What intelligence?The ruling Grand National Party and the new Democratic Unity Party are mired in a dirty fight over our government’s total lack of intelligence about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The National Intelligence Service turned out to have been completely unaware of the cataclysmic incident in Pyongyang for over 51 hours until North Korea officially announced the death of its “dear leader” at noon on Dec. 19.
Against that backdrop, the ruling party argues that the dismantling of human intelligence networks under the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations is responsible for our weak intelligence on North Korea. The opposition blames the deterioration of South-North relations since the launch of the Lee Myung-bak administration. In fact, both the ruling and opposition parties should take responsibility for this dangerous intelligence crisis.
The frightening vulnerability of our intelligence on the North primarily stems from the politicization of the NIS. All previous governments - including the Lee Myung-bak administration - are notorious for all-out efforts to use the central intelligence arm to their own benefit. And intelligence officials in the higher echelons, in particular, sought political gains by connecting themselves with the frontrunner in presidential elections. And after their candidates were elected president, they purged their rivals inside the NIS, who were favored by previous administrations.
Top officers habitually contacted political bigwigs to maintain their current posts or seek promotions later. Kim Man-bok, former NIS head, even dared to appear at a public event accompanied by his subordinates to show off his achievements under the Lee administration despite an obligation to conceal his identity in public.
The United States took measures to combine several intelligence organizations to improve its intelligence gathering after the September 11 attacks. But our intelligence agency has never been revamped since the establishment of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency decades ago. Now, the government must redefine the role of NIS and come up with drastic measures that will sharply improve our intelligence competence on a national and worldwide level.
Above all, the government must prepare measures to prevent any administration from taking advantage of the intelligence agency in the future.