Former spy chief’s imprudence

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Former spy chief’s imprudence

Kim Man-bok who served as the chief of the National Intelligence Service under former President Roh Moo-hyun has gotten himself in a difficult situation. For the last two years, he had served as an auditor and acting president for a foundation that runs a golf college. He filed charges against the school owner for embezzlement and the foundation counter-charged him for fraud, defamation and embezzlement. Kim claims the owner has misappropriated school funds. The school maintains that Kim had seated former senior officials from the spy agency and overpaid them.

It is up to the prosecutors to determine who is telling the truth. But regardless of the outcome, it is disappointing to find Kim involved in a scandalous incident. Kim left a respectable legacy in the intelligence agency. He was a senior member of the organization’s self-reform committee committed to investigate past incidents. As the intelligence chief, he visited Pyongyang twice to arrange the inter-Korean summit between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The NIS is the country’s secret intelligence agency and central to national security. As a retiree of such prestige, he should have been extra careful in maintaining dignity for himself and his former position. The spy chiefs in advanced nations regard their post-retirement discretion as a kind of moral obligation. The heads of British secret intelligence service MI6 keep low profiles while in service. They also keep low profiles after retirement.

The role of secret intelligence service should not restrict the freedom to choose post-retirement jobs. But still the officials must not forget their duty to public service even after retirement. Kim had not been someone of discretion even during service. Kim flew to Afghanistan in 2009 in a mission to negotiate with Taliban militants for the release of 19 captive South Koreans and ended up paying a ransom. It was hardly an operation to boast about. But Kim was seen in television footage and casually posed for photos. He later had the agency release a statement publicizing the role of its director in the release. He had been heavily criticized then, and it is a pity that he had not learned his lesson then.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 6, Page 30

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