Are they our Jack Bauers?
Assistant managing editor
We want to believe that agents representing the National Intelligence Service (NIS) are the ideal combinations of Jack Bauer of the U.S. Counter-terrorism Unit (CTU), James Bond of the British Secret Service and Ethan Hunt (Jim Phelps) of the U.S. Impossible Missions Force (IMF).
Just because of one bungled job, we shouldn’t judge all of the super NIS agents in one broad stroke and call them incompetent. Besides, it hasn’t been confirmed whether or not it was the work of our agents.
Actually we never know what good work they have done as it’s a secret, done without our knowledge. There must have been numerous times (I hope) when we were at the brink of a disaster and were saved by these anonymous (not always) but brave public servants who are willing to do the dirty work, risking their own lives to make our nation secure and our lives safe.
Since I respect the NIS’ policy not to claim responsibility for any action, good or bad, I would say why the trio in G-man attire in Room 1961 last week at the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, were not our agents.
The trio lacks the determination of Bauer, the ace field agent of the fictitious CTU in the FOX TV series, “24,” which was well captured by his one liner, “Tell me where the bomb is or I will kill your son.” Not that I approve of any of Bauer’s drastic tactics.
According to reports, the three intruders were caught red-handed by a member of a blue-ribbon Indonesian delegation visiting Seoul at the invitation of President Lee Myung-bak.
They fled with one of the two laptop computers they were working on in the room but, when the Indonesian official complained to the hotel staff, they returned it.
Puzzling is the reason why they hid themselves in the emergency stairway after being discovered instead of running away with the laptop. Bauer would never have returned the laptop and instead made sure that it looked like a real burglary to save his nation from embarrassment.
Further the trio didn’t show a hint of sophistication displayed by the debonair 007.
Given such task of stealing secrets from a hotel room, Bond would have worked his charm on a senior member of the delegation or his wife to have them do the job for him or bribe the hotel staff to keep watch to make sure he is left alone at the empty hotel room.
Bond would prefer to have his martini “shaken but not stirred,” while the trio would drink directly from the beer tap.
Most importantly, an IMF field team led by Hunt would not leave their fingerprints behind, unless they wanted to frame their enemy, or would have disabled surveillance cameras in the hallways or in the elevator. Police said that a crime lab lifted fingerprints from the laptop in question, while explaining that the surveillance tape was too fuzzy to get a positive ID on the intruders. Hotel officials retort that their surveillance equipment is state-of-the-art.
It would be interesting to follow up to wait and see what the lab will come up with.
I wish the trio had spent their suspenseful moments hiding in the stairway wiping their fingerprints off the laptop. The three must have never watched a single episode of the TV series or movie versions of Mission Impossible, when IMF agent Hunt is always given a reminder at the end of his taped instructions, warning him, “This recording will self-destruct in five seconds.”
Simply put, I hope against hope that the Lotte break-in will turn out to be a fumbled espionage work by the Chinese, Australians or anybody else, for which NIS took the fall in order to prevent Seoul from turning into an arena of international spying.
If it is proved to be an NIS job, we would not just be sorely disappointed because it would relegate our spies to below privately-hired burglars at the Watergate Hotel and suffer another setback in our trust in the government’s ability to protect our lives.
In case the trio indeed represents the NIS, I hope that two factors were not the cause of the incident.
First, it must not have been the result of one-upmanship derived from intra-government rivalry.
When the break-in occurred, the Indonesians were likely visiting Seoul to press for a deal under which they would win an economic aid package in exchange for their Korean military hardware purchases. Korea was all set to sell its T-50 advanced training jet/light attack aircraft to Indonesia, a deal which, if consummated, would be the crown jewel on President Lee’s sales diplomacy. The T-50 was an offset program for Korea’s multi-billion-dollar procurement of F-16s from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed has all but reneged on its promise to sell it to the air forces of the United States and other countries.
Thus, the Defense Ministry takes the primary responsibility for the whole of the effort from intelligence to negotiations. This is why it was interesting that a Korean Armed Forces attaché who was traveling with the Indonesian delegation made the first report to police about the break-in. Although the officer had reportedly explained that he was asked by the Indonesians to call the police, common sense would have it that burglary reports are the job of a hotel manager.
Secondly, an intelligence agency often works outside the command structure of the government so the person in charge feels constant pressure to do something out of the ordinary to curry favor with his boss, the President. It happened during a previous administration when an NIS chief broke all standing regulations to directly engage in negotiations to release hostages, when he felt outsmarted by a foreign minister.
Or during the Bush administration, George Tenet, director of the central intelligence (DCI), rushed into the oval office and told his boss of the “slam dunk” evidence that was used to start Bush’s Iraq invasion. We now know that Tenet’s slam dunk was a piece of little-substantiated evidence.
Travel a little further back in history and remember how the U.S. national security was partially compromised by the ferocious rivalry between William Donovan, the chief of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, and J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
So what I’d like to say is that I don’t want to believe the trio to be our Jack Bauers. I know I am doing so at my own peril.