The Defense Ministry’s Criminal Investigative Command chief Maj. Gen. Baek Nak-jong (standing) answers questions from lawmakers during a parliamentary audit last week, also attended by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (center) and Defense Security Command chief Lt. Gen. Lee Jae-su (right). (Yonhap News)
The Defense Security Command is facing a sweeping reform after Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin reportedly directed it to abolish its practice of clandestinely reporting military intelligence to Cheong Wa Dae without his knowledge.
Kim is said to have ordered the DSC to focus on supporting his leadership and carrying out its key missions to ensure security in the military and defense industry, and to prevent and investigate espionage and terrorism.
Kim’s directives came after former DSC chief Jang Kyung-wook was allegedly dismissed after secretly informing the presidential office in April that there was much criticism about the way Kim carried out a springtime military reshuffle of general-level officers.
The report alleged that field commanders had complained about the reshuffle, in which Kim apparently favored those specializing in military policy and those with experience in studying in Germany as he did.
Jang stepped down from the DSC chief post last month, only six months after his inauguration, sparking speculation that his term was cut short due in part to the report critical of Kim’s personnel reorganization.
The speculation further escalated over the weekend when Jang told the daily Dong-A Ilbo that the abrupt replacement of him with a new commander was an “affront to his personality.”
“In April, there were reports about the field commanders complaining about or criticizing the reshuffle. We checked them through various channels and a considerable share of them turned out to be true,” he said in the interview.
“We reported to Cheong Wa Dae, indicating that this should not be repeated. Keeping the minister in check is the principal responsibility of the DSC and we had carried out the responsibility in accordance to regulations and procedural rules.”
Jang was replaced by Lt. Gen. Lee Jae-su. Lee, ironically, was a close friend of President Park Geun-hye’s younger brother Park Ji-man. This was the first time for the chief to be dismissed after just a month since the DSC’s inception in 1991.
The DSC debate came as the opposition has been slamming the government for the military’s “inappropriate” political involvement by alleging that the cyber warfare unit and DSC were among the state agencies that engaged in electioneering.
Observers also questioned the Defense Ministry’s personnel system, and the negative impact the controversy would bring to the military’s discipline and morale.
The DSC has been a core entity for military investigation and intelligence. Under past governments led by generals-turned-presidents, the DSC was known to have carried out surveillance of civilians in breach of democratic values. But since civilian governance began in the 1990s, its primary tasks have been limited to military affairs.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)