[Viewpoint]Spy hardWhen the Cold War ended, intelligence agents from the superpowers could no longer be at the forefront of two camps, the East and the West.
The elite intelligence agents who lost their jobs become engaged in die-hard fights with “presumed enemies” not knowing the reasons, at the request of unidentifiable clients somewhere in the cities of Europe who were offering big money.
The film “Ronin,” starring Jean Reno and Robert De Niro, shows how formerly influential members of society, who were in charge of sustaining the international order during the Cold War, tried to adjust to their changed surroundings.
To apply this to today’s topic, the issue is whether our National Intelligence Service, which undertakes “national intelligence,” plays an appropriate role considering the social maturity and level of democratization we have achieved.
There is heated controversy over whether the National Intelligence Service was involved in the disclosure of presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak’s personal information.
Because of the many aspects of this matter ― national security, human rights infringements, the disclosure of private information, intervention into the elections and corruption ― it is hard to discuss the situation from one standpoint.
Nevertheless, according to the National Intelligence Service, the essence of the matter is understanding its interpretation of the term “national security.”
The agency wants to justify its activity by saying that a corruption scandal involving the property of a high ranking official and would-be presidential candidate poses a potential threat to social stability, and therefore, national security.
The recent controversy means that a judgment will need to be made as to whether the National Intelligence Service’s decision to collect and produce reports about high ranking officials, including the powerful presidential candidate Lee, is a national security matter.
In the case of the United States, the conflict began to sharpen between itself and the former Soviet Union in 1947. That’s when the post-war reconciliation period ended.
Although many people, like then-U.S. President Harry S. Truman, worried about expanding the intelligence agency, the confrontation with the former Soviet Union was the excuse used to explain every political issue at home and abroad. In the case of the United States, which needed to have displayed leadership in the international community, the existence of an organization like the Central Intelligence Agency may have been indispensable.
The intelligence-related activities in the U.S. are functionally differentiated, far different from the comprehensive functions of our national intelligence agency.
The roles of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Defense Intelligence Agency are clearly divided. But our national intelligence agency carries out these functions all by itself.
Of course, given the special nature of handling North Korean affairs, the comprehensive character of intelligence-related activities of our National Intelligence Service is understandable to a certain degree.
Nevertheless, gathering personal information about a presidential candidate, as the intelligence agency did, not only seems unrelated to the agency’s scope of business but also taints the agency with the stigma that it is involved in politics.
The spy agency argues that corruption-related intelligence gathering should be considered legitimate, but this argument makes sense only when related affairs are effectively differentiated from other law-enforcement agencies, such as the prosecutors’ office, the police and administrative departments, including the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea, the National Tax Service and economic affairs departments. The agency should keep its coverage limited to overseas matters and North Korea.
As a Chinese saying goes, “A mandarin orange becomes a hardy orange when it is transplanted across the Yellow River.” Along those lines, the functional development of the U.S. intelligence agency became a symbol of Cold War-style national authority when it came to our country across the Pacific Ocean.
At present, our society’s clock is ticking toward globalization and becoming an advanced country. But what time does the clock of the National Intelligence Service, which claims to be at the forefront of intelligence, point at now?
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park In-hwi