Dual Roles of Intelligence Service

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Dual Roles of Intelligence Service

Hwang Jang-yop, the highest ranking North Korean official to defect, found asylum in South Korea in 1997, risking death rather than living under a system which he grew to abhor. While he was in North Korea, he was a scholar who came up with the concept of "juche," or self-reliance, which forms the basis of North Korea''s system. Now he has come forward to criticize the South Korean government, accusing it of preventing him from expressing his views.

Mr. Hwang contends that the National Intelligence Service has prevented him from contacting politicians and journalists, giving speeches, publishing books and taking part in activities as a private citizen. The government maintains that it is acting in Mr. Hwang''s best interest, that it is protecting him from potential harm. Yet Mr. Hwang has said he will not abide the government constraints. When former President Kim Young-sam asked for a meeting with Mr. Hwang and the National Assembly requested his presence as a witness, Mr. Hwang turned them down, saying that he did not want to be used as a political pawn. Now it appears that the intelligence service influenced his refusals. Mr. Hwang alleges that with the dramatic developments in inter-Korean relations, the government forced a magazine to use an alias when it published an article he contributed.

The rationale for limiting Mr. Hwang''s exposure is understandable. Mr. Hwang insists that North Korea should be forced to collapse and his criticism of the North''s regime and its leader, Kim Jong-il, is extreme. He has advocated for the complete isolation of the North, that it should be driven into a corner without humanitarian aid or economic cooperation, and that its system is unsalvageable.

We do not agree with Mr. Hwang''s hard-line stance. Even though some elements of his analysis of and insight into the North are worthy of consideration, we cannot turn a blind eye to North Korea''s economic plight. We believe that we should encourage North Korea to reform slowly and open up through the gradual expansion of exchanges. We also believe that South Koreans have been supportive of the government''s engagement policy toward the North for the same reasons. And while Mr. Hwang''s opinions do not differ from South Korean hawks, everyone has the right to free speech, and he should not be the exception. In light of his former position in the North, his knowledge and information on its power structure and influential figures will be even more useful in the era of reconciliation and cooperation.

These facts notwithstanding, the intelligence service has effectively muzzled and restricted Mr. Hwang''s activities. If it was an attempt to appease the North Korean authorities, who have marked Mr. Hwang as a traitor, it was a spineless action to take.

The South''s intelligence arm says that Mr. Hwang is guaranteed freedom of activity and that he has been protected from North Korean terrorism, but few believe these assertions. The actions of the intelligence service have raised serious questions that demand forthright answers. One example is the recent case involving Chang Chung-sik, the president of the South Korean Red Cross Society, who was compelled to send an apology to the North Koreans after they objected to comments he made in an interview with a magazine in which he expressed his views on the North. This kind of incident keeps happening because the intelligence service currently has two conflicting functions: reconciliation and cooperation on the one hand, and national security on the other. The government should separate negotiations with North Korea from issues of national security.

by Song Chin-hyok

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