Fumbling on intelligence

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Fumbling on intelligence

The head of the National Intelligence Service, Won Sei-hoon, has finally appeared before the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly and answered a barrage of questions from lawmakers on our defective intelligence capability. But his explanations only make us wonder whether our intelligence and military authorities are doing their job well.

First of all, the intelligence chief admitted that the NIS didn’t take any action even after obtaining critical information in August indicating that North Korea was preparing to launch a massive attack against the five islands in the tense waters of the Yellow Sea.

He also said that the agency was unable to foresee an attack on civilian areas of Yeonpyeong Island because the North Koreans used plain, not coded, text when communicating by radio among themselves, which led the South to believe it was not important. He explained the NIS can’t predict aggressive acts as the North routinely engages in such threats. He added that our military expected the North to fire artillery shells into the waters south of the Northern Limit Line, not onto the island itself.

His statement amounts to an admission that the military and intelligence authorities could not forecast the attack because North Korea caught its counterpart off guard on the day of the attack by using wire communication, which is impossible to intercept. In the end, the military and the intelligence agency were completely fooled by the North’s psychological warfare. After fully grasping our intelligence capability, North Korea tricked us by first using wireless communications that could be intercepted and then switching to wire communications before the attack.

Our military had noticed the North’s abnormal movements such as the forward deployment of short-range guns and jet fighters shortly before the attack, but missed a key chance to prepare for it. If it had been on full alert by effectively analyzing the suspicious movements, it could have been very different. Moreover, North Korea conducted large-scale artillery firing drills targeting the waters to the north of the NLL last January and the waters to the south of the NLL in August.

Security experts often attribute our lack of intelligence on North Korea to the Sunshine Policy that had been aggressively pursued for the past ten years. But we have no time to accuse the past two administrations for the debacle. Intelligence is key to modern warfare. We urge all the parties to wake up to the urgent call.

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