Former NIS chief moves to Saenuri

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Former NIS chief moves to Saenuri

A former intelligence chief who played a key role in arranging the 2007 inter-Korean summit during the Roh Moo-hyun administration has quietly joined the ruling Saenuri Party, fueling speculation about his aspirations to run in the next general election.

Kim Man-bok, who headed the National Intelligence Service (NIS) from November 2006 to February 2008, joined the Saenuri Party three months ago, the JoongAng Ilbo reported on Wednesday in an exclusive article.

The Saenuri Party on Thursday confirmed that Kim is a party member.

Kim sent his application to the Gwangjin B Chapter of the Saenuri Party by fax on Aug. 27, the party said. He currently lives in that district.

“Anyone except members who at one time quit our party can join,” said Saenuri Secretary General Hwang Jin-ha. “Kim was a key member of the Roh government but converted to the Saenuri Party because he judged that we are a trustworthy entity.”

A source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that Kim had quietly joined the ruling party presumably to avoid controversy.

“It doesn’t matter if it was appropriate or not for the Roh government’s former intelligence chief to join us. The party is open to anyone except for incumbent public servants and teachers under the law governing political parties,” the Saenuri official said.

A native of Gijang County in Busan, Kim graduated from Busan High School and studied law at Seoul National University. He joined the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, the predecessor to the National Intelligence Service, in 1974.

After Roh was elected, he joined the president’s transition team and became chief of the NIS in 2006.

Kim accompanied Roh on his visit to North Korea in October 2007 and played a key role in pushing forward the president’s North Korea policy.

He stepped down from the post in January 2008 in disgrace after leaking to the media details about the confidential trip. He visited North Korea secretly on Dec. 18, 2007, just one day before the presidential election, and met with Kim Yang-gon, the director of North Korea’s United Front Department.

There, he informed Pyongyang that Lee Myung-bak, then a candidate for the Grand National Party, the predecessor to the Saenuri Party, was sure to be the next president, and leaked the transcripts of the talks to the media shortly after the election.

Together with two former key Roh aides, Kim published a book last month on the 2007 summit between Roh and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. In the memoir, the officials provided details about the meeting as well as other secret exchanges between the two Koreas.

The NIS subsequently filed a petition to the prosecution to investigate Kim for leaking national secrets he had obtained in the line of duty.

He prepared to run for the 2012 legislative election in his hometown of Gijang, but gave up after he was criticized for having violated the election law by offering gifts at his high school alumni reunion. However, he recently opened an office in Gijang, fueling speculation that he is preparing to run in the next election in April.

The ruling party did not hide its welcome.

“He was the NIS chief during the Roh government, but he is joining our party. That means the Saenuri Party has hope,” Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung was quoted as saying by Kim Young-woo, the party spokesman. “There is no reason to turn him down.”

The party also did not deny the former NIS chief’s political ambitions. “Some may have ill feelings toward him, but he must be accepted in a liberal democratic party,” the spokesman said. “Running in the general election is a choice freely left to each individual.”

Kim’s political ambition, however, have seriously riled Saenuri Rep. Ha Tae-keung, who currently represents Gijang County in Busan.

“I think Kim’s decision to join the party is absurd and comical,” Ha said in a Facebook post. “But I don’t want to adamantly oppose it.”

He further demanded Kim to explain his intention. “In the past, Kim headed election campaigns for the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy and has also committed a number of actions as the former NIS chief that were severely criticzed. Instead of secretly joining the party, he should publicly acknowledge that that is his plan.”

Meanwhile, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) reacted to Kim’s move with cynicism.

“It’s good that he went to the ruling party,” Choi Jae-sung, the NPAD’s secretary general, wrote on his Twitter account.

Kim is not the first senior official from the Roh government to join the conservative ruling party.

Kim Jang-soo, Korea’s current ambassador to China, served as the minister of national defense in the Roh administration and also accompanied the president to Pyongyang for the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

He joined the Grand National Party after the Lee administration launched in 2008 and served as the ruling party’s proportional representative for four years. He then served as the head of the National Security Office in the Park Geun-hye administration from 2013 to 2014.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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