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[Opinion] Information and Security

Posted September. 04, 2007 07:45,   


During the early years of President Park Jeong-hee administration, a North Korean patrol ship abducted a South Korean shipping vessel in vicinity of the Northern Limit Line. North Korea held the boat and fishermen captive at a port in Hwanghae Province, and interrogated them while reporting any updates to the authorities.

Our military intelligence agency was able to decode the encrypted wireless messages and thus had real-time monitoring of the situation. Unfortunately, the then minister of National Defense made a grave mistake during a press conference: He specifically disclosed the contents of the intercepted messages as if he were broadcasting them.

This mistake, which tipped the North Koreans off, neutralized Korean intelligence gathering activities for a while because they had been relying on wireless tapping for their information. The North altered its encryption system after having been alarmed by the fact that the South had an exact understanding of their movements.

During the 1983 Dadaepo armed spy infiltration incident, during which the spies were apprehended alive, South Korea was victorious by pre-deploying trained special agents on site after intercepting infiltration planning transmissions one month prior to the actual raid. The government released a false statement in order to hide the coup by announcing that, “The patrolling coast guard infantrymen captured the spies after running in to them on a random patrol.”

The state in which an enemy’s status is totally unknown because of a failure to decode their encryption system is called “Wireless Silence” in the intelligence community. The knowledge of that our side is aware of an enemy’s status is itself a security matter. We are reminded of the importance of intelligence and security by taking a look at the slogan of former National Intelligence Service (NIS) organizations -the Korean Central Intelligence Agency and the Agency for National Security Planning- : “Stay in the dark and aim for the light.” In the world of intelligence, not only are the contents of missions secret, but also the status and background of the members. This is why the intelligence agents present themselves as “Executive Director of XX Cultural Corporation” or “Managing Director of OO Public Corporation.”

NIS Director Kim Man-Bok’s public appearance and public statements -who commanded the hostage release negotiations with the Taliban on site- were erroneous actions, totally oblivious of his position as the top national intelligence officer. The same applies to the “man in sunglasses,” who appeared several times. Moreover, it caused a national disgrace in that he let the whole world witness the fact that the director of Korea’s NIS was directly involved in negotiations with a terrorist organization. Despite his desire to promote his achievements, and despite the fact that this incident could have been a boon to the ruling party, it was certainly not the director’s job to appear in public with terrorists. Aspirations and intelligence agencies cannot coexist. Intelligence must stay in the dark.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo, sooya@donga.com