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[Op-Ed] Secret Agent ‘Stars’

Posted January. 05, 2010 09:05,   


The security exhibition hall of the National Intelligence Service in Seoul has a slate with 46 stars engraved. What each star represents is found in a tower standing at the foot of a mountain near the main entrance of headquarters. Inside the tower is a black slate with the names of 46 agents together with the phrase “Precious souls buried in the nation’s heart.” The stars represent agents killed in the line of duty since the days of the (South) Korea Central Intelligence Agency, the former name of the spy authority. One such agent was Choi Deok-geun, who was killed while a consular representative in Vladivostok, Russia, in 1996. Russian authorities have yet to find his murderer.

Secret agents across the world work under pseudonyms. In South Korea, the real names of agents killed in the line of duty are engraved deep down the tower. The tradition of using a star to represent a slain agent instead of his or her name came from the U.S. CIA, whose stars represent those killed in an operation instead of those who perished in the line of duty. Sixty-two stars are engraved on the wall of the CIA Museum in Langley, Virginia. Seven stars will be added to honor the seven CIA agents killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan Wednesday last week, the CIA’s biggest loss since eight staff were killed in Beirut in 1983. U.S. President Barack Obama, who was on vacation when the seven were killed, immediately wrote a condolatory letter to the families of the slain agents. He said, “The men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan did their duty with courage, honor and excellence, and we must draw strength from the example of their sacrifice.”

The highlight of intelligence activities is overseas operations, which are an “economic option” to resolve problems that diplomatic efforts cannot. South Korean intelligence agency runs a regional system that assigns the first team head overseas operations and the second team head domestic operations. The CIA has a functional system that assigns the first team head intelligence gathering and the second team head operational activities. Intelligence gathering holds more weight in the former system while the latter emphasizes operational activities. South Korean intelligence agency reportedly plans to change its system to the functional system.

The mottos of the now-defunct (South) Korean Central Intelligence Agency and the Agency for National Security Planning were “We work in the shadows but work for sunlight.” The motto was changed to “Intelligence is national power” when the spy authority was renamed the National Intelligence Service. The Lee Myung-bak administration has changed the motto yet again to “Nameless dedication to liberty and truth.” North Korea is suppressing its people and threatening world peace to maintain its communist regime. The “nameless dedication” of South Korean agents will hopefully serve as the foundation for peaceful Korean reunification and provide a light of hope for the North Korean people.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)