Time to reform the spy agency

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Time to reform the spy agency

Veteran representative of the Saenuri Party, Lee Jae-oh, raised questions about the role of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) during a meeting of senior members of the ruling party. “How exactly does the intelligence agency help the country’s interests by snooping around government agencies and hoarding all kinds of information?” he said.

Lee called upon the ruling party leadership to disband the political division of the NIS. Another senior member Chung Mong-joon seconded the idea by proposing massive reform in the spy agency to prevent it from getting into another political scandal and instead make the agency focus on its primary function as a guardian of our national security.

The overhaul is aimed at restricting the agency’s domestic surveillance and spy activities to reduce its political involvement and instead bolster its intelligence on North Korea as well as overseas. The domestic activities of the NIS, apart from investigative purposes, could easily stretch to political interference or surveillance. Under the NIS law, the spy agency is prohibited from engaging in political activities. But all the allegations of its involvement in the last presidential election campaign highlight that the agency still has deep hands in domestic politics.

The NIS has been under fire many times for wielding surveillance and intelligence authority outside its jurisdiction on national security. The agency currently runs many different divisions to keep tabs on various government agencies, public corporations, media organizations, financial institutions and even companies in the private sector. Heads of various organizations cannot shake off the feeling of being watched and recorded during any time of the day.

Such activities hardly befit an advanced democratic society. The underdeveloped and not constructive practice has been kept up as customary work in the spy agency. What we need to primarily focus on is enhancing intelligence on North Korea, in particular. Human espionage activities on North Korea have been lacking. The government must muster all its resources to strengthen our espionage networks and intelligence on North Korea.

Reform of the top spy agency cannot take place with efforts from the opposition camp alone. The ruling party also should take the initiative to revise the NIS law and restructure the omnipresent organization. That way, stronger legislative oversight on the NIS is possible. The voices calling for reform from the ruling party are not yet loud, but they should be heard.
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