[Outlook]Spy-proofing the South

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[Outlook]Spy-proofing the South

‘The South, which was trying to undress the North, removed its coat instead.”

President Lee Myung-bak made this remark, using the fable from which the Sunshine Policy of the past decade takes its name to describe his feelings about the current state of affairs. In the story, the wind and the sun compete to get a man to take off his coat - the wind blows and the sun shines warmly. North Korea “taking off its coat” is it opening up to the world.

The Sunshine Policy represented the attempts of the two previous administrations to get North Korea to lower its guard and coax it into the international community. But instead, it led to the hard-line communist nation’s development of nuclear weapons, a clash in the Yellow Sea, the shooting death of a tourist at Mount Kumgang by North Korean soldiers and a double agent disguised as a defector.

All these results are far from what we originally wanted to achieve by reaching out to Pyongyang. In this regard, the president made a proper evaluation of the engagement policy.

Of all the wrongs that Pyongyang has committed over the past 10 years, fielding a spy in the South, who was recently unmasked, is one of the most shocking.

First of all, the arrested agent was disguised as a defector. Even at this very moment, countless North Koreans are escaping from the impoverished nation, risking their lives in order to free themselves from the oppression of the Kim Jong-il regime. Despite all manner of difficulties, we have been doing our best to help North Korean defectors settle in the South and build new lives here. This recent case, however, abused both the desperate situation of North Korean defectors and the kindness of the South Korean government. No matter how serious the confrontation between the South and the North Korean regime may be, it is inhumane to use the tag of defector as a cover for espionage.

Another shocking aspect of the case was that the woman spy turned out to be a double agent. Our intelligence authorities tried to get information on North Korea from her. This information has not yet been confirmed, as the investigation is ongoing, but one gets the impression that our spy agency handled this issue carelessly.

Even between friendly nations, agents are sometimes used to secretly gain information if the necessity arises. But it makes one wonder if the South Korean agents who were involved in this Korean Mata Hari case approached this situation with the proper attitude. It is a well-known fact that the intelligence agency is often overloaded with responsibilities, but it shouldn’t forget that only information from reliable sources is worth anything.

For the past 60 years, our military has carried out its duties on the frontline of national security. Thanks to such efforts, we have overcome the pain caused by the division of our nation, the war and the continuing confrontation with the North’s regime. Today, we have become the world’s 12th-largest economy. Recent surveys also reveal that the people deeply trust our military.

But it is unbelievable that the woman spy was able to infiltrate our military. She gave many lectures to South Korean officers and soldiers on national security and it is said that the materials she used in her lectures had been prepared by North Korea.

The officials in charge of troop information and education were also won over by the North Korean agent. It has been revealed that one of the officers didn’t report her even though he knew her identity, choosing instead to continue his relationship with her. Although such relationships are often hard to control, it is unthinkable and unforgivable for a professional soldier to have a relationship with an enemy agent.

People in the intelligence field can attest how difficult it is to catch a spy; it is more difficult than catching a star in the sky. Hearing this, one could assume that the recent case might just be the tip of the iceberg.

The military should be aware that there could be similar cases that haven’t been discovered yet. It must conduct thorough investigations and take the necessary measures. It should never again be used as a stage for North Korean agents to gain information.

It is good, however, that the question of who our country’s main enemy is, a matter that has been controversial in some parts of our military, can now be answered definitively. We should educate our soldiers as to who represents the primary threat. The military should know who it is protecting the people from.

If the military stands guard through the night without knowing what it is guarding against, its protection can’t guarantee us a peaceful dawn.


*The writer is a professor of public administration at Kookmin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Mok Jin-whyu

More in Columns

Finding our place

Diplomacy is about trust

More good than harm

For balanced information intake

Intelligent disobedience

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now