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(Yonhap Editorial) Spy agency reform should focus on ending political intervention
SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap) -- The National Intelligence Service (NIS) is known to be stepping up its reform on the occasion of the recent inauguration of its new leader Nam Jae-joon.

   Nam has reportedly kicked off a task force for his agency's reorganization and personnel shake-up.

   His appointment of incumbent prosecutor Kim Ho-joong to the NIS inspector general in charge of internal inspections and disciplinary steps is viewed as "flares of reform."
Some of the key posts, including Nam's chief secretary, are also known to be filled with non-NIS people in a bid to reflect outside opinions for a wide-ranging reform.

   Nam clearly indicated the reform would focus on distancing his agency from the domestic politics by saying during his parliamentary confirmation hearing late last month, "We'll maintain political neutrality at the cost of our lives, and please help us to do so."

   The NIS role as the nation's top intelligence body is more important now than at any other time given the nation's security is in crisis due to North Korea's ever-escalating military threats.

   The North is pumping out bellicose rhetoric almost every day, even threatening a nuclear war against South Korea and the United States. This is a possibility as the North Korean regime is led by young and unpredictable leader Kim Jong-un.

   Under these circumstances, intelligence on the communist country is badly needed more than at any other time.

   It's not a stretch to say that national security hinges on the North.

   Another NIS task is to secure economic and industrial information in order to protect national interests at a time of a "global economic war."

   Considering these grave missions, however, the agency's current status is really humble.

   Nam's predecessor Won Se-hoon has been barred from leaving the country pending probes into allegations that he had interfered in domestic politics while in office through manipulation of public opinions ahead of the December presidential election.

   Moreover, NIS capabilities to gather North Korean intelligence reportedly collapsed under Won's leadership.

   In a nutshell, the spy agency is suffering disgrace for having been involved in domestic politics while setting aside its original duty to collect North Korean and overseas intelligence.

   It's unfortunate to see the agency and its former director embroiled in a political intervention controversy once again despite a slew of precedents in the past.

   Ending the agency's political intervention should be a top priority in the ongoing NIS reform.