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[Opinion] ‘New Security’

Posted September. 06, 2008 07:36,   


Korea’s national security agency has undergone a major change whenever a new administration has taken power. The agency debuted as the Korea Central Intelligence Agency in June 1961 but changed its name to the Ministry of National Security in January 1981 and to the National Intelligence Service in January 1999. Administrations kept changing the title in the name of reform. Such a reform pledge, however, has not been well kept. Under authoritarian governments, the agency conducted political surveillance and violated human rights. Under left-leaning presidents, agents made little effort to find spies and instead struggled to prop up the “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea. When the two Koreas held their first summit in 2000, the agency was thought to have lost its identity as an intelligence organization and was called an “osteoporosis patient.”

Lim Dong-won and Shin Gunn, who led the agency under the Kim Dae-jung administration, were found guilty of illegal wiretapping after Kim left office. Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the agency was suspected of political surveillance since it inspected property trading documents of Lee Myung-bak, who was then the presidential candidate of the Grand National Party. At the time, intelligence director Kim Man-bok resigned after he leaked news of his secret talks with North Korea’s unification minister in Pyongyang.

The agency is trying to revise the Communications Privacy Act to extend the scope of its work and legally monitor mobile phone calls. It will add to its responsibilities “new security,” which includes industrial technology, economy, environment and energy. Article III of the National Intelligence Act stipulates that the agency’s duties are limited to information gathering, confidential national intelligence, investigation of suspects engaged in internal or external disturbances, and rebellions. Facing harsh criticism from certain media that the government is trying to become all powerful again, intelligence authorities say their reform efforts are not distorted. They say they are trying to revise the Communications Privacy Act to clarify the role of the court, police, prosecutors and service providers.

Given that intelligence agencies in other countries gather information on economic affairs for national interest, it is hard to blame the spy agency for adding “new security” to its tasks. The government, however, needs effective measures to prevent the agency from abusing its new power. It should remember that former governments failed to reform the agency due to its actions failing to match its words.

Editorial Writer Kwon Soon-taek (maypole@donga.com)