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2017-11-14 15:49
By Kim Rahn

 

The internal reform task force of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Monday announced a set of measures that will restrict the spy agency to collecting intelligence for national security, not politically motivated surveillance.

The measures are in line with President Moon Jae-in’s pledge to ban the spy agency from collecting information about domestic affairs — a function that has been usually abused by those in power — and instead make it committed to collecting information related to North Korea, overseas affairs, security, terrorism and international crimes.

One notable thing among the measures was a change in the agency’s name.

However, it is questionable whether a name change will have any effect on reform in functions.

It is not the first name change of the spy agency: It was the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) when it was established in 1961, but was changed to the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP) in 1981, then to the current NIS in 1999.

Although the name has been changed, what the agency does has not changed much, with its main mission always being set according to the political needs of those in power.

The KCIA was established under the dictatorial regime of Park Chung-hee. Its main job during the Cold War era was to detect communists here but it often fabricated cases by framing pro-democracy activists, students or just any citizens as communists plotting rebellion under Pyongyang’s direction, in an effort to consolidate the dictatorship.

When it became the ANSP under the military junta of Chun Doo-hwan, nothing much changed: It focused on persecuting pro-democracy activists, accompanied by torture .

But the Chun regime collapsed following the nationwide pro-democracy June Uprising in 1987, and the Cold War era also closed soon after. Since then, the agency’s domestic affairs teams were mobilized to monitor politicians, businesspeople, journalists and civic activists who were against the government.

Although the name was again changed to the NIS and society became more democratic and transparent, the agency’s surveillance function — in favor of the ruling bloc — continued.

In 2012, the NIS meddled in presidential election by operating a team that posted malicious online comments about then-opposition candidate Moon and favorable ones about then-ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye.

All this history shows name changes did not affect the agency’s role. Changing names will only result in changes in formalities, such as new logos, new name cards and new nameplates, which will be paid for with taxpayers’ money.

Rather than a new name, what the NIS needs is a strong determination to be faithful to its role as an intelligence agency independent from political power. 

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