The necessity of NIS

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The necessity of NIS

The National Intelligence Service’s internal reform aimed at relinquishing all of its investigative rights has sparked strong protests from the conservative front and veterans.

Kim Sung-ho, director of nonprofit organization Happy World, who headed the Ministry of Justice under liberal President Roh Moo-hyun and the NIS under conservative President Lee Myung-bak, expressed concerns over the changes, saying, “Intelligence capabilities against North Korea must be reinforced — not undermined — regardless of what wrongdoings the NIS had committed.”

Kyo-ahn, the final prime minister under President Park Geun-hye, wrote on Facebook that never since the intelligence office was created has it relinquished its investigative power.

Former NIS chief Kim Seung-kyu stressed that the only edge our spy agency has over its U.S. counterpart is Humint, human intelligence gathering, capabilities over North Korea. If investigative powers are stripped, Humint capabilities also would be weakened, he warned.

Counterespionage investigation requires an enormous amount of time, cost and endeavors. After lengthy observations, the local spy agency broke major cases such as uncovering a Filipino history professor who was actually a spy for North Korea in 1996, a North Korean spy ring in 2006, and a sabotage plot led by United Progressive Party lawmaker Lee Seok-ki. It commonly takes three to 10 years of undercover investigations to discover a spy.

Counterintelligence is only possible with capabilities in both intelligence gathering and investigation. The separation of the two key functions can wreck anti-espionage capabilities. A good tip and a lead can go to waste when it goes to a different investigating agent, as each agent’s values and judgments differ.

North Korea has upped its weapons capabilities to the extent of threatening the entire U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea also has reinforced its spy forces around the world. The NIS must stop its intrusive and illicit engagements in politics and the lives of civilians. But the agency must not willingly forego its primary function of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 2, Page 30
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