Opposition Risks Disarming South Korean Intelligence

One week ago on December 19th,
South Korea marked the first anniversary of the 2012 presidential election. As
she begins her second year in power, it is time for President Park Geun Hye to
work in earnest on her campaign promises concerning stability and security. However,
the political world is stuck in an endless struggle over the reform of the National
Intelligence Service (NIS) instead. The Korean people […] are tired of it.

The Democratic Party appears to be
actively employing the scandal to criticize the incumbent administration. 
Even though a trial was underway they kept calling for a special investigation in the National Assembly. When that failed to produce results, they argued for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Then, a special committee, which met on the 18th.  It would
have been sufficient to take the steps deemed necessary after allowing the courts to
judge, but instead the National Assembly has spent
a whole year on the scandal, completely ignoring the livelihoods of the Korean
people in the process. 

The role and function of an intelligence agency
is closely linked to national interest, and the opposition’s current proposal
for the reform of the NIS raises doubts about their cognition of this fact. Irrespective of the Lee Seok Gi and Jang Song Taek incidents, the opposition party is
spinning conspiracy theories about intelligence actions. They want to make intelligence activities public, to step on such intelligence-gathering
capabilities as do exist. I agree with those commentators who say that the opposition party’s
current actions are tantamount to a step on the way to dissolving the NIS.

First, they want the right of
investigation of communist activities to be transferred to the police and prosecutors.
And yet, over the past ten years the National Intelligence Service, with only a
few more than 500 investigators, has been responsible for the capture of fifty
spies. The police and other agencies, despite incomparably greater manpower, have
captured just five.  All the while, the
North Korean Ministry of State Security is seeking to strengthen its own provisions
in order to undermine our anti-espionage activities, but the opposition party
pays this fact no heed, preferring to focus on factional struggles instead.

The Israeli internal security
agency Shinbeit has the right to investigate anti-state groups such as
Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. In 2008 France’s Central Directorate of Interior
Intelligence was integrated with the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance
and General Intelligence Directorate, and has the authority to investigate
terrorism and espionage activities. This right to investigate also existed in
the formerly divided nations of Yemen and Vietnam. In a divided nation, and with
North Korea such an active threat, the suggestion that we should take away the National
Intelligence Service’s ability to investigate such cases is to suggest that we disarm ourselves.

Second, they want the permanent establishment
of the Intelligence Committee. Ignoring the minimum requirements of
intelligence work, they are seeking to do away with special security
regulations for Intelligence Committee members and to be allowed to examine
intelligence assets such as facilities, equipment and documents, as well as
receive the details of the activities of the intelligence services as a
matter of course.

Yet even if we sought to guarantee that such
committee meetings would not be made public and regulations concerning secrecy could be strengthened, it is unlikely that serving lawmakers would follow them. And if lawmakers were to violate secrecy regulations, then given their
constitutionally guaranteed immunity from prosecution it would be impossible to
punish them. Even in the case of so-called “closed door meetings” the contents typically
become public knowledge as soon at the meeting ends.

Third, they want guaranteed opposition access
to classified intelligence information. Yet as the “RO Incident” concerning Lee Seok
Gi demonstrates, the National Assembly includes pro-North Korean figures.
Giving them unlimited access to state secrets would be like letting a cat guard
a fish; it would create a constant and serious threat to national security. Thanks to the release of documents in accordance with articles 37,
54 and 128 of the National Assembly Act, as well as active cooperation with
requests for information, parliamentary access is guaranteed to
a substantial and sufficient degree.

Fourth, they worry over budgets. Yet Article 84 Section 4 of the National Assembly Act has been abolished, thus doing
away with the provision of undisclosed funding for special activities by
separate NIS departments and arranging for review by a budgetary committee. Departments
are audited for the funds that they use.

If we simply wait for the trial judgment
then we will find out the answer to the NIS message board scandal. Ergo, the
motivations of the opposition party in exaggerating the current situation and using it as a tool in political combat are suspicious. 20% of National Assembly members
have violated the National Security Law at some point, and there’s no way to be
sure that somewhere among them there isn’t a second Lee Seok Gi.

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