[OUTLOOK]Intelligence failures exposed

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[OUTLOOK]Intelligence failures exposed

The tragedy of Kim Sun-il’s death in Iraq once again reminds us of the importance of the government’s ability to handle high level of intelligence in these modern days.
The Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, the assassination of the Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov and the death of Kim Sun-il have something in common: They were acts committed by militant Islamic groups.
These incidents show us that the nation-states must acquire new capabilities and skills to deal with terrorism, a clear and present danger the world confronts in the 21st century.
These incidents occurred because of failures in government intelligence. The United States, with the world’s leading intelligence agency, had acquired prior information about the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but this information was ignored in the course of information processing, ultimately resulting in a major tragedy.
Russia’s Federal Security Bureau had also received information about the assassination plan by Chechen rebel forces beforehand. But, as in the case of the United States, the information was not given sufficient attention as it was being processed, and various people, including the Chechen president, were sacrificed as a result.
Several days ago, a young South Korean man lost his life in Iraq when there was a possibility that he might have been saved had our government reacted promptly.
Intelligence capability is largely divided into the ability to gather, apply and propagate information. In the case of Kim Sun-il’s death, the Korean government was lacking in all three categories. In particular, it showed weakness in information gathering.
Not only did the hurried manner in which the Korean government dealt with the situation disappoint the public, its ability to analyze and apply information was exposed as poor. Our government did not only lack basic information on how to negotiate with the kidnappers, it also failed to employ a counter strategy based on Islamic sentiments.
There is also strong doubt as to whether the government was working closely with the United States, our ally and a country that holds major intelligence on Iraq. It is puzzling, as well as dangerous, that intelligence collaboration with the United States should be so weak at a time when we are preparing to send the first batch of additional troops to Iraq.
Overall, we do not have many Middle East experts who are familiar with the situation in Iraq. The government did not get a chance to negotiate directly with Kim Sun-il’s kidnappers, because it could not find an appropriate channel.
The government says it was only given 24 hours to negotiate, but that claim is now being disputed. There were no information channels or contacts with various non-official organizations or expert groups there that normally should have taken place before the actual negotiations.
The power to propagate information is another measure of a state’s diplomatic ability. Korean diplomacy revealed its weakness in this area as well.
Currently, Korea is losing its communication channels through which it can explain its position to closest ally, the United States. Owing to the discrepancy of opinion between civic groups and government agencies, we fail to demonstrate the synergistic effect of a united country.
Korea has maintained a long, amicable relationship with Middle Eastern countries, and there are various deep networks in the private sector. There are more businesspeople and laborers in Korea who have come into contact with Islam than anywhere else in the world.
The Korean economy experienced a “Middle East boom” in the 1980s, which played a big role in spurring and sustaining the high rate of growth. Korea enjoys many competitive advantages in the Middle East, and most Islamic nations hold a favorable view of Korea.
At a National Assembly hearing concerning the death of Kim Sun-il, the foreign minister said that the problems were in information capability and in negotiating skills, but not “in the system itself.” Not many are convinced. This tragedy occurred because the government failed to establish a system that can maximize Korea’s information capability.
The “hermit kingdom” has now become an object of international terrorism. It now faces the challenge of behaving appropriately in international society, while responding to the challenges.
Starting in August, nearly 3,000 of our youths will be sent to Iraq, where terror and violence run rampant, to join the allied forces led by the United States. With the poor intelligence capability we have now, it would be hard to guarantee the safety of our men and women. We have to rebuild an information-sharing system quickly and restore cooperation channels with the United States.
Korea must strengthen its intelligence capability if it wants to become a truly advanced country. Along with the enhancement of intelligence capability, it should restructure its governmental organizations.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Incheon University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Shin Bum-sik
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