20.08.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

While the Motto of the South Korean Intelligence is Changing, the Essence Remains Unchanged

345345345345From June 10, 2016, the National Intelligence Service of the Republic of Korea changed its motto for the fourth time. The “Secret sacrifice in the name of freedom and truth” will now be changed to “Silent dedication. Only in the name of protection and glory of the Republic of Korea.” The emblem has also changed. Instead of a compass that was too reminiscent of the NATO emblem, there is now a circle with a torch in the centre and national motifs.

Of course, for a person with a critical attitude to the activities of the South Korean intelligence, the new motto is associated with the phrase “sometimes, it is better to remain silent than to speak.” This is especially true considering the fact that this kind of rebranding has, in some ways, a ritual significance – just in much the same way as on the eve of important elections, political parties in the Republic of Korea like to change their names in order to leave in the past unseemly stories stuck to the name of the party.

Truly speaking, South Korean intelligence has had enough of such stories. For example, this is the story of “runaway waitresses”, in which there are more questions than answers. This is also the statement of “phenomenal” predictive abilities – in the average, it is really lucky if half of the loud predictions relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea comes true (I hope the audience remembers about the “promised” fifth nuclear test that was supposed to happen at the end of July). It is also the still unabated scandal related to the case of “trolls wearing uniform” when the then director and a number of other senior officials were accused of attempted interference in the 2012 election campaign.

While trying to dissociate himself from the story describing the moment when South Korean cyber-warriors, ignoring the law of neutrality of the security services, would sit on the forums disguised as civilians and campaign for conservatives, and of the fact that the former head of the intelligence service, Won Se-hun, recognized the mere presence of “trolls wearing uniform” once again. It turns out that when Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, appeared to be so popular in South Korea that some Koreans had an idea to create a fan club for her on the Internet, officials at the “Department of Psychological Warfare” stood to defend the homeland with their own lives. Sitting on the forums under false accounts (not forgetting that access to the Internet in the Republic of Korea can be granted only “on producing the right passport”, especially if we are talking about participation in political discussions), the officers of the authorities did all they could “to prevent her praise,” and also tried to divert public attention to other topics, including the Olympic Games in London.

The existence of a similar department that is also involved in spreading negative rumours about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the Internet, is an open secret. But how it is possible to frankly admit its existence that way, and state with a straight face that such actions give credence to the intelligence? However, it depends on what kind of rumours are spread! After all, according to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who spoke at the National Assembly hearing on July 19, the Republic of Korea considers the spread of unfounded rumours about the U.S. THAAD ABM systems on the Internet as a serious crime. Duplication of information that can cause misunderstandings among citizens while labelling it national security is unacceptable, and such actions will be severely punished in order to preserve the security of the state.

Let us now turn our attention to the story concerning the current National Intelligence Service director, Lee Byung-ho: it turned out that his seven relatives have permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S. This is considered barely acceptable for a politician, and if it had been brought to Parliament for approval, as was the case with the ministers, Lee Byung-ho would likely have been outvoted. However, this has nothing to do with intelligence, and despite the fact that the opposition media spoke out, everything ended at this point. Although from the point of view of the author, the minister, who, say, has several grandchildren living in the United States, is a smaller potential security threat than the head of intelligence.

There is another scandal involving not only political, but also military intelligence. On the one hand, it turns out that all information on the recent and numerous missile launches made by the DPRK originated from the USA and Japan, while the South Koreans (both their intelligence and military) were kept in the dark. On the other hand, at the end of May, 2016, a ROK Army military captain was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for collecting information on the DPRK and providing journalists with such confidential data. Thus, it was he who provided them with information on the creation of submarine-based ballistic missiles by Pyongyang. Even though all leaks were associated only with the North, a military tribunal found him guilty of divulging classified information.

Finally, there is another story that fits well with the story of the waitresses. As reported on August 3 by RIA Novosti with reference toYonhap, a family of North Korean defectors in South Korea filed a lawsuit in Seoul against the intelligence agencies that forced them to give false confessions to say that they were spying against the Republic of Korea and channelling money from the sale of drugs in China to Pyongyang “party funds”. The plaintiffs demand compensation from the South Korean government in the amount of USD 195 thousand.

In general, despite the fact that such a situation does not require changing the motto, we shall hope that the “silent dedication” will slightly diminish the number of scandals associated with the Republic of Korea special services .

Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.