The Ministry of National Defense on Thursday announced a reform plan for its military intelligence unit that would largely disband the organization. The reform plan would cut the number of staff at the Defense Security Command by one-third, as part of an overhaul of the scandal-ridden powerful military intelligence command.
The Defense Ministry’s DSC reform panel also said that all laws and regulations concerning the organization would be lifted and the DSC commander would be banned from briefing the president alone one-on-one.
The measures will soon be reported to President Moon Jae-in, who ordered a thorough investigation into the allegation surrounding the DSC and urged the Defense Ministry to come up with a reform plan last month, the reform panel said.
“Our reform plan amounts to disbanding the Defense Security Command,” said Jang Young-dal, head of the Defense Ministry’s DSC reform panel and former lawmaker, during a nationally televised press briefing.
“Once those reform plans are put in place, we expect an end to the DSC’s illegal political interference, surveillance over innocent civilians and misguided sense of privilege over other military branches,” Jang added.
Jang Young-dal, head of the Defense Ministry’s DSC reform panel
The reform panel came up with three ideas for overhauling the DSC. The panel had been expected to announce the new structure for the DSC during the briefing, but decided to shelve the plan until it receives approval from the Defense Ministry and Cheong Wa Dae.
The first scheme is to maintain the current structure of the DSC. Under the plan, the DSC can retain its title, but change its command structure. The independent organization will be transformed into a subordinate under the Defense Ministry.
Another plan is to remove the title of DSC and create a new military intelligence unit under the Defense Ministry. The final idea is to create a state-run agency, completely separated from the Defense Ministry, but the plan is most unlikely to happen, a defense official said.
“The idea of creating a new military agency outside the Defense Ministry requires an awful amount of legislative work and time,” said the official to reporters under customary condition of anonymity.
The measure came amid mounting criticism over the DSC that it drafted a plan for martial law when South Korea was engulfed by massive protests against former President Park Geun-hye last year.
According to Cheong Wa Dae, the document was more of an action plan for implementation -- not a contingency plan for eventualities -- as it included a plan to deploy tanks and armored vehicles in Seoul, censor the media and block the National Assembly from ending the emergency action.
The military’s special investigation team said Thursday it found evidence that the DSC took practical steps for implementing martial law after recovering deleted files of documents stored on a USB drive.
“The special investigation team noticed that most of the recovered files are about preparation for implementing martial law,” the probe team said in a statement. “By analyzing more materials and accounts, the investigation will focus on confirming the facts.”
The investigation team also said it had discovered the DSC had conducted “comprehensive and organized” surveillance of the families of victims of the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014. More than 300 people died in the disaster.
According to the probe team, the DSC gathered an extensive range of private information about the victims’ family members, including their political ideology, phone number, education level and reaction to the government’s dealing with the Sewol ferry sinking.
“We have confirmed the fact that the DSC established the Sewol Ferry Task Force to conduct surveillance over the victims’ families by disguising its mission as on-site support,” the investigation team said in a statement.