Housekeeping beginsSouth Korea’s security establishment is facing major changes after President Park Geun-hye accepted the resignations of key security officials. As the first part of a housecleaning following the government’s dismal handling of the Sewol ferry crisis, Park replaced the prime minister and dismissed Kim Jang-soo, chief of the presidential office’s National Security Council, and National Intelligence Service chief Nam Jae-joon. Kim invited public scorn of the Blue House with a comment that his office was not in charge of disaster control. His sacking suggested the president was not taking chances with any troublemaker who would get in the way of her campaign to revamp the government structure following the disaster.
Nam’s dismissal has long been expected because the spy agency has been disgraced in high-profile scandals since last year. Last month the president and the NIS chief separately apologized for a shameful case in which the agency was accused by prosecutors of fabricating key evidence to frame a North Korean defector for espionage against the South. Nam’s firing had been put on hold due to the Sewol crisis. Ultimately, there was no way he could avoid accountability for the wrongdoings of his agency.
Since Nam took the helm at the agency in March 2013, the NIS has been under fire for one scandalous incident after another. It was accused of interfering in the presidential campaign in 2012 and disclosing the minutes of a confidential inter-Korean summit to besmirch the reputation of former president Roh Moo-hyun and the main opposition presidential candidate Moon Jae-in, who was Roh’s chief secretary. The NIS must be turned around under a new leadership to work not for any particularly political power, but strictly for national interests. It needs to sever all ties with politics and promise to maintain neutrality and professionalism. New laws must enforce these changes. The government must proceed with NIS reform as part of a greater mission to rebuild and improve the organization of the government. The first step would be hiring a reform-minded figure as the new NIS chief.
Seoul’s security policy could change depending on who replaces the outgoing men. Some believe defense minister Kim Kwan-jin should be next to go after the military’s poor response to drones sent by North Korea to spy on us. The national security council has been too dominated by military officials. Tensions in and around the Korean Peninsula are abnormally high. We hope our security and foreign affairs posture will be realigned to address these challenges with flexibility and competence.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 30