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Focus on your job, NIS

May 13,2017
Suh Hoon, former third deputy director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), is set to return to the spy agency he left after power went to the conservative party nearly a decade ago.

Suh had been with the spy agency for nearly 20 years. The 63-year-old expert on North Korean affairs who had spent two years in the North during the 1990s as a part of an international consortium overseeing construction of civilian reactors is a good choice at a time when denuclearization has become imperative due to the escalating threat of North Korean nuclear weapons. In a press conference, the nominee said he would end the spy agency’s interference in political and election affairs. The public will be closely watching the new role of the NIS. The intelligence agency’s meddling in the election must be rooted out once and for all, as Suh had pledged.

But his comment on an inter-Korean summit is concerning. Although he said it was too premature to talk about it, Suh, who had been behind the two inter-Korean summits for the two former liberal presidents, also backed Moon’s inaugural words that he could go to Pyongyang if necessary. But Moon saying it and the nominee of the NIS chief talking about it is entirely different. It is understandable that Moon had taken into consideration of his experience in inter-Korean affairs for choosing Suh to head the agency whose primary watch is on North Korea.

But Suh must be sure about his future and the agency’s legitimate role. The NIS law defines the agency’s function as gathering security-related intelligence at home and abroad on threatening forces like espionage and terrorism organizations. If Suh gets involved in inter-Korean summit arrangement, he could jeopardize the work of the agency.

If the chief is involved in negotiations with North Korea, his staff could customize espionage activities to please their boss. A spy chief contacting North Korea also would cause confusion in the government. The North’s formal negotiating partner is the Unification Ministry. We hope that the nominee strictly focuses on reforming the NIS and strengthening the primary function of the intelligence agency.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 34