While politicians and scholars bicker over how to balance national security against media freedom, all agree that the organization of the National Security Bureau (NSB) needs reform to prevent further intelligence leaks and malfeasance by its officials.
Last week, the Chinese-language China Times and Next magazine ran lead stories based on classified documents allegedly leaked by former NSB official Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍), indicating that the bureau had set up funds to sponsor covert operations in violation of budget codes.
Liu, who had worked as NSB chief cashier between 1998 and 2000, fled the country on Sept. 3, 2000, after investigators found unusual transactions in his accounts.
He is believed to have first escaped to China via Nanliao Port in Hsinchu after embezzling more than NT$190 million, according to a Control Yuan report on March 5 that found Liu and two former NSB heads, Yin Tsung-wen (
Some speculation places Liu in Australia, while other rumors say he and his family are living in the US using fake identities.
"It is time the NSB did some soul-searching in the wake of this scandal and intelligence leaks," DPP legislative whip Ker Chien-ming (
Though it had been operating for decades, the bureau was not institutionalized until 1994 under ex-president Lee Teng-hui (
At Yin's advice, Lee gave his approval for the bureau to keep some NT$3.5 billion to fund clandestine tasks -- mainly efforts to cement ties with foreign nations -- to avoid legal procedures from stalling their execution.
While seeking to curb the political fallout following the disclosure of the funds, the DPP has pushed for legislation to bring the intelligence agency under stricter supervision.
"While it is impractical to bring all intelligence operations under public scrutiny, more external supervision is recommended to prevent corruption by a few unscrupulous officials," Ker added.
Liu, put in charge of the secret fund, had reportedly pocketed the interest payments and invested them in the stock market.
The same Control Yuan report paints his escape as "hastily carried out," as he left a significant part of his fortune behind. The former colonel failed to dispose of a luxurious mansion in Taipei and hundreds of thousands of shares in blue-chip companies.
Copies of the disclosed documents indicate that they were photocopies from Liu's copy machine in the bureau. Though some believe he stole the secret materials before his escape, others suspect his accomplices leaked them to the media for as-yet unknown reasons.
Lee Wen-chung (
He noted that ranking intelligence and military officials have been trained to oppose Taiwan independence and have had difficulty adjusting to the transfer of power to the pro-independence DPP.
Though willing to mellow his pro-independence rhetoric, President Chen Shui-bian (
"Over the years, severe punishment, such as assassination, and a sense of loyalty have been the main glue holding the bureau together," Lee said.
He added that the bureau has had to rename all its front establishments worldwide following the intelligence leak.