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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Aug. 10)

All News 07:02 August 10, 2021

Shocking spy activities

Appalling acts by a group of South Korean citizens working for North Korea are being exposed one after another. Beyond the level of staging rallies opposing the introduction of F-35A stealth fighter jets to South Korea, they contacted North Korean spies overseas and made a pledge of allegiance to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Members of the group based in North Chungcheong worked for a presidential campaign as special advisors and even engaged in collecting donations for the impeachment of a sitting prosecutor general. One of the members, the owner of a local news organization, is suspected of having reported activities by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the prosecution and the police to North Korea.

What dumbfounds us is its campaign to read "With the Century" -- a memoir by North Korea's founding father Kim Il Sung -- in front of the National Police Agency in central Seoul in May. The top police agency is supposed to lead investigations on spy activities after receiving the right to investigate communist activities from the NIS since the ruling Democratic Party (DP) unilaterally passed a revision on the NIS Act in December. Is it really normal for a local spy group to embark on such a campaign in front of the police headquarters even after the NIS found evidence of it taking orders from North Korea?

The Defense Security Command handling counter-espionage activities in the military was renamed the Defense Security Support Command. The prosecution's public security department in charge of the arrest, search and seizure, and indictment of suspects on spy charges changed its name to the Public Investigation Department. That's not all. The NIS will soon lose its authority to deal with communist activities at home and abroad. Its jurisdiction will be handed over to the police in 2024.

Experts in counter-espionage are deeply worried about a security vacuum if the NIS is entirely stripped of its authority to handle pro-North Korea activities. The NIS reportedly obtained tangible evidence of pro-North activities by the group based in Chungcheong. The DP has recklessly pushed to rid the top spy agency of its authority to handle pro-North Korea activities shortly after the launch of the administration in 2017. In the meantime, North Korea contacted South Koreans in China and Cambodia to conduct spy activities here over the past four years.

It is true that the prosecution was under attack for its abuse of power in investigating pro-North espionage cases. The suspects in the latest case also attributed their arrests to the NIS's "fabrication of the results of its investigation." The solution does not lie in a hurried revamping of investigative authorities, but in the sophistication of their investigation capability. The government must reconsider its hasty restructuring of intelligence agencies after thoroughly analyzing the North's espionage campaigns before it's too late.

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