Tue, Mar 26, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Chen issues call for overhaul of security agencies

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday promised to reform the nation's intelligence-gathering agencies, saying the government would push for the passage of a state secrets protection law and government information access law.

Chen made the comments at a monthly meeting of top military officials. Singling out the scandal surrounding the National Security Bureau (NSB), he said the government must hasten reform of the intelligence-gathering agencies and allow for closer legislative scrutiny.

Last week, the China Times and Next magazine reported that during the Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) administration, the NSB had set up two secret accounts worth NT$3.5 billion that were beyond legislative oversight.

The revelations have called into question security at the intelligence agencies and some critics say the agencies should be put under legislative supervision.

"The nationalization of military forces and the institutionalization of the intelligence agencies remain goals undertaken by the government after the transfer of political power," Chen said.

He said the long-term contributions of intelligence agencies and the hard work of numerous anonymous heroes should be recognized.

"The corruption and discipline problems of a few individuals should not denigrate the whole team's honor and contributions and must not be allowed to diminish our morale," Chen said.

"The authorities must spare no efforts in tracking down those who broke laws and holding them responsible. Internal management flaws must also be fixed," he said.

The president said intelligence agencies should strengthen internal discipline and be put under legislative scrutiny to eliminate the possibility of corruption and wrongdoing.

He also said that after learning of the Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍) case -- Liu is the NSB's former chief cashier who is wanted for allegedly embezzling NT$192 million -- he had instructed bureau chief Tsai Chao-ming (蔡朝明) to return any of the bureau's unused funds to the national coffers.

"The NSB's special funds were designed to implement the policy of recovering China .... Various funds have been appropriated to finance intelligence affairs and projects of international cooperation to this date. Though with this specific historic background ... this is not normal for a democracy with checks and balances," he said.

"Establishing a firm legal basis for the institutionalization of intelligence services by referring to other democratic countries as an example is the primary task in carrying out reform efforts," Chen continued. "Related bills -- including the state secrets protection law and government information access law -- should be passed as soon as possible."

Chen responded to criticism that the raids on the offices and printing plant of Next last week trampled on press freedom.

"No one can use national security as an excuse to suffocate democracy," he said. "Neither can anyone take freedom of the press as an excuse to hurt national security."

He said investigators must carefully handle cases in which press freedom may be jeopardized. "And I believe the media can also exercise self-discipline ... performing its democratic function and social responsibility of monitoring the government."

Chen also paid a visit to China Times founder Yu Chi-chung (余紀忠) yesterday, who has been ill.

A Presidential Office official said the visit had been scheduled before the NSB filed a complaint against the newspaper last week.

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