counterintelligence activities and the reinforcing of its counterintelligence investigation in the nation. At issue with the opposition party, however, is how to keep the agency from intervening in domestic politics.
The party insists, with good reason, that a mere commitment against political intervention would not work. Despite a statutory ban, the agency has often yielded to temptations to get itself involved in presidential elections and other political activities in favor of the governing elite.
A notable case involves Nam’s immediate predecessor, Won Sei-hoon, who is being tried on charges of breaching the statutory ban on political intervention. He is accused of ordering a smear campaign against the opposition presidential candidate last year.
The party demands the agency’s counterintelligence mission be handed over to domestic law-enforcement agencies ― the prosecution and the police agency ― as in the United States. The party’s rationale is that the spy agency would not be involved in politics if it were banned from domestic counterintelligence activities.
The party’s proposal deserves serious consideration. Another option is a costlier proposal to set up a Korean version of Britain’s Security Service, better known as MI5.