NIS needs to look inward

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NIS needs to look inward

The prosecution has finally decided to bring former National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon to justice without detention for violating the election law. He is under suspicion of meddling in the December presidential election by orchestrating his subordinates to post messages friendly to then-ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye on the Web. We are dumbfounded at a sad reality in which a nation’s intelligence agency allegedly attempted to engage in illegal intervention during an election.

The special investigation team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office yesterday announced plans to prosecute the former intelligence chief and Kim Yong-pan, former head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, who allegedly ordered senior investigators to erase electronic evidence of the NIS’s over-the-top act, both on charges of violating Article 9 of the NIS Law and Article 85 of the Election Law.

In Won’s case, the prosecution is confident that he was involved in political activities and election campaigns by using his status while in office. The prosecution’s decision appears to be a result of a compromise between the prosecution and the Ministry of Justice, which insisted on a deeper investigation to prosecute him. The prosecution needs deep self-reflection as it protracted his prosecution until the last minute - until eight days before the statute of limitations expires next week.

Now, whether the former intelligence chief can be cleared of the charges will be determined by the court. Until then, no one can jump to conclusions. But the NIS must accept the simple fact that it awaits a legal judgment by the court for its alleged meddling in the election. No doubt the national intelligence agency’s primary job is to protect national security, not to engage in political actions during an election by mobilizing its agents to serve the interests of the ruling party. Any activity beyond the utmost mission constitutes a grave affront to democracy. Needless to say, it will inevitably shake the very foundation of our national security if precious manpower and national resources are exploited for unjustifiable purposes.

On the occasion of Won’s prosecution, the NIS must reform itself by rooting out any bad practices from the past instead of defining the case as a mishap which occurred under the previous administration. It must also make relentless efforts to prevent the possibility of being polluted by realpolitik, not to mention draw a clear line between its raison d´etre and other malicious purposes. The NIS must not repeat the ugly drama of its head appearing before a court in the future.
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