Spying too hard

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Spying too hard

The amateurish antics of the National Intelligence Service agents who reportedly broke into the hotel room of an Indonesian official visiting Korea to discuss a potential purchase of Korean fighter jets and other military weapons is creating a big stir across the country.

The incident particularly attracts our attention because a division of the NIS, which is suspected to be directly involved in the fiasco, is renowned for spying activities that go too far. A year ago, the NIS made drastic adjustments to the jobs of its first, second and third deputy directors. Most of the trouble appears to stem from divisions under the command of the third deputy director.

Diplomatic relations between Korea and Libya almost reached the point of rupture because of the excessive activities of agents under the third deputy director. Their obtrusive behavior reportedly went so far as to demand that Korean conglomerates send their investment plans, a business secret, to them. The deputy director in question even caused an uproar by making public a satellite photo that showed the weak military response to North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island when he testified at a National Assembly Intelligence Committee hearing last November. He also provoked controversy by stating that he had reported to the president about the North’s movement before the bombardment.

In any country, intelligence agencies’ activities are essential to national security. But if an agency makes trouble as often as NIS does, it may be better for a country to do without it. Under the authoritarian governments of the past, the NIS’s predecessors - the Agency of National Security Planning and the Korea Central Intelligence Agency - came under severe criticism because they engaged in protecting the security of a regime, not the country, and were responsible for countless human rights abuses like torture and illegal wiretapping.

Whenever a new regime takes power, the national intelligence agency is caught in a maelstrom of reform, but it never really changes. The agency reportedly hired only those who agree with the philosophy of the current regime. That has deepened a rift within the agency, while it simultaneously enjoys flaunting its accomplishments.

For example, Kim Man-bok, director of the NIS when a group of Korean missionaries was kidnapped by the Taliban, incited criticism by disclosing the identity of a local agent who worked to negotiate their release. It is time to totally rejuvenate the agency.

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