No mechanism to check the mighty police

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No mechanism to check the mighty police

The author is the head of the national 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The United States does not have federal police equivalent to the 130,000 national police forces in Korea. The U.S. Marshal — established together with district attorneys after the Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 shortly after the independence — is the first federal law enforcement agency. It is under the attorney general, head of the Justice Department. Its main duties include escorting federal prisoners, arresting wanted persons, protecting federal witnesses and managing seized assets, quite close to Korea’s prosecutors. As states make up the United States of America, each state, county and town have its autonomous police force or sheriff.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also is not a police agency. Instead, FBI agents are special investigators, often called “G-men.” The FBI was created to meet the need for a federal agency to deal with new federal crimes such as Anti-trust Act violations, financial and land frauds, patent crimes and threats to national security, including anarchism. Until then, the Department of Justice borrowed Secret Service agents — employees of the Department of Treasury — who crack down on counterfeiting when the need arose. After the Congress forbade the practice, President Theodore Roosevelt allowed the Attorney General to directly employ agents and create a permanent agency, which is the FBI.

It is hard to discuss the history of the FBI without Edgar Hoover, the first FBI director who served for nearly 48 years from 1924 to 1972. He made the FBI the world’s best investigative agency and domestic intelligence organization, but, at the same time, he abused his power to surveil many people from Hollywood to the presidents. For national security reasons, Hoover was allowed to collect intelligence from President Franklyn D. Roosevelt from the 1930s and conducted widespread wiretapping and spying on civilians for the suspected far right and Communists. Starting with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and successive presidents including Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, Hoover wiretapped private lives and national administration of the presidents. While Truman and Kennedy wished to fire Hoover many times, they had to give up due to the threat of the “Hoover files.”

The Moon Jae-in administration wants to establish a Korean equivalent of the FBI and strip the prosecution of its investigative authority to reduce prosecutors’ strong power over the past 70 years. If the Korean version of the FBI launches and the monster of “Hoover” follows, how will it be checked? Even if a mighty law enforcement agency, which will take over security-related investigation authority from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) by 2024, is to be established, there is no countermeasure to check it.
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