Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) has proposed amendments to the National Intelligence Services Act (國家情報工作法) with the support of 15 other lawmakers. The proposed changes aim to ensure stiffer penalties for National Security Bureau (NSB) officers found to have leaked state secrets. They would apply to active-duty officers and those within a year of retirement.
Lo said that the changes are necessary to increase the deterrence value of existing legislation.
It is no secret that Chinese espionage activities, aimed at gaining access to confidential military, industrial, technological and political intelligence, is a huge problem for Taiwan. Chinese operatives target not only intelligence agencies, but also visiting officials, Taiwanese businesspeople in China and unwitting targets in Taiwan.
Intelligence leaks from any source, including the bureau, present national security risks. These risks include not only military intelligence and the obvious danger that this entails, but also involve national security issues such as technology theft, and industrial and trade competitiveness.
According to Article 2 of the Organization Act for the National Security Bureau (國家安全局組織法), the bureau and its officers are responsible for Taiwan’s national security, and intelligence gathering and processing operations for Chinese and international intelligence. They are also responsible for analysis of national strategic intelligence and the security of scientific and technological intelligence and communications. A recent addition to the bureau’s structure is a cybersecurity unit, which is responsible for countering cyberattacks and defending networks.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is the sole military threat facing Taiwan. Cyberwarfare is increasingly an important aspect of modern warfare. It is widely recognized as playing a potentially decisive role in any conflict between militaries.
Allowing confidential information about Taiwan’s capabilities, planning and systems to be leaked to a hostile country is clearly to be avoided at all costs.
Lo and two cosponsors of the proposal, DPP legislators Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) and Chuang Jui-hsiung (莊瑞雄), two years ago called on the government to revisit a shelved counterintelligence bill. The bill would have implemented an integrated strategy including the Investigation Bureau, military intelligence, police departments and other related organs.
At the time, their concerns were in response to reports that more than 5,000 Chinese spies had infiltrated Taiwan’s military and government, a number that was considered conservative. They had preferred the bill as an alternative to strengthening the National Security Act (國家安全法), but it was rejected by the government due to concerns about giving the state unchecked powers to curtail freedom of speech in the name of upholding national security.
The protection of confidential intelligence is important not simply for safeguarding domestic industrial competitiveness and military secrets, it also has repercussions for Taiwan’s intelligence-sharing relationships with international partners. Taiwan’s intelligence agencies work closely with partners in the US and other countries. Potential leaks and loopholes in the nation’s intelligence agencies would only dissuade international partners from sharing intelligence with Taipei.
As with so many other national security issues, it comes down to finding the correct balance between the security of the state and safeguarding its citizens on the one hand, and guaranteeing freedom of speech and privacy on the other. Current and former NSB officers should be held to a higher standard when it comes to intelligence leaks than ordinary citizens. In view of the importance of reinforcing the deterrence effect of the National Intelligence Services Act, the government should seriously consider the proposed changes.
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