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Lawmakers start debating spy agency reforms

Updated: 2013-12-16 (KST)
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On Monday, the National Assembly's special committee to reform the nation's intelligence
agency invited a group of experts to share their views on how to make the agency more politically neutral.
The National Intelligence Service stands accused of meddling in last year's presidential election by launching a smear campaign online to sway public opinion in favor of then ruling party candidate and current president, Park Geun-hye.
The ruling Saenuri Party wants to limit the scope of the reforms, saying the agency did a good job of collecting information on the purge of Jang Song-thaek in North Korea and alerting the South Korean government in advance.

"Reform of the spy agency is necessary. But it is premature and wrong to argue that the meat of the reforms should involve getting rid of the part of the agency that handles anti-communist intelligence."

The spy agency's anti-communist intelligence wing also handles domestic affairs, as NIS agents are authorized to collect and compile domestic public security information on suspected communists and attempts to overthrow the government.
The current law also authorizes NIS agents to investigate crimes of insurrection or rebellion.
Critics have argued that the agency's investigative authority in this realm is prone to abuse and easily manipulated for political surveillance.
The main opposition Democratic Party wants to reduce the agency's authority over domestic affairs, saying that doing so would keep it away from local politics and allow it to focus on North Korea.

"The Jang Song-thaek case has demonstrated that the spy agency really can play an important role for the nation if it does not waste its energy interfering in local politics and posting political comments online."

The public hearings will continue through Tuesday, after which lawmakers will start deliberating on how the National Intelligence Service law and a law on public officials should be revised to carry out the necessary reforms.
Kim Yeon-ji, Arirang News.

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