The ruling and opposition parties reached an agreement Tuesday on a package of measures to reform South Korea's main intelligence agency, including a tougher punishment for agents involved in meddling in domestic politics under the pretext of psychological warfare against North Korea.
The ranking members of the rival parties on the special parliamentary committee on reforming the National Intelligence Service (NIS) worked out the revision to the NIS Act and other related laws in one-on-one negotiations earlier in the day before submitting it to the committee for approval.
Rep. Kim Jae-won of the ruling Saenuri Party and Rep. Moon Byung-ho of the main opposition Democratic Party also reported the deal to their respective parties. The special committee plans to meet later in the day to approve the agreement and send it to a plenary parliamentary session.
The deal cleared the final hurdle for the passage of the national budget for next year on the last day of the current National Assembly session amid concern that the government could be forced to formulate a tentative, minimum-spending budget unless the full budget is approved by year's end.
The rival parties launched negotiations on NIS reform to set new rules of activity for the spy agency accused of mobilizing some of its agents to post Internet comments last year in favor of then ruling party presidential candidate and now President Park.
The reform package calls for codifying a clause in the NIS Act that bans its agents from meddling in politics in the name of online psychological warfare against North Korea. It also calls for increasing punishment for NIS agents violating the regulation by two years to up to seven years in prison.
The parties also agreed to increase punishment for military officers and public servants convicted of meddling in politics by two years to up to five years in prison and up to three years in prison, respectively. The statute of limitations for the violation was extended to 10 years.
In the last stage of negotiations, the rival parties had argued mainly over two issues, one of them about whether to make the parliamentary intelligence committee an independent standing panel to increase the oversight of the intelligence agency.
Currently, the committee convenes only when necessary, with its members doubling as members of other standing committees. In the latest deal, the rival parties agreed to seek its transformation into the standing panel.
The other issue was about how to ban NIS agents, known as IOs, or intelligence officers, from making routine visits to government agencies, the National Assembly, political parties and news organizations, a practice that critics have denounced as unwarranted spying.
The rival parties agreed to specify the ban in the NIS Act and its internal regulations. (Yonhap News)