Won Sei-hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service, attends a plenary meeting of the intelligence committee at the National Assembly in Seoul, Tuesday. / Korea Times
By Lee Tae-hoon
The chiefs of the country’s spy agency and defense ministry admitted Tuesday that they were completely unaware of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s demise until Pyongyang made an announcement two days later.
Due to their inability to get the information, President Lee Myung-bak was also in the dark until Monday at noon when the North’s state-run Central News Agency reported that the 69-year-old Kim had died of heart failure at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Lee left the country four hours after Kim’s death to have a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Kyoto. On Monday morning, Lee celebrated his 70th birthday party at Cheong Wa Dae.
“I found out Kim Jong-il’s death after watching the news,” Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said during a National Assembly Defense Committee meeting.
Kim was at the Assembly to brief governing Grand National Party (GNP) floor leader Hwang Woo-yeo and party members on a defense reform bill when the communist North broke the news.
He said due to the reclusive nature of the Stalinist regime, it is difficult to collect such sensitive information as the North Korean leader’s sudden death with current intelligence assets.
“I realize how desperately we need to beef up our intelligence capacity,” Kim said.
In a parliamentary committee on intelligence, Won Sei-hoon, the head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), also acknowledged that he learned of Kim’s death after the North made the announcement.
“Other neighboring countries, including China, were in a similar situation,” Won was quoted as saying by GNP lawmaker Kwon Young-se who chaired the closed-door meeting.
NIS officials said the United States, Japan and Russia also found about the death of the North’s despotic leader after Pyongyang made the announcement.
Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor opposition Liberty Forward Party, however, urged Won to step down over his “agency’s intelligence failure.”
“The failure of the NIS, which receives an enormous amount of tax payer’s money each year to collect North Korean intelligence, cannot be forgiven,” she said.
The lawmaker argued that Won’s removal of North Korea experts in his agency to hire those close to him and the Lee administration led to a loophole in intelligence gathering.
Some North Korean experts say the government’s preference of signal intelligence through the latest technology over human intelligence is also responsible for the government’s failure to get word of Kim’s death.
“Satellites and surveillance equipment are great tools that help us to detect military movements near the demilitarized zones, but they have great limits in looking inside Pyongyang,” a senior government official said.
“In order to find out what is really going on inside the North Korean leadership, it is urgent to build a human network with access to top military sources.”
Some argue that the lack of inter-Korean exchanges over recent years since the Lee administration took office played a role in the shrinking of human intelligence in the secretive North.
“Cultural and industrial exchanges between the two Koreas provide a good opportunity to have reliable sources inside the North,” a government intelligence official said.
Meanwhile, military sources said that the North Korean military fired a missile on Monday morning hours before the North’s state media’s announcement as they were also unaware of their “Dear Leader’s” death.
Only later was it instructed to halt the test firing of short-range missiles into waters off the east coast.
정부는 20일 김정일 북한 국방위원장의 사망과 관련, "북한 주민들에게 위로의 뜻을 전한다"면서 "북한이 조속히 안정을 되찾아 남북이 한반도 평화와 번영을 위해 협력할 수 있게 되기를 기대한다"고 밝혔다.
또한 조문단은 보내지 않기로 했고, 다만 이희호 여사와 현정은 회장은 방북 조문을 허용하기로 결정했다고 밝혔다.
류우익 통일부 장관은 “정부는 조문단을 보내지 않기로 하였”다며 “다만 고(故) 김대중 전 대통령과 고 정몽헌 현대그룹 회장의 유족에 대하여 북측의 조문에 대한 답례로 방북 조문을 허용할 방침”이라고 말했다.
이 같은 언급은 정부 차원의 조의(弔意) 표시 여부를 놓고 찬반 논란 속에 `남남갈등'이 유발될 기미를 보이자 김 위원장이 아닌 북한 주민들에게 직접 위로의 뜻을 전하는 방식으로 비켜가는 전략적 판단에서 나온 것으로 해석된다.
이와 관련, 청와대 고위 관계자는 "우리 정부는 그동안 북한 정권과 주민들을 분리한 정책 기조를 펼쳐왔다"면서 "이번 담화문에서도 이 같은 뜻이 내포돼있다"고 설명했다.
하지만 `민간 방북 조문'을 김 전 대통령과 정 전 회장의 유족으로 제한시키면서 `노무현 재단'을 비롯한 진보단체들의 반발이 예상된다.
류 장관은 또 "정부는 북한이 애도 기간에 있는 점을 감안해 12월23일 예정된 전방에서 성탄 트리 점등을 올해에는 유보하도록 종교계에 권유할 계획"이라고 밝혔다.
이어 "국민은 현 북한 상황과 관련해 의연하게 대처하면서 정부 방침에 적극 협조해주기를 당부한다"고 덧붙였다.
류 장관은 "정부는 김 위원장의 갑작스런 사망으로 한반도 평화가 흔들리지 않도록 우방국과 긴밀히 협력하면서 상황을 철저하게 관리하고 있다"면서 "현재 우리 군은 비상경계태세를 유지하면서 모든 상황에 대비하고 있다"고 강조했다.
그는 "아직까지는 북한의 어떤 이상징후도 발견되지 않고 있다"면서 "국민께서는 경제활동에 위축되지 않도록 안심하고 평소와 다름 없이 일상을 유지해주기 바란다"고 거듭 당부했다. (연합)