South Korea needs to reform its intelligence services to reduce the risk of potentially serious failures, according to a report from the International Crisis Group released on Tuesday.
The report entitled “Risks of Intelligence Pathologies in South Korea”, stressed the importance of accurate intelligence both in North Korean crisis situations and non-conflict scenarios.
“South Korea’s ability to use tactical intelligence will be vitally important during a crisis or escalation. But it is no less important for other scenarios,” Daniel Pinkston, Deputy North East Asia Project Director said.
The report goes onto say that the potential costs of intelligence failures in South Korea are high. The ongoing security concerns with its northern neighbor mean that any missteps have the potential to draw both sides into conflict.
Any military action could in turn lead to U.S. and Chinese involvement, as each have defence treaties with South and North Korea respectively.
Added to this, the report claims that North Korea’s commitment to increasing its nuclear and ICBM capabilities mean South Korea needs quality, error free intelligence to manage ongoing tensions and the possibility of sudden collapse.
“In case of a North Korean state collapse and a sudden unification, Seoul would have to make quick decisions to prevent a rapid deterioration of the situation,” Pinkston said.
Citing recent intelligence scandals in South Korea, the report added that the NIS needs to address the issues of “intelligence failure, the politicisation of intelligence, and intervention in domestic politics by intelligence agencies”.
The depth of NIS involvement in South Korean politics shocked many in 2013 when the intelligence service was accused of running an internet smear campaign against President Park’s opposition candidate during the 2012 election.
The NIS has been involved in further scandal since, being accused of heavy handed tactics, torture and forging Chinese border records in attempt to prove that a North Korean defector was a spy.
The report claims that the fallout from the scandal and continued allegations “paralysed the National Assembly for much of 2013” and caused Park’s legislative agenda to be “put on hold”.
As a result of the high stakes on the Korean Peninsula, the report recommends four broad reforms. To counter the problem of politicised intelligence, changes should be made to “end the embedding of NIS officers in South Korean institutions such as political parties, the legislature, ministries and media firms,” the report reads.
The report also suggests reforming the legal accountability of the NIS, more protection for whistle blowers and restricting cyberspace operations to North Korean entities.
These changes should be accompanied by wider ranging institutional reforms that transfer criminal investigative powers away from the NIS. The report also suggests the creation of special courts to “to handle sensitive national security cases while ensuring appropriate respect for due process”.
Featured Image: Eric Lafforgue
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