[FOUNTAIN]Intelligence gathering comes at a cost

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[FOUNTAIN]Intelligence gathering comes at a cost

One afternoon in August 2002, a convoy of a Land Cruiser, a Jeep Cherokee and a truck set out in northern Iraq. Fourteen Central Intelligence Agency field agents were riding in the convoy to enter the Kurdish region for a special operation.
The Land Cruiser was loaded with an extraordinary cargo that weighed 830 kilograms (1,830 pounds). The black boxes were filled with $1 bills. The vehicle was transporting $38.4 million which was to be handed over to Iraqi leaders to win the hearts of locals.
The first targets were an Islamic leader and his two sons. The CIA provided the family with $135,000 every month. The sum grew to $1 million a month right before the war began. Such spending was only possible because the CIA had secured a budget of $189 million for non-combatant operations to persuade Iraqi citizens.
It’s not that the Central Intelligence Agency was always flush with cash. During the Clinton administration, the CIA always had a tight budget. Then CIA chief George Tenet had to personally visit the Congressional Budget Office to get $20,000 to purchase communications devices for field officers.
The Bush administration may have been especially generous on intelligence expenses because of the special situation of the war against Iraq. Critics might call it America’s hegemonic effort to maintain its status as a sole superpower. Whatever the intention, the United States has proven that a powerful nation should make investments to gather intelligence.
A simple comparison might not work here, but the kidnapping and murder of Kim Sun-il revealed how Seoul lacked intelligence capabilities. The government not only failed to acknowledge the kidnapping on time but also had no channel to contact the militant group responsible for the terror. In a world ruled by intelligence, it is pathetic that only nine people are working at the embassy in Iraq, where 3,700 troops are to be dispatched.
The National Assembly will inspect the government agencies on their responses to the tragic murder of Mr. Kim. The inspection should be focused on what has made the intelligence gathering so fragile and how to improve it. The horses might have been stolen, but if we fix the lock this time we can prevent further losses.

by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a political news deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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