[EDITORIALS]Spy-vs.-Spy Has Serious Implications

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[EDITORIALS]Spy-vs.-Spy Has Serious Implications

An unprecedented controversy over the leaking of government secrets has erupted with the abrupt firing of a director, identified only as Mr. Ahn, who was a North Korea expert at the National Intelligence Service. His job entailed the collection of information on the North, devising strategies and managing official and unofficial contacts with the North. He is suspected of having handed over secret and highly sensitive information on North Korea to a foreign intelligence agent working in Seoul in exchange for money. The National Intelligence Service clarified, "We fired him in order to reinstall discipline in the organization. He did not leak sensitive information, but he violated internal regulations that require officials to report meetings with foreign intelligence agents in advance." Of course, it is good that the agency blocked further leakages by early detection. But it should deal with the matter with a sense of alarm that such security laxity might be repeated at the country's highest information gathering organization.

An intense information war is being waged in Seoul after the summit meeting in Pyongyang last year. Intelligence agents from the United States, Japan, China and Russia are all competing for a piece of the pie in a spy game reminiscent of a 007 movie. The United States is more advanced than we are in technological intelligence gathering using spy satellites and high-altitude reconnaissance planes. But Korea is better than the United States in collecting human intelligence about the North. It has been noted that cracks are developing in the cooperative relationship between the two countries because of the conflict in their North Korea policies since the inauguration of the Bush administration. In addition, the view that there is conflict between the two countries concerning the "sunshine policy" that Mr. Ahn's office pursued is spreading to the political arena.

The Grand National Party is making the affair a political issue, saying it stemmed from disorder in the foundations of the nation and an overall slackening of security.

The National Intelligence Service must clarify these mysteries and suspicions. How much information changed hands, and what was its value? It should inform the people in detail.

Further, it should take up the matter with the organization that employs Mr. Ahn's contact. The United States applies strict rules to the mishandling of classified information, as in the case of the jailing of Robert Kim, who was punished for spying despite our people's appeal to be lenient to him. The opposition party is pointing to Mr. Kim's case and pressing for a comprehensive investigation of the foreign intelligence official. The intelligence agency said it has already expressed its concern to the concerned embassy and requested that such incidents not be repeated.

The opposition party's claims are worthy of heeding to. As long as the foreign official is suspected of having paid Mr. Ahn for information, the concerned country's intelligence agency should also actively cooperate in the investigation and clarify what must be clarified.

As the information market gets bigger, illicit dealings and corruption are likely to increase as well. The National Intelligence Service badly needs to tighten its loose discipline. Intelligence officials should remind themselves that information gathered at work is to be taken all the way to the tomb.

The present affair should not negatively affect already skewed inter-Korean relations. Close cooperation in information-sharing between Korea and the United States should not be adversely affected either.
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