September 18, 2008

South Korean Daily Blames Government Intelligence Over North Leader’s Health

Text of report in English by South Korean newspaper Choson Ilbo website on 18 September

[Source headline: "Gov't Under Fire for Handling of N.Korea Intelligence"]

The government is taking flak for questionable handling of intelligence on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il]'s health problems.

The first question is credibility. Since Kim did not show up at an event marking North Korea's 60th founding anniversary on Sept. 9, some South Korean government officials have made it sound as if they were watching Kim at close range. They have said Kim is recovering fast, or has no speech problem despite partial paralysis, or can brush his teeth on his own.

In 1994, South Korean intelligence authorities were in the dark over Kim Il Sung [Kim Il-so'ng]'s death for about 30 hours. And when a South Korean tourist was shot to death at the Mt. Kumgang resort in North Korea two months ago, intelligence authorities failed to find information in time.

The prevailing view is that due to the previous governments' focus on reconciliation and cooperation with the North over the past decade, the clandestine intelligence network for North Korea has collapsed. Therefore, experts say, the suddenly excellent intelligence reports look dubious.

More seriously, it could provoke North Korea unnecessarily and undermine the intelligence agency's credibility if the reports some government officials have spread prove unfounded. Intelligence agencies in the US and Japan, which have better skills and equipment, refrain from making unnecessary remarks about the latest developments.

Some critics say South Korean intelligence authorities have gone too far; instead, they should maintain close relations with their US and Japanese counterparts including sharing intelligence and in deciding how much of it should be disclosed.

And if the reports are accurate, they must have been obtained from those closest to Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il], and their clumsy disclosure could result in exposing the sources.

There appears to have been little coordination among government agencies here. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun on Tuesday said, "There are several intelligence reports on Kim's health. But nothing has been officially confirmed." His statement was apparently aimed at denying, belatedly, the dribble of information from other government officials.

Originally published by Choson Ilbo website, Seoul, in English 18 Sep 08.

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