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NIS Could Lose Wiretap Authority

Posted November. 24, 2005 08:29,   


The main goal of a National Intelligence Service (NIS) reform plan would remove the agency’s wiretap authority while minimizing the level of the organization’s shakeup.

The NIS is insisting, however, that instead of a sweeping shakeup stemming from public pressure, it would be better to help the organization with its own efforts to reshape itself.

When it comes to eavesdropping, new articles banning the NIS from wiretapping and allowing it the right to refuse orders from seniors will be imposed on the NIS since it is analyzed that demand from political powers and seniors catering to them caused the whole problem.

With regard to abolishing the security investigation right, the organization argued against it, citing North Korea’s continuing efforts to spy on South Korea.

The institution insisted on retaining its investigation power, saying the North is spying on the South through other countries, while sticking to its strategy to communize the Korean peninsula since the 6/15 summit. The body also emphasized that it arrested 109 of 123 spies detained after 1990, 89 percent of the total, and 14 of 16 North Korean undercover agents since 2000.

In addition, there are those with the opinion that legal eavesdropping should be beefed up. They cite examples of the 2001 Patriot Act in the U.S., and similar anti-terrorism and investigative measures taken in 2000 by Britain and Canada.

The reform plan also revealed that the government is considering introducing a system to establish the NIS head’s tenure of office since the body’s operation is not working independently, the head’s tenure dependent on the president

Feasibility and problems-

Most of the plans, like the tenure system or letting other institutions possess wiretapping devices, require revised laws, which means reform needs National Assembly approval.

As opinions from the political community are important, it is in doubt how much the reform plan will be reflected.

Im Jong-in of the ruling party, chairman of the NIS reform subcommittee of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, said that if the sub-committee submits a reform proposal, the committee should hold a public discussion of the NIS’s own plan, implying that things would not go as the organization hopes it would. The sub-committee plans to present the NIS reform proposal by the end of the year.

Neither the ruling nor the opposition party has yet to come up with a NIS reform proposal. Still, the ruling party is considering an alternative to downsize the NIS’s domestic intelligence function and shake it up.

Lawmaker Kim Sung-gon, vice leader of the NIS reform planning group in the ruling party, said, “It is meaningless to divide the NIS organization by its region; the domestic group and overseas group. We are considering measures to departmentalize the group by its working functions; terror, industry, international crime and etc.”

The main opposition party had two meetings after forming a task force to reform the NIS in August. Its floor leader said that the reform should contain content to ban political interference, authority abuses, and wiretapping fit for the era of globalization, and that the content should be made in a way that doesn’t undermine the importance of the institution.

Civic groups are also calling for the abolition or sharp shrinkage of power in the domestic area of the body, signaling ongoing negotiations with the organization.

An NIS official put significance on its own proposal, saying that the organization intends to improve its evil practices to date by giving up wiretapping and introducing the right to refuse unlawful orders from seniors so the National Assembly has few reasons to reject the proposal as a whole.

Yet some point out that the institution’s own plan is excessively lenient.

A security expert said, “The body should eavesdrop as necessary in terms of anti-communism investigations and counterintelligence efforts against terrorism. If the agency gives its wiretap duties to the other agencies, what on earth does it do? Isn’t it avoiding responsibility because it is now suffering due to the eavesdropping scandal?”

A former NIS official expressed concern, saying that “it is already possible to refuse unlawful orders from seniors under the current regulations. Too much emphasis could harm its operation, which has no choice but to undergo illegal things basically. ”