Spy agency ought to work for nation, not president
One document after another show former President Lee Myung-bak used the National Intelligence Service mainly for the security of his administration rather than that of the nation.
As a result, Koreans are now faced with a bizarre situation, in which the prosecution is investigating the police's alleged cover-up of unwarranted intervention into domestic politics by the state spy agency. This illustrates how the Lee administration transformed, or degraded, the nation's three major power apparatuses into "presidential" agencies.
It has become clear the NIS tried to affect last year's presidential election by conducting a smear campaign in cyberspace against the opposition candidate. Documents uncovered also show the agency attempted to obstruct some progressive policies, such as the half-price tuition and free childcare pursued by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and other liberal politicians, as "leftist and pro-North Korean" schemes.
NIS officials say their rampant meddling in domestic politics was part of psychological warfare against North Korea. The excuse is like adding insult to injury: do they think people are that naive? The targets of the NIS operations were Koreans, not in the North but in the South.
No less deplorable was the fact that the immoral aberration of the top espionage organ led to its incompetency.
People still vividly remember how some NIS agents embarrassed the whole country when they tried in vain to steal information from a visiting Indonesian delegation. They were allegedly busted by ordinary people ― hotel employees. It was little surprise then that the NIS was totally in the dark when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died abruptly, or his son, Jong-un, conducted a nuclear test despite global condemnation. The NIS under Lee was little more than a bunch of politicized amateurs.
What President Park Geun-hye should do is clear then: take politics out of the three power agencies and restore their original mandates and functions. Of course, this will be far easier said than done, especially for the new leader who is believed to have benefitted from the NIS' election operation. When a female NIS agent was caught red-handed sending SNS messages critical of the liberal opposition, then candidate Park even tried to defend the woman by accusing her political opponents.
That was then. Now is the time for Park to come forth to put an end to the time-honored or –dishonored tradition of intelligence politics. When the state power apparatuses become the paws of a particular regime or ideology, it destroys democracy and shakes the very foundation of a nation. That's roughly what happened here over the past years.
How Park copes with the NIS's shameful deviation will be a litmus test for her resolve to restore the nation's democracy, which was seriously mangled by her predecessor. Leaders may feel tempted to use power agencies for private, even personal, purposes. But that should be the last thing for Park to do, given that it was her father who not only initiated the ugly practice of intelligence politics but eventually lost his life on account of it.
The chief executive must call for a thorough probe and punishment.