The NIS has been criticized for failing to learn of Kim Jong-il’s death before Pyongyang announced it and for failing to predict the North Korean shelling of a South Korean island that killed four people in 2010. According to a lawmaker who attended a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting, Won told lawmakers his agency had intercepted North Korean communications indicating such an attack two months before the strike, but he thought it was routine rhetoric.
In May 2011, the NIS reportedly gave an inaccurate briefing to the presidential Blue House saying Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, had taken a trip to China, then was slow in correcting itself to say it was Kim Jong-il making the trip, even after South Korean media picked up on the story. Kim Jong-un is now North Korean leader.
Critics say a key reason for those alleged intelligence blunders was that former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak gave top NIS posts to close associates who had little intelligence expertise. Won, the former director, spent most of his career in the Seoul City Government. In a recent statement, the NIS said no intelligence agency in the world knew about Kim Jong-il’s death before the North’s state media announced it, and that the deaths of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) became known in similar fashion. In the case of Kim Jong-il’s 2011 China trip, the agency said it was aware that the senior Kim was traveling alone, but that it did not do anything about the inaccurate reports because it had to protect its source of the information, and was considering its ties with China.
Park Geun-hye has not been accused of wrongdoing in the Internet postings scandal. Her father was not her only predecessor to use the spy agency to meddle in politics. Under the government of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and a longtime opposition leader who was kidnapped by the elder Park’s agents in 1973, spy agents wiretapped the phone conversations of high-ranking officials. Two of Kim Dae-jung’s spy masters were later convicted over the scandal and received suspended prison terms.
Some South Korean intelligence chiefs suffered worse fates. Park Chung-hee’s former spy director, Kim Hyung-wook, who had criticized his authoritarian leadership, mysteriously disappeared in France in 1979. In 2005, a government fact-finding commission said he had been assassinated by eastern Europeans hired by the spy agency. Kim Jae-kyu, the spy chief who gunned down Park Chung-hee during an October 1979 drinking party, was hanged the following year.
Additional reporting by Lee You-kyung