Spying in the wrong places

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Spying in the wrong places

The Grand National Party will ask prosecutors to investigate just how and why a National Intelligence Service official gained access to the real estate registry of a relative of presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak. The agency said the information was obtained by a “legal” corruption investigation team set up in May 2004 to probe Lee’s real estate affairs. It must have been an exceptionally serious case to involve the nation’s main spy agency.
The prosecution must investigate the truth of the matter on two points. First, it must decide whether the existence of the team itself violated laws limiting the scope of the National Intelligence Service and prohibiting it from interfering in politics.
Second, prosecutors must ask whether a second team in the agency concentrated on collecting Lee’s private information so that it could be used to smear him, as the GNP presidential candidate claims.
The spy agency claims that the legal basis for its corruption investigation team can be found in Article 3 of the National Intelligence Service Act.
That law sets up the legal grounds for the collection, preparation and distribution of information, both overseas and domestic. The spy agency emphasized that the concept of national security in today’s world deals with all fields, and that an investigation into corruption could be seen as something routine for the intelligence agency to do.
Unfortunately, this explanation leaves plenty unexplained. Corruption charges against public figures should be fundamentally handled by the Board of Audit and Inspection and prosecutors.
If the intelligence agency goes through the trouble of establishing and operating a team to investigate corruption charges against politicians, it is bound to sooner or later be accused of political interference.
Putting all finer points aside, what does the allegation that Lee illicitly owns a building in southern Seoul have to do with social stability or national security?
Was the spy agency collecting information on Lee because he was a potential opposition candidate for president?
Did the team not also probe into real estate affairs of the late Choi Tae-min, a close acquaintance of Park Geun-hye?
If the National Intelligence Service under the Roh Moo-hyun administration is so obsessed with collecting information for the sake of power, is it any better than its predecessors during the authoritarian regimes in the past?
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