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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 31)

All News 07:09 August 31, 2021

Apology from intelligence chief
: Time for NIS to be reborn as agency for state and people

National Intelligence Service (NIS) director Park Jie-won apologized Friday for the spy agency's illegal surveillance of civilians and political interference in the past and vowed not to repeat such blunders. "The illegal surveillance and interference were carried out systematically via the NIS command structure at the behest of Cheong Wa Dae. Politicians, government officials, scholars, members of related organizations and their families were illegally spied on and persecuted," Park said at a news conference in Seoul.

Having enumerated such wrongdoings from the past, including gathering information on artists and religious leaders, drawing up blacklists of entertainers and offering money to expand pro-government organizations, he said the NIS mistook itself for an agency to protect those in power. "But I dare to say that there has been no such interference or illegal surveillance since the current administration took office. All NIS members will surely keep a distance from politics."

Park's apology is a follow-up to a resolution passed by the National Assembly last month. The resolution had urged the NIS to declare a complete end to its surveillance of civilians and sincerely apologize to the victims. Nonetheless, Park's apology deserves credit, given that it could prompt the intelligence agency to renew its determination not to repeat past misdeeds and commitment to political neutrality in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

Under a revision to the National Intelligence Service Act approved last December, the agency is obliged to maintain political neutrality and is prohibited from undertaking domestic surveillance operations. Now, its duties are confined to gathering information on foreign countries and North Korea, anti-espionage, counterterrorism, cybersecurity and space. If the NIS fulfills its duties faithfully under the law without being swayed by political power, it will be able to regain public confidence someday. But this requires painstaking efforts by the NIS to be reborn as an agency serving the state and the people. Hopefully, there will be no more need for apologies from the NIS.

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