Published : 2013-03-12 20:16
Updated : 2013-03-12 20:16
Retired Army general Nam Jae-joon, who was picked by President Park Geun-hye early this month to head the National Intelligence Service, is said to have charged on several occasions before his nomination that the nation’s top intelligence agency “has remained dead” in past years. His remarks referred to the weakening of the agency’s function of gathering and analyzing sensitive information on North Korea during the rule of Park’s predecessors.
Its crucial human intelligence network in the North, as noted by many experts, virtually unraveled while liberal President Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyun pursued the policy of unconditional reconciliation with Pyongyang over a decade from the late 1990s. Conservative President Lee Myung-bak is also said to have been unenthusiastic toward restoring the network during his five-year rule that ended in February.
The agency’s inability to keep a close eye on the inside of the isolated regime was starkly revealed when it had remained in the dark until North Korea’s state media belatedly announced the death of its leader Kim Jong-il in December 2011.
While its quintessential operations withered, the agency has continued to be criticized for attempting to meddle in domestic politics. In the latest case, an NIS employee came under suspicion of having written a number of online postings unfavorable to opposition candidate Moon Jae-in during last December’s presidential campaign.
Against this not so proud background, Nam, the nominee for NIS director, appears determined to reform the agency in the direction of strengthening its function regarding North Korea and reducing or abandoning some units handling domestic matters. His plan for overhauling the organization is said to be strongly backed by President Park, who has a painful memory of his father having been assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979, putting an abrupt end to his 18-year rule.
Her choice of a retired general known for his principled stance seems to reflect her expectation that he would be the right person to change the agency to be placed beyond the domestic political sphere.
The incoming intelligence chief will certainly be taking the right direction by implementing the planned reform measures. At a time of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the need for accurate intelligence on the North Korean regime is needed more than ever.
National security will be better ensured if and when the intelligence agency becomes capable of keeping track of the inner workings of the North Korean leadership and gauging their true intentions. The parliamentary confirmation process for the intelligence chief nominee needs to be expedited to allow him to begin his tasks as soon as possible.