OPINION

[Editorial] Giving up on catching spies?

By Korea Herald

Ruling party bill to transfer anti-communist investigation power from NIS to police

  • Published : Nov 26, 2020 - 05:30
  • Updated : Nov 26, 2020 - 05:30

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea unilaterally pushed an amendment to the National Intelligence Service Act through a related subcommittee at the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The opposition People Power Party quit the subcommittee session after failing to remove a clause requiring the intelligence agency to transfer anti-communist investigation power to the police after three years.

The Democratic Party plans to push the bill through the National Assembly by Dec. 9. Given its sweeping majority in the parliament, it is likely to pass unchallenged.

The party cites concerns about the intelligence agency’s potential abuse of anti-communist investigation power. Several people were found to have been falsely framed as spies for North Korea, but it is undeniable that the agency has played an indispensable role in capturing infiltrators.

Capitalist South Korea is still technically at war with communist North Korea. Anti-communist investigation and counterespionage are the rationale behind the NIS. For decades, it has accumulated investigation know-how and intelligence resources at home and abroad.

The police have investigated mostly domestic criminal cases. Gathering intelligence on anti-communist activity and North Korean agents and conducting counterespionage operations are out of their domain.

In 2006, an underground group was found to have engaged in espionage activities for North Korea. Their existence was exposed as NIS agents learned through their covert channels that some members of the group had secretly contacted North Korean agents near Beijing. Police could not have uncovered the group. A former investigator of the case said in a recent forum that it would be “mission impossible” for police to build intelligence channels abroad to collect espionage evidence.

The Democratic Party seeks to take away an essential job for national security from an experienced institution to cede it to an inexperienced one. This is irrational and unconvincing.

Few countries facing security threats from neighboring states leave it up to an open organization such as the police to investigate espionage and security cases.

Experts say that foreign intelligence agencies tend to share and fuse information among themselves. But the bill goes against this trend.

If the police become too powerful, they will likely produce serious side effects such as human rights violations.

Police have a history of suppressing anti-government protesters brutally. In 1987, police officers tortured a university student to death during an interrogation to get information on a fugitive democracy activist.

There is no guarantee that similar incidents will not happen under the pretext of busting a spy ring.

Furthermore, police are susceptible to political influence. Under the current administration, they are suspected of having intervened in the Ulsan mayoral election.

The basic role of the government is to protect the country and the lives of the people.

The ruling party and Moon Jae-in administration clamor for strong security whenever occasion offers. Then they push a bill that can loosen security.

Under the current administration, it is questionable if anti-communist activities have been investigated properly.

Pro-North Korean university students formed a “committee to welcome North Korea‘s leader Kim Jong-un” and praised him publicly on the streets of Seoul, but police dawdled in their investigation.

To the contrary, the government dismantled a North Korean defectors’ group for flying balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets toward the North, and police investigated sponsors of the group.

When a government employee was shot dead by North Korean soldiers in the West Sea, the government made an implausible conclusion that he might try to swim a distance of 38 kilometers to the North for a defection. As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un apologized over the incident, a well-known political commentator supporting the ruling party praised Kim as “an enlightened monarch.”

The Unification Minister is eager to give COVID-19 vaccines to the North. On the 10th anniversary of North Korea’s artillery attack on the South Korean island Yeonpyeongdo, the minister asked senior executives of four major business groups to do their part to improve inter-Korean relations.

This administration goes beyond itself when it comes to helping the North.

Transferring anti-communist investigation power from the NIS to police sounds as if the government is giving up on capturing spies for North Korea.

The power must stay with the intelligence agency for the sake of the national security.

On the back of its majority in the parliament, the Democratic Party is ready to do anything it wants. It is rushing a bill that is good for the North.