Spy investigation goes no whereA civilian group sympathizing with Pyongyang received funding from North Korea and campaigned against the import of U.S. stealth fighter jets as well as pledging loyalty to North Korean leadership. Members of the civic group based in North Chungcheong were even listed as special advisors on the campaign for President Moon Jae-in during his 2017 presidential bid and collected funding to publish an ad to impeach Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl.
They were as brazen as reading out excerpts of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung’s autobiography entitled “With the Century” in front of the National Policy Agency headquarters in Seoul in May. The authority over investigating North Korean spy activities is being handed over to the police — by 2024. Their activities show how the authorities’ watch over espionage activities has destabilized under the Moon Jae-in administration through its overhaul of the North Korea-related investigation system.
Despite their bold and outright spy activities, an investigation against them has become difficult due to changes in the law. In December, the ruling Democratic Party railroaded a bill to change the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Act to hand over the authority in investigating North Korean espionage activities to the police without seeking opinions from experts or the public or even comparing the investigative capabilities of the two agencies.
Investigating espionage activities requires a buildup of intelligence and investigative capabilities over years. While responding to talks with South Korea, North Korea has not stopped contacting sympathizers in the South and gave orders for espionage activities over the last four years.
Under the Moon Jae-in administration which has been all-engaging toward Pyongyang, investigation on espionage activities had to proceed discreetly so as not to spoil the reconciliatory mood. It went out to streamline law enforcement offices, including the anti-spying division in the prosecution, which has been long demanded by Pyongyang. The opposition and conservative civic groups have been suspecting that the government had banned the dispatch of anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North and scaled back military exercises with the U.S. in order not to annoy Pyongyang. The NIS had secured evidence of North Korean spies meeting the South Koreans in 2017-2018 but did not immediately launch a full-fledged investigation.
It is dumbfounding that the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office turned down the request for dispatch of a prosecutor with expertise in spy investigation from the Cheongju division for supplementary investigation in the case. Investigation on espionage activities is related to national security. The overall investigation system on North Korean spy activities requires an overhaul after the examination of North Korea’s plotting strategies.