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A careful makeover is required

Dec 01,2017
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) is heading toward an uncertain future. The top spy agency will likely concentrate on overseas espionage activities after getting rid of its ties to domestic politics and secret police-like servitude for the ruling power. Under the proposed revision to the NIS law, the NIS will give up all its investigative powers. It previously hoped to keep the right to investigate espionage-related cases, but gave into pressure from the Blue House because stripping it of all investigative powers had been President Moon Jae-in’s campaign promise.

Few would disagree that the NIS needs a makeover. Senior- and lower-level agents have been accused of meddling in politics by organizing slander campaigns against opposition liberal candidates in elections and violating civilian rights through abuse of its anti-espionage investigative power. Three former chiefs have been arrested and are under investigation by prosecutors.

Reform is not just necessary. It is a must. But the procedure must not be hasty. If the agency is without the power to investigate into suspicions about espionage activities, it cannot function properly as an intelligence office. Its intelligence networking and skills built up over the past half century could go down the drain. The government plans to hand over those powers to the Blue House, Prime Ministerial Office and police. But it is uncertain if intelligence data and capabilities in a nation at war with a nuclear-armed state can be sustained in the hands of amateurs in a government that witnesses changes in ruling power every five years.

In his confirmation hearing, NIS chief Suh Hoon said the spy agency is best fit to investigate anti-espionage activities. He emphasized that the NIS must stop its involvement in political and election affairs and spying on civilians, but should not have its spying role undermined. Moon must listen to the voice of his NIS chief. Until there is a solid alternative, the NIS should be able to keep its power to investigate affairs while installing a mechanism to stop intrusive and illicit engagements.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 30, Page 34