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[Editorial] Restoring the Intelligence System

Posted September. 12, 2008 01:06,   


The United States, China, Russia and Japan are waging a fierce intelligence war over confirming the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. All available means and state-of-the-art technologies such as reconnaissance satellites above the Korean Peninsula have been mobilized in this war. World powers believe that gaining accurate information about the situation before others is crucial in effectively responding to contingencies. Seoul yesterday showed off its excellent intelligence capability by promptly announcing the details of Kim’s illness and the North’s internal power situation. The war, however, is not over yet.

If South Korea loses the intelligence war, its government will face difficulty in making its voice heard in the international community. Though Kim is allegedly capable of maintaining power for the time being, no one can predict what will happen in the North. Seoul cannot afford to miss a single detail about Kim and Pyongyang. Thus South Korea has to reinforce its surveillance system for gathering intelligence on the North, not to mention its alliance with the United States.

South Korean intelligence capability on the North was weakened under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. The two pro-North Korea presidents not only slashed the intelligence budget, but they also laid off intelligence experts. The South Korean National Intelligence Service, which should have spearheaded gathering intelligence on the communist regime, instead had to play the pivotal role of holding inter-Korean talks. Some critics even say South Korea’s intelligence gathering system on the North has collapsed.

Serious problems have also appeared in Seoul’s alliance with Washington. South Korea had better human intelligence than the United States and used to exchange information with Washington in return for visual and signal information acquired from advanced U.S. equipment. The previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, however, strained bilateral ties and made Washington hesitant to share intelligence with Seoul.

The Lee Myung-bak administration has begun to boost both the human and equipment intelligence networks. Though progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. A great deal of effort and time will be needed to restore the damaged intelligence system. Seoul will also have to beef up its alliance with Washington and quickly resume OPLAN 5029, a joint military exercise to prepare for a sudden collapse of North Korea. The exercise was halted by the Roh administration.