President Lee Myung-bak and other senior South Korean officials and diplomats only learned of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il when it was announced on TV Monday, casting further doubt on the effectiveness of the National Intelligence Service.
Lee was one of millions around the world that learned of Kim's death from North Korean Central TV, as was the U.S. government.
A key official in the ruling Grand National Party said, "We've learned that the NIS was not aware of Kim's death until the official announcement. It seems that neither communications intelligence nor human intelligence worked." He added even when North Korea repeatedly announced since the previous day that a special program would be aired, "the NIS said it would not be related to Kim's death."
Since the North Korean military did not cancel drills and there were talks between North Korea and the U.S. in Beijing last Friday, the NIS judged that all was normal and concluded that rumors of Kim's death were false. One intelligence officer said, "Although Kim has not been located since last Thursday, we believed he was resting due to his health and weather conditions."
In July 1994, the NIS also learned of regime founder Kim Il-sung's death from North Korean TV. For 34 hours between his death at 2 a.m. on July 8 until the TV announcement at noon the following day, the South Korean government was in the dark.
Kwon Young-se, a GNP lawmaker and chairman of the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee, said, "The NIS cannot avoid demands from around the country to explain its raison d'etre if it is unable to grasp a matter of such importance."