Unraveling the laptop fiasco

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Unraveling the laptop fiasco

The latest incident involving unidentified agents breaking into a hotel room of a member of an Indonesian delegation interested in purchasing Korean jets will bring delicate problems. The fact that a National Intelligence Service agent visited the police precinct the day after the incident to ask about the case also strongly suggests the possibility of the spy agency’s involvement. At the moment, the related government authorities, including the NIS in particular, are keeping mum, citing their cherished principle of “Neither confirm nor deny.” After the news broke, the Indonesian government officially requested Korea to confirm if local media reports about NIS involvement were true, deepening worries that the case could become a diplomatic thorn between the two governments.

Who did it and for what motive will be disclosed when the investigation is completed. But the case already raises serious doubts because the international community will not regard it as a coincidence that the break-in occurred when the delegation was meeting with President Lee Myung-bak. The suspects in question reportedly broke into the hotel room to gain access to the delegation’s laptop computers. The fiasco bodes ill for future agreements or deals with other government agencies or private companies, undoubtedly making them wary of Korea’s intelligence agency’s invisible role.

If it turns out that the NIS was behind the theft, it will damage the credibility of Korea’s other intelligence organizations as well. The argument that other nations’ intelligence agencies are engaged in similar activities in the name of national interests doesn’t justify the case. Even if it were a legitimate activity, it is still disappointing to see how the NIS handled it before and after news reports. We are dumbfounded by the quality of our intelligence activities, particularly in a land constantly confronted by North Korea’s military threats. In light of the North’s attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island last year, our intelligence agencies carry more responsibility than ever before. Yet their actions only make us doubt their abilities and discipline.

The most urgent job now is to minimize the repercussions from the incident in the international community. At the same time, however, the gravity of the situation demands the administration explain what really happened. It must also come up with ways to dispel the public’s worries about intelligence agencies. When people’s trust in the nation’s intelligence agency collapses, our security crumbles, too.
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