Specialist on Pyongyang named NIS first deputy

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Specialist on Pyongyang named NIS first deputy

President Park Geun-hye yesterday appointed a veteran intelligence specialist on North Korea as the first deputy director of the National Intelligence Service, in a reshuffle intended to strengthen North Korea operations in the nation’s main spy agency.

Han Ki-beom, former North Korea operations chief of the NIS, was appointed as the first deputy director of the spy agency, Yoon Chang-jung, presidential spokesman, said yesterday.

“Han is the best North Korea expert who served in the NIS for decades,” Yoon said. “His professional expertise was the key to the appointment.”

Han passed the civil service exam in 1985 and mainly built his career in the National Intelligence Service on North Korea intelligence.

He worked as the chief of the NIS’s North Korea intelligence bureau in 2008 and was the third deputy director, which handled North Korea operations under the Lee Myung-bak administration, until he left the NIS in 2009.

After his retirement from the NIS, he worked as a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification and a visiting professor of North Korea studies at Korea University.

Suh Cheon-ho, a former intelligence chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and former president of the Korea National Police University, was named the second deputy director. Kim Kyu-seok, a former Army communications and intelligence officer, was named the third deputy director.

Yoon said the NIS’s operational structure was rearranged and the appointments were made to fit the jobs.

The first deputy director will be in charge of North Korea and overseas intelligence operations, while the second deputy director will oversee domestic intelligence operations, including counterterrorism, anti-communism and anti-espionage missions. The third deputy director will handle affairs concerning cyber security and science information.

In the past, the third deputy director was in charge of North Korea operations, while the first deputy director focused on overseas operations.

Under the restructuring, not only the first deputy director, but also the second and third deputy directors will handle North Korea programs.

The second deputy director will oversee the anti-communist mission at home, while the third deputy director will tackle cyber terrorism from the North.

During the Lee administration, the NIS faced severe criticism for a series of botched espionage operations and poor North Korea intelligence gathering.

Its political neutrality was also questioned before the December presidential election after the opposition parties claimed the agency had engaged in a systemic effort to influence the race by manipulating public opinion through Internet postings.

Park appointed Nam Jae-joon, former Army chief of staff, as the director of the NIS in March, demonstrating her intention to overhaul the main spy agency.

In his confirmation hearing, Nam vowed to strengthen the NIS’s North Korea operations and restore the agency’s reputation. Lee Heon-su, a former NIS official, was also appointed yesterday as the head of the agency’s office of planning and coordination.

Meanwhile, Park also appointed Lee Eun-cheol, an emeritus professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, as the head of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, Yoon said.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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