(ATTN: UPDATES with Moon's remarks in paras 10-14; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in visited the headquarters of South Korea's state spy agency in southern Seoul and received a briefing on its reform measures Friday.
It was Moon's second visit to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) since he took office in May 2017.
Reforming the powerful body is one of his major campaign pledges. The NIS was accused of having been a hotbed of deep-rooted evils, including operations to oppress political dissidents.
Under a revision to the NIS-related law in late 2020, the agency is prohibited from undertaking domestic surveillance operations. It is instead required to focus its capacity on collecting information related to North Korea and overseas interests.
The liberal Moon administration describes the move as the rebirth of the NIS.
Park Jie-won, director of the NIS, reported to the president that it has reorganized the overall operation system to place more emphasis on such fields as counterterrorism, cybersecurity and space, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
The agency's capability on gathering and analyzing science-linked information has been improved, with a special program to train "white hackers" running in local mission centers, Park added.
Regarding its obligation to transfer the right to investigate illegal pro-Pyongyang activities to the police, the two authorities are conducting a joint probe this year with the aim of completing the transition by the end of 2023.
The president replied that the NIS is now back as an intelligence agency for the state and the people, and called on it to become a "future-oriented" body faithful to its duty.
"The NIS will not go back to the past," Moon was quoted as saying by Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee.
The reform measures represent the "precious fruit" of NIS officials' dedicated efforts and the government's strong will, which would serve as a brilliant milestone in its history, he added.
He recalled his previous visit to the NIS in July 2018, during which he pledged to guarantee its "political neutrality" without using it for political purposes. He said he has kept that promise.
The president expected the agency to help advance South Korea's emergence as a "pacesetting" nation via intelligence activities in the cyber and aerospace sectors.
He also pointed out that the NIS has monitored other countries' responses to COVID-19, protected South Koreans abroad and supported the procurement of vaccines, while playing a pivotal role in defending manpower and technologies in such high-tech industries as semiconductors, biohealth, batteries and 5G networks, according to Park.
Moon then attended a ceremony to unveil a stone with the agency's new motto inscribed, as it marks the 60th founding anniversary next week. It reads, "Serving Our Nation and People with Unwavering Loyalty and Devotion."
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