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Where Is the National Intelligence Service Going Now?

Posted June. 07, 2005 06:33,   


“The National Intelligence Service (NIS) seems too fastidious now.”

This is the answer that one senior member belonging to the ruling party gave to a reporter when he was asked to give his evaluation of the NIS’s activities during the last two years of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

After Ko Young-koo, director of NIS, expressed his willingness to resign, the discrepancy between the ruling party and the government about who is taking over Ko’s role has been widening, which is now placing the NIS at the center of debate again.

Of course, there is no denying that the malfeasances of the NIS, such as the distortion of information for the sake of government authority and the intervention of national politics, which were often witnessed in past authoritarian regimes, have almost disappeared.

After taking office in February 2003, President Roh Moo-hyun strongly stressed that he will never let influential government offices work solely for government authority. To show his stern intention, President Roh appointed human rights lawyer Ko, who had little awareness of political mechanisms, as the director of the NIS

In fact, no face-to-face meeting was held between president and NIS director over the past two years since he came into power in 2003.

Regarding this, a source from Cheong Wa Dae said that when the NIS requested that it be allowed to direct reports to the president, President Roh often rejected them after confirming there was no matter that was critical enough to call for a direct report.

The ruling party and the NIS both agree that the NIS’s role as an inspector investigating political activities has significantly faded after President Roh ordered the suspension of such investigations. It was also reported that Ko, the director of the NIS, has kept stressing that his priority should be placed in not intervening in national politics and not collecting political information.

However, another problem is haunting the NIS now. This is lethargy. Because of undue emphasis on political neutrality, its functions such as collecting information and national security planning have consequently weakened, which is causing this lethargy.

One lawmaker of the ruling Uri Party pointed out, “If the information they dig out is used for the sake of the country, they would work hard like crazy. However, given the current situation of the NIS, we would say that the NIS is almost dormant now.”

Another lawmaker said, “I don’t think there are certain types of information, such as international and local information, and political and economic information. This is contingent upon how the nation’s leader makes the use of such information. In this context, the NIS seems to have failed to produce information that helps us judge what kinds of adverse situations are coming to us, when they are coming and, to where they are coming.”

Regarding lassitude spreading in the NIS, some point out that this unfortunate situation took place because Ko, the director of the NIS, failed to gain the upper hand in a power struggle with Lee Jong-seok, the deputy chief of the National Security Council (NSC). Despite Ko’s contribution to the reform of the NIS, Ko has been reluctant to participate in making policies relate to national security even though he is eligible to be involved in this thanks to his experience as an original member of the NSC.

Responding to the position of the ruling Uri Party, which asks the NIS to assume a role as a mediator in national affairs, a source from Cheong Wa Dae refuted this by saying, “Such discontent expressed by some groups in the ruling party is evidence that they still remain in an old paradigm.”

The source also added, “The problem we confront now results from the fact that officials of the NIS haven’t been successful in obtaining brand new information which is congruent with its new status due to their adherence to old practices.”

The position of Cheong Wa Dae regarding the appointment of a new director is also very stern. Against the ruling party’s position that a significant political figure should be appointed as a new director, Cheong Wa Dae is saying, “The NIS director is not responsible for politics.”

Yong-GwanJung yongari@donga.com