[EDITORIALS] Power Needs Strong ControlShin Kuhn, the new director general of the National Intelligence Service, said at his inaugural ceremony, "It is our duty to check all government affairs and provide the president with advance information."
This sounds like the NIS aims to recover its initial function as an information collector, breaking away from its emphasis on reconciliation policy toward the North when the service was led by Lim Dong-won. However, the nuance of the word, "advance information on state affairs," reminds us of past NIS surveillance of persons, including politicians, who were considered a threat to the government's authority.
The NIS serves an important purpose. Its tasks include countering communist influences, espionage, terror, rebellion, and invasion. As well as collecting intelligence information and general information on economics and trade within the country, it must watch trends abroad. Rather than using its power and authority for national security, however, it is more known for using its power to protect the administration's interests. The biggest victim of such behavior, President Kim Dae-jung, himself promised repeatedly to bar the NIS from interfering in politics. If he really means this, Mr. Shin's pledge to provide advance information on state affairs must end at just that. He must remember that if such activities lead to meddling in politics, illegal information gathering and surveillance of politicians, the damage will be severe. Already, the opposition is nervous about the possibility that the NIS will be used in next year's provincial and presidential elections. Such suspicions must be overcome.
We have been told that, due to the current government's reconciliation policy toward North Korea, some officials in charge of combatting communism are suffering from an ideological crisis. Some even point out that the NIS's fight against communism and espionage have been neglected because the former NIS chief served personally as a window to the North. Instead of focusing his attention on state affairs, Mr. Shin must rush to strengthen its ability to combat communism and enhance our security.
The image of the NIS is tainted by alleged misuse of its funds for election purposes. Although such acts are in the past, people still think of the NIS as a "damp organization." If the NIS wants to find a place in our society as a respected, trusted organization, it must faithfully implement its basic responsibility to protect national security and stay out of politics.