Time for NIS reform

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Time for NIS reform

The ruling Saenuri Party and opposition Democratic Party have agreed to launch a legislative probe into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged meddling in last year’s presidential election campaign. We welcome their efforts to address the scandal within the boundaries of the National Assembly rather than resorting to sniping and fighting outside. The ruling party’s decision to accommodate the DP’s demand for the probe is also a positive step.

Once the legislative investigation is underway, however, it must not turn into a political show in which representatives shout at witnesses without provocation. It must achieve tangible results that contribute to long-awaited NIS reform instead of the mere marshalling of political offensives by both sides. Despite all suspicions about the NIS, a national intelligence agency is a necessary organization, particularly given the growing demand for intelligence under our security conditions. The question is how to run it lawfully and rationally.

The spy agency has been under fire for its overly close relationships with the powers that be in the Blue House, which is why a new administration has habitually replaced the old guard with a new one that is more to its liking. If politicians cannot put an end to the vicious cycle of patronage and favors, no one can guarantee such misdeeds will not occur again. They must discuss ways to toughen their oversight of the spy agency despite sharp confrontations between the ruling and opposition camps, which has made legislative control over the agency almost impossible in the past.

The scope of the spy agency’s activities also needs to be rearranged. Political experts have raised questions over the agency’s domestic intelligence-gathering activities separate from those of other law enforcement agencies. They raise suspicions of political intervention. It’s time to review the limit of the agency’s domestic activities.

Since the democratization movement of the late 1980s, every president has vowed to reform the spy agency but to no avail. The liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations were no exceptions, thanks to the agency’s crucial role in pushing ahead their national agendas, not to mention presidents’ concerns about retaliations after retirement.

NIS reform will only succeed when there is a combination of presidential determination in the early stage of a term, public support and cooperation from politicians. The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to deal with a bill to probe the NIS’ involvement in the campaign, but still disagree on details. We urge them to pass the bill for the sake of our nation.
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