The Korea Herald


NIS seeks steps compensating for loss of power to investigate North Korea spying

By Kim Arin

Published : July 13, 2023 - 18:36

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National Intelligence Service of Korea (The Korea Herald) National Intelligence Service of Korea (The Korea Herald)

The National Intelligence Service of Korea is seeking steps to make up for the pending loss of its authority to investigate espionage and other crimes against the state, such as anti-communism investigations.

The state intelligence agency on Wednesday proposed a presidential decree that will allow it to continue to have a role in investigations of espionage and national security-related crimes.

Starting next year, the intelligence agency will lose its investigative authority as a result of a set of revisions to the laws on the National Intelligence Service pushed by the previous Moon Jae-in administration. Instead, the police will take on the espionage investigations that had been handled by the agency.

According to the proposed presidential decree, the intelligence agency will be able to work with police and other investigative authorities in their response to national security threats and operations against North Korea, even after the legal revisions take effect. The agency will keep the ability to collect intelligence on North Korean targets and engage in responses by concerned state authorities.

Speaking to The Korea Herald on Thursday, Rep. Youn Kun-young of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea said the proposed decree appeared to be a “trick” pulled by the intelligence agency to undo the revised laws, which are soon to come into effect.

At the time, the then-ruling Democratic Party, passing the revised laws in the absence of the support of the rival People Power Party, said they were intended to keep the country’s intelligence agency in check by transferring its key investigative functions to the police.

Youn, who was a senior presidential secretary for Moon, said Democratic Party lawmakers on the National Assembly intelligence committee will be considering possible legal measures against the decree put forth by the agency.

The intelligence agency says the decree, which awaits the Ministry of Government Legislation’s review, is not aimed at bypassing the revised laws that will forfeit its investigative capabilities. The decree is “intended to minimize a possible break in investigations” once police assume the agency’s role in anti-espionage efforts, an agency official said Thursday.

Jeong Gu-young, a former agent with the intelligence agency, told The Korea Herald that the presidential decree as proposed was thought to amount to “minimal steps” to complement the abolition of the agency's authority to investigate North Korea-related espionage cases.

“As a safety net, it only makes sense to let the intelligence agency offer its expertise in counter-espionage matters to police or other investigative authorities,” he said.