When national security equals life

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When national security equals life


When The Associated Press covered the passing and funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela, it included an interesting story. In the 1980s in the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov (1914-84) died 14 months after succeeding Leonid Brezhnev as the general secretary of the Communist Party. George H. W. Bush, then the U.S. vice president and a former Central Intelligence Agency director, brought a physician along when he attended the funeral. As they were offering condolences, the doctor detected a wheezing sound in the chest of newly named successor Konstantin Chernenko.

The doctor speculated that Chernenko suffered from emphysema. At the time, doctors presumed a patient with emphysema at his age would not live longer than a year. Washington began preparing for another leadership change and researched a pool of potential successors and their tendencies. Eleven months later, when Chernenko died and the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev took over, the United States was prepared for his leadership.

In national administrations, an accurate and timely collection of information on the highest leaders and their second in command is extremely important. When the National Intelligence Service found out about the purging of Jang Song-thaek, the Korean government and its allies were able to respond more effectively. It likely assured some of our intelligence capabilities, and the nation’s top spy agency regained some of the trust it had lost before.

There is nothing the Korean intelligence agency should pursue more than the bare face of North Korea and the solemn reality of the Korean Peninsula. It has been said that the NIS’s organization and budget should be reinforced so that it can perform intelligence gathering and analysis more effectively. Korea University’s professor of North Korean studies, Nam Sung-wook, an intelligence expert, says that the three iron rules of the intelligence agency are to “never complain, never explain and never apologize.” An intelligence agency can speak only with their intelligence operation.

In the James Bond film series, the missions of Bond - a member of the British government’s foreign intelligence division called the MI6 - mostly involve taking action. Researchers at the Royal Derby Hospital’s emergency department recently published a paper in the British Medical Journal claiming that if Bond were real, he would die from alcohol-related causes by the age of 56. Yet, what harms the health of real-life intelligence agents is not alcohol, but the tremendous stress involved in collecting and analyzing information. The job is especially stressful on the Korean Peninsula, where national security means life itself.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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