June 5, 2017
The new president of South Korea has officially banned the country’s spy agency from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering, in a move that some say signals an era of sweeping security reforms in the country. South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) fell into disrepute in recent years, after many of its officers were found to have secretly sided with conservative political candidates for public office. In 2015, the NIS’ former director, Won Sei-hoon, was jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians.
Won headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential elections, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. In the months prior to his assumption of the presidency, Moon promised his supporters that he would reform the NIS and prevent it from meddling again into South Korea’s domestic political affairs.
Last Thursday, President Moon replaced all of NIS’ deputy directors, who are tasked with focusing on North Korea and other foreign countries, espionage and terrorism, and cyber security. Later on the same day, Moon announced the appointment of Suh Hoon as director of NIS. Suh is a career intelligence officer who served as one of NIS’ deputy directors until Thursday’s appointment. Within hours of his appointment, Suh had ordered the termination of all NIS domestic intelligence-gathering operations and vowed to reform the spy agency once and for all. He also said that he would proceed to dissolve the NIS’ domestic wing, and that all such tasks would be transferred to South Korea’s National Police Agency. The new NIS director also vowed that, under his leadership, the NIS would become “a…