Proposed NIS reform creates rift in the National Assembly

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Proposed NIS reform creates rift in the National Assembly

Efforts at reform by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the country’s spy agency, particularly its plan to give up anti-espionage, has created a split in the legislature as leaders of the conservative opposition parties have condemned the Moon Jae-in administration as having abandoned national security, while the liberal ruling party has expressed support for the move.

The NIS announced the plan to atone for its past meddling in domestic politics on Wednesday at the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, and asked for lawmakers’ support to pass a relevant bill.

“This is not a reform plan, but a declaration to dismantle the NIS,” said Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “We will put forward a more appropriate reform bill.”

The NIS previously created a bill to revise the National Intelligence Service Korea Act, which states in Article 3 that one of its duties is to investigate crimes of insurrection and foreign aggression, crimes of rebellion and the illegal use of cryptograms, as well as crimes noted in the Military Secret Protection Act and the National Security Act. The proposed bill will entirely remove the concerned clause in Article 3.

“The NIS’s plan to give up on domestic security operations and relinquish its investigative powers on pro-North, anti-state cases to other institutions is an abandonment of its true duty,” said Chung. “This is a declaration that it will give up national security.”

Another lawmaker, Lee Ju-young, said the Moon administration is attempting to invalidate the National Security Act by reforming the NIS. In 2004, then-President Roh Moo-hyun, a longtime friend and political mentor of Moon, tried to abolish the controversial National Security Act, but failed due to conservatives’ protests.

The Bareun Party, a conservative minority, also condemned the NIS plan. “Who will go after spies and terrorists?” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min, chairman of the Bareun Party. “The NIS vowed to address its internal corrupt practices, such as meddling in domestic politics and misappropriating special expenses funds, but it ended up presenting a ridiculous plan to give up on anti-espionage.”

The liberal ruling Democratic Party, however, supported the move. “We see the proposal as the NIS’s expression to renew itself as a competent intelligence agency,” said Rep. Woo Won-shik, floor leader of the Democratic Party. “Damage to its intelligence capabilities must be minimized, while other reform measures must be boldly forwarded.”

Woo urged the opposition parties to support the plan, saying that the crisis was caused by past conservative administrations.

It remains to be seen if the reform bill will be passed as the LKP is heading both the Intelligence Committee and Legislation and Judiciary Committee, key gatekeepers before a bill reaches a main voting session.

The ruling party also does not control a majority in the National Assembly. The Democrats currently occupy 121 seats of the 299-member Assembly, and the LKP has 116 lawmakers while the Bareun Party has 11.

The People’s Party, which holds the decisive vote with 40 lawmakers, showed lukewarm support for the plan. In a statement released Wednesday, it said there is a need to reform the NIS to regain public trust. “The direction is right for the NIS to surrender all investigative powers, including its privilege to go after spies and pro-North Korea operatives,” the People’s Party said.

It is currently unknown who will take over investigative power from the NIS. Both police and the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday that they have not yet been contacted by the Blue House or the NIS about the change. It was Moon’s presidential pledge to hand over the NIS’s investigative authorities to police by creating a new security investigation bureau, and as a result, one source said police are nevertheless making preparations for the change. “The prosecution and the police do not have the intelligence or investigatory capabilities of the NIS in anti-espionage cases,” said a senior official of the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office. “If the bill is passed this year, there will be a vacuum in investigations.”

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