[TODAY]In Intelligence, National Interest Is FirstIt would not be too much of a stretch to say that the history of international politics since 1947, when President Truman set up the Central Intelligence Agency, is the history of the CIA's major secret operations. The first-ever mission carried out by the agency's Office of Policy and Planning was toppling the Mossadegh government of Iran that was trying to take over a British petroleum concern. It handed over power to the Shah in 1953 and caused a major change in Middle Eastern politics.
In Central and South America, the CIA supported or led coups, dispatched American troops and brought leaders to power in more than 13 countries from the 1950s through the 1990s.
In 1961, the CIA played a key role in a failed Cuba invasion. In 1973, it helped in ousting President Allende of Chile in a coup and brought the right-wing General Pinochet to power.
With money made through secret arms exports to Iran, the CIA helped the anti-communist contras in Nicaragua and ousted the Marxist government of the Sandinistas. These were Latin American versions of toppling the Mossadegh government.
Edward Lansdale, the legendary figure who, as an adviser to President Magsaysay of the Philippines, led the effort to eradicate communist guerrillas, attempted to topple the Ho Chi Minh regime in North Vietnam in the late 1950s and to stabilize South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem government, but he failed. He became the prototype of the "Ugly American," and the United States subsequently plunged into the quagmire of the Vietnam War.
Traces of the presence of CIA operatives can also be detected in the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the assassination of Congo's Prime Minister Lumumba in 1961, the ouster of Indonesia's President Sukarno and the beginning of General Suharto's military dictatorship in 1965, the assassination of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and the fall of Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia in 1970.
Comparing Korea's National Intelligence Service to the U.S. intelligence agency, which has been so active in the past half-century, should make us feel ashamed of how the Korean agency has gradually withdrawn from its obligation to promote our national interests.
The CIA promoted what it thought was in America's national interests, and there were no personal interests on the part of the operatives in any of these operations.
Some of our intelligence officers, relying on their political connections, formed factions based on regional and school ties and are accused of fattening their own stomachs by receiving bribes from dot-com start-ups. If the reinvestigation that was launched recently into major financial scandals is carried out properly, the suspicions will no doubt turn out to be well-founded and involve powerful officials.
If the CIA was major league baseball, the NIS would be a neighborhood baseball tournament. If this seems harsh, given the difference in military and economic might between the United States and Korea, let's compare the NIS to the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Mossad tracked down Adolf Eichmann, one of the men who masterminded the Holocaust, and put him on trial in an Israeli court. It also found Black September, a group of Arab terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, and got rid of them. The rescue of an Israeli plane that was hijacked to Uganda is regarded as one of the most successful covert operations in history. Where among our intelligence officers can we find the sense of duty and devotion of Mossad agents?
South Korea's National Intelligence Service, formerly known as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, carried out large intelligence operations in the past. It halted North Korean propaganda operations in East Berlin in the 1960s, its then-head, Lee Hu-rak, made a secret trip to Pyeongyang in 1972 and met with Kim Il-sung, and it triggered a lobbying scandal in the United States Congress in an effort to prevent the United States from withdrawing its troops from Korea. While there may have been problems with the methods, the motivation behind all of these operations was public interest and not personal gain.
The financial scandal-tainted NIS officials are enemies of the organization. The structural and "cultural" corruption in the intelligence agency cannot be eradicated by just firing people here and there and reinvestigating scandals. Hegel once said, "Gangrenous limbs cannot be cured by lavender water."
Belatedly or not, the National Intelligence Service will be able to play its proper role only when its rotten limbs are amputated. The reality of Korean politics dictates that President Kim Dae-jung is the only person able to carry out that task.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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