Seoul Needs Better Intelligence About N.Korea

      September 14, 2009 13:53

      A U.S.-based blog called "North Korean Economy Watch" on Sunday published a report where police in China's Jilin Province in October 2003 detailed the discovery of the bodies of 56 North Koreans floating down the Apnok River. According to the document, postmortems showed that the 56 had all been shot by North Korean border guards when attempting to cross illegally into China. The dead consisted of 36 men, 20 women and seven children.

      What country shoots and massacres its own citizens when they try to cross the border in search of food? This is the sort of incident associated with ethnic cleansing campaigns in Africa. And how can we be sure this was an isolated atrocity? This tragedy would have been buried forever inside a police file cabinet in China had it not been for the efforts of one website led by a U.S. economist, which has tracked hidden North Korean facilities including the luxurious home of the country's leader Kim Jong-il.

      The North Korean regime cannot be understood with common logic, but it is South Korea's fate to have to deal with such an unstable neighbor. From last year until June this year, North Korea was busy ratcheting up tensions, shooting and killing a South Korean tourist at the Mt. Kumgang resort, making unreasonable demands by threatening to close down the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, conducting a nuclear test and firing missiles. But since July, the North has been seeking talks, as if none of those things had happened. Then last week North Korea suddenly released a huge torrent of water from its dam on the Imjin River, taking six South Korean lives. The only way to deal with a country like that is to procure the most accurate information possible about its internal operations and make sound judgments based on that information.

      The National Intelligence Service told a National Assembly committee in June that North Korea has sent a message to overseas diplomatic missions saying Kim Jong-il's third son Jong-un has been chosen as his successor. But recently, North Korea's no. 2 leader Kim Young-nam publicly announced that the issue was "not being discussed at this point."

      At the height of the Cold War between 1960 and 1980, whenever U.S. intelligence failed to accurately grasp even minor changes happening in the Soviet Union, the administration would point to a "fatal flaw" in national intelligence gathering ability. Intelligence information on North Korea has the same vital importance for South Korea. This is why about W1 trillion (US$1=W1,222) of the government's budget is allocated to intelligence operations.

      President Lee Myung-bak said recently, "This is an important turning point and a period of turmoil in inter-Korean relations. We must come up with future-oriented policies that others will say were well done 20 to 30 years down the road." Gaining an accurate picture of what is going on in North Korea is crucial in dealing with the North during that "important turning point." It is time to take a close look at whether our intelligence officers are doing all that needs to be done. If they are not, we must find out why and come up with measures to deal with the problem.

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