Letting the fox guard the henhouse

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Letting the fox guard the henhouse

The shocking arrest of a North Korean defector who worked to provide support to other defectors at Seoul City Hall has loud alarm bells ringing across the country. His arrest means that personal information of as many as 10,000 North Korean defectors in the capital - which account for some 42 percent of all defectors in the country - could have been delivered to the North. The incident points to a big loophole in the government’s support systems for defectors given that the act of espionage was committed by a 33-year-old North Korean defector without anyone noticing. The incident suggests that we have many security problems.

We have sometimes seen a few North Korean defectors hold press conferences when they return to the North. Some of them allegedly had to go back to their motherland after the safety of their relatives in the North was threatened. Personal information about the defectors residing here is very sensitive as it leaves room for dangerous exploitation. With the arrest of the defector, surnamed Yu, and the authorities’ naive way of dealing with the issue, similar spy cases will likely follow.

As most North Korean defectors living here left their families in the North, they will feel more insecure about the safety of those left behind. North Korea has even committed terrorist attacks against defectors who have criticized the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. Though our intelligence agencies have occasionally detected such cases, the intractable regime will increasingly resort to vengeful attacks against its own people down the road.

When North Korean defectors enter South Korea, our intelligence authorities thoroughly interview them to check the veracity of their claims. Authorities are reportedly checking to determine the terms of Yu’s defection. If it happened on false terms, as circumstantial evidence suggests, this reveals a big hole in our intelligence capabilities meant to screen out spies in advance.

Despite a recent slowdown in defections, the number of North Korean defectors has drastically increased since 2000. We understand that it is not easy for authorities to thoroughly sort out suspicious defectors since they must also protect their human rights.

Yet the transfer of a massive amount of personal information on tens of thousands of North Korean defectors has also posted an incredibly dangerous threat to our country. Intelligence authorities must quickly fix the government’s support systems for North Korean defectors before it’s too late. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to examine our intelligence capabilities as well.

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