Our bent spies

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Our bent spies

A former spy chief was convicted of breaching his duty to be politically neutral for commanding agents to interfere with the presidential election in 2012 in favor of the ruling party candidate through online activities.

The court, however, acquitted Won Sei-hoon, who headed the National Intelligence Service from 2009 to 2013, of breaking the election law. It gave him a suspended prison sentence of two years and six months with four years of probation.

The bench concluded that online comments and tweets criticizing the opposition party candidate and politicians during the ]campaign period was “political interference” that went against the National Intelligence Service law that bans the agency’s staff from any political activities. Won, however, was cleared of prosecution charges of violating the election law. The court said it could not find Won organized a campaign to help a specific candidate lose in the election. In short, the court found the spy chief guilty of interfering in political activities but not as part of an election campaign.

The state’s intelligence agency historically had a deep relationship with politics. It organized the kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung in 1973, who was a major dissenter.

It sent a criminal mob to ruin the launch of an opposition party in 1987. In 1997, it created a false spy to claim that Kim Dae-jung, who was running for president, received political funding from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. It was also suspected of asking North Korea to fire arms near the border ahead of the election.

Kim Dae-jung, who was victimized by the spy agency during his dissident years, used the agency in a similar way after he became the president. Wiretapping opposition politicians continued during his administration. Every time the NIS was accused of political meddling, reforms were demanded. But no progress was ever made.

The opposition always argues for reforms, but also uses the powerful intelligence agency for political services when it comes in power. The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization, has criticized the Korean intelligence agency’s political excesses.

The NIS is in a serious state. It has been accused of framing a former North Korean defector of being a spy. Its intelligence capacity is also in question.

The role of the NIS is crucial in a country with a de facto war with North Korea. The agency must be recreated to serve the country, not the ruling political power.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 30

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