Reinventing our spy agency

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Reinventing our spy agency

The National Intelligence Service has long been proud of its motto - “Anonymous dedication to freedom and truth” - and its safeguarding of our national security. But the recent hijinks of the nation’s top spy agency are anything but inspiring. After it was revealed that the NIS fabricated evidence of the espionage activities of a former North Korean defector, President Park Geun-hye and NIS Director Nam Jae-joon had to apologize following the resignation of a deputy director in charge of domestic intelligence.

At a cabinet meeting yesterday, Park said it was regrettable that the disclosure of the spy agency’s misdeeds and the loopholes in its security management system caused the public anxiety. Calling for the agency to reinvent itself, the president vowed to hold it accountable for any such cases down the road.

As the case evolved, many people were frustrated and disappointed at the spy agency reneging on its anonymous dedication to our national security. The agency once again turned out to have manipulated pieces of evidence to make false accusations under the cloak of anonymity. People now sincerely doubt the agency’s repeated commitment to reform itself after a series of revelations of its political interventions in the recent past. Fabrication of evidence shakes the very foundation of our criminal justice system even beyond the realm of run-of-the-mill human rights infringement.

Under such circumstances, Park chose not to force the agency chief to resign, a hard-to-understand decision. As we see it, Nam lacks the will and ability to reinvent the NIS, as evidenced in the agency’s repeated attempts to deny the truth and cover up its wrongdoings.

NIS reform should be led by the president, not the director of the agency himself. After the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, the U.S. Congress stepped forward and launched a legal and systematic reform of the Central Intelligence Agency by establishing a bipartisan special committee. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the House and Senate also conducted a long-term investigation of the CIA to find reasons for the fatal lack of intelligence on Islamic terrorist groups. As a result, the intelligence power concentrated in the CIA was dispersed, while Congress’s monitoring was reinforced. Yet the CIA’s intelligence capabilities got stronger. The NIS doesn’t have to worry that reform will weaken its power. NIS reform is about normalizing the agency - changing it from an unrestricted power to a restricted one, while maintaining its intelligence capabilities.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, Page 30

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