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[Opinion] The National Intelligence Service Is Suffering from Osteoporosis

[Opinion] The National Intelligence Service Is Suffering from Osteoporosis

Posted August. 19, 2005 03:04,   


Osteoporosis is a disease in which patients, mostly post-menopausal women or the elderly, suffer a fracture from even the slightest bump, owing to the loss of mass. The day before yesterday, one argued in a debate at the National Assembly that “the government made the National Intelligence Service (NIS) into a patient with osteoporosis.” Was he saying that the intelligence agency, which was said to have “bugged everyone but the President,” became an elderly one with brittle bones? This cannot be simply dismissed as idle talk, however, as the person who made such a remark was a former NIS department director.

“The Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations withered the innate capability of the intelligence agency for fear of its past abuses,” said the former director of the spy agency. What he meant was that the amateurish reform measures by the former and current civilian administrations backfired, worsening the situation. This makes some sense. A case in point was that a thorough replacement of senior NIS officials was made whenever a new administration took office. Officials from Jeolla Province were the main targets of relegation or forced resignation in an administration led by those from Gyeongsang Province, and vice versa. Whenever such things happened, the NIS insiders deplored the loss of long-accumulated intelligence capabilities.

The former NIS official emphasized, “The head of state has the right and liability to be assisted by the intelligence agency, at least to minimize misjudgment.” In other words, how to take advantage of the intelligence agency is up to the “user,” who is the president. In the early days of his presidency, President Roh Moo-hyun vowed “not to receive the NIS reports.” This was a promise that he would not repeat the past abuses of the spy agency for the sake of the government’s interests, but simply sticking to the promise could not only weaken the capabilities of the intelligence agency but also result in the president’s making more frequent mistakes in policy judgments. This is penny wise, pound foolish.

George Bush senior, the former president of the United States who once served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), recalled one anecdote. Right after the 1976 presidential election, he held an intelligence briefing for then-president elect Jimmy Carter, but Carter “recklessly criticized the CIA, using abusive language.” Former President Carter, who was unaware of the significance of intelligence, was criticized for his inability to deal with national affairs throughout his tenure.

In order for President Roh to avoid following in the footsteps of Carter, he might have to work first on treating the osteoporosis the National Intelligence Service is suffering from.

Song Mun-hong, Editorial Writer, songmh@donga.com