Going against the tideAs part of her reorganization plans for the government, President-elect Park Geun-hye plans to upgrade the chief of presidential security from a vice-ministerial to ministerial level. The secret service will be an independent department in the Blue House, reporting directly to the president rather than the chief of staff. The presidential security office enjoyed this higher status from Park Chung Hee to Roh Moo-hyun, but President Lee Myung-bak downgraded it to the vice-ministerial level. We believe Park is going against the tide.
The presidential security service wielded great power during military regimes. Under Park Chung Hee, chief bodyguard Cha Ji-chul was dubbed the vice president. He separately ran an intelligence team and directly reported to the president on his spy activities.
His abuse of power fueled a rivalry between him and Kim Jae-kyu, head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. It ended with Kim’s assassination of Cha and President Park Chung Hee during a secret banquet on Oct. 26, 1979. Subsequent presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo scaled down the security service, but kept the chief at the ministerial level.
The security office has not engaged in clandestine work for the president since President Kim Young-sam. But the office chief maintained ministerial-level status, attending important cabinet and national security meetings. Although the title was downgraded to the vice-ministerial level under President Lee, the security service chief still attended key government meetings.
The security chief’s role has been too inflated in our country. In the United States, few even know who heads the Secret Service. The office, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is not stationed in Washington. The security director does not attend cabinet meetings because the work of protecting the president and vice president is unrelated to governance.
But in Korea, the security chief accompanies the president to government meetings. He even made comments during an emergency meeting after North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. This is not the role of a security officer in charge of protecting the president.
Individual presidents respond differently to concerns about safety. Park Geun-hye must certainly have been traumatized by the separate assassinations of her parents. But personal emotions should not drive changes in government structure. Productivity at the office depends on commitment and better management, not a title. The plan for the security chief does not sit well with us.