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(2nd LD) S. Korea's spy agency launches reform committee

All News 17:05 June 19, 2017

(ATTN: CORRECTS typo in para 10; ADDS more details at bottom)

SEOUL, June 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's spy agency on Monday launched an in-house reform committee to head its efforts to insulate itself from politics and regain public trust.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) committee set up two task forces under its wing each tasked with probing the agency's illegal involvement in domestic politics and overhauling its organizations, it said.

The reform of the NIS was one of President Moon Jae-in's election pledges. Moon seeks to prohibit the spy agency from meddling in internal politics and make it focus on overseas operations.

On June 1, new NIS Director Suh Hoon ordered a ban on domestic intelligence operations to gather information on government ministries, media and other organizations.

"The launch of the committee will be a historic starting point for the NIS to be reborn," Suh said in a statement.

The move is aimed at regaining public confidence and rebuilding itself as a credible intelligence agency, it said.

A task force aimed at rooting out such practices will investigate suspected cases of intervention in politics and report the results to the committee, it said.

High-profile cases included the agency's online smear campaign staged to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling conservative party ahead of the presidential election in 2012.

Some NIS agents were suspected of being mobilized to post online comments to affect the vote, when then-conservative candidate Park Geun-hye clinched a victory over Moon.

In 2013, the NIS unveiled a transcript of a 2007 inter-Korean summit, during which late former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun called for changing the disputed de facto western sea border with North Korea into a "peace economic zone."

There was criticism that the spy agency divulged state secrets to divert public anger away from a scandal involving then-spy chief Won Sei-hoon, who allegedly ordered the online smear campaign against Moon for the 2012 election.

North Korea is one of the key themes that can sway South Korean conservative voters during a presidential election. South and North Korea are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Another panel will discuss ways to revamp the agency's organizations, it added.

"We will disclose activity of the reform committee and the probes' results in a transparent manner," the NIS said.

The committee consists of eight civilian experts and five former and current NIS officials. It will be headed by Jung Hae-gu, a politics professor at Sungkonghoe University.

This file photo shows Suh Hoon, new head of the National Intelligence Service, South Korea's spy agency. (Yonhap)


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