[OUTLOOK]Sharpen intelligence ‘sword’

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[OUTLOOK]Sharpen intelligence ‘sword’

There is a military term, “collateral damage,” which refers to unintended damage that can occur when attacking an intended main target. At times, “collateral damage” can be the catalyst for graver consequences. Which was the case in Korean society during the past three months where the collateral damage over both illegal wiretapping and remarks by Professor Kang Jeong-koo of Dongguk Univer-sity have prompted serious repercussions for our national security.
National safety is maintained by two critical functions. One is the military function that responds to hard threats, while the other is the public security and counterespionage function that counters soft threats. National security is sustained when these two functions work in balance against these threats. The controversies of the national intelligence agency’s illegal wiretapping and Professor Kang’s remarks ― each case escalating the other ― has dealt a critical blow to our ability to deal with soft threats.
The National Intelligence Service, our primary intelligence agency, which is the backbone of that capacity, has been reduced to a near-vegetable state over the illegal wiretapping scandal. In addition, Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae’s order to the prosecution not to detain Mr. Kang when conducting their investigation, in effect, sealed the coffin where the National Security Law already lies. As a result, the Republic of Korea is now fully exposed, without any defense, to soft threats, which amount to indirect infiltration.
The North Korean intelligence authority is not likely to miss out on this chance. The North, ever attuned to the mood of the times, will seize on this opportunity. For more than the past half century, we have been subject to the constant threat of North Korean intelligence manuevers to communize the South. This threat was constant in our daily lives, sometime taking on such violent forms as bombings and kidnappings, but was also carried out in a subtle way, as a cancer spreads, by sickening our society’s identity and our collective sense as a community.
In the past, the scene of our national security has been an all-out struggle between our counterespionage and security system and the North’s intelligence operations.
These days, however, there is a prevailing mood in our society that once the North Korean nuclear problem is solved, the North no longer poses any kind of threat to us. But the North Korean nuclear program is not the only threat from North Korea. We should realize that we still face a real threat from the North to communize the South and that we will continue to face that in the days ahead. The North is not going to let go of “the chance to strengthen the revolutionary capability of the South,” which happens to be a deathbed wish of its founder, the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
Therefore, it’s evident that we should not disarm ourselves onesidedly. It’s time we revamped our ability to respond to soft threats. I am not suggesting an outdated ideological war. It is only proper that we restore our counterespionage ability to its original state so as to strengthen national security. Building a solid and efficient defense system so as to make no one dare to invade is a fundamental job for any country.
To that end, what is urgent is rendering help and support to the intelligence service so that it can shake off its depression and restore its vitality. We need to stridently deal with illegal acts but not cause the “collateral damage” of weakening the national security system in our zeal to ensure those same acts do not recur.
A well-known U.S. columnist, David Ignatius, in a recent column, criticized that U.S. intelligence agencies were moving slowly on reforms and stressed that re-establishing intelligence agencies was vital to the United States. Even the world’s superpower, the United States, realizes the importance of a sound intelligence system.
According to President Roh Moo-hyun, the National Intelligence Service is a “sword.” Needless to say, it is vital to our existence that we sharpen this “sword” in order to keep our nation strong. We should do service to our national security by first attending to the specific tasks at hand, such as reinvigorating the National Intelligence Service, before committing ourselves to the larger political tasks of overcoming the remnants of the Cold War and building a peace system on the peninsula.

* The writer, a former deputy director of the National Intelligence Service, is a visiting professor at University of Ulsan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Byong-ho

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