South Korea’s spy chief faces mounting pressure to quit after his agency failed to gather any intelligence on Kim Jong Il’s death before it was broadcast on North Korean television two days later.
National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei Hoon should resign for his “unacceptable” ignorance and poor management, Park Young Sun, a lawmaker in the opposition Liberty Forward Party, said in an interview today. Park joined Kwon Young Se, head of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee and a representative of the ruling Grand National Party, who told CBS Radio that Won should be made accountable for the lapse.
“The director should take the blame and resign from his post for not knowing about Kim’s death until the TV broadcasts,” Park said. “Because he had no clue, the president, along with all of the ministers overseeing national security matters, had no knowledge of Kim’s passing.”
Park and Kwon joined the growing criticism directed at the spy agency for its shortfalls in collecting intelligence on a regime that’s still technically at war with Asia’s fourth-largest economy. South Korea’s government wasn’t alone in being blindsided as President Barack Obama was notified of Kim’s death half an hour after the North Korean broadcasts, according to the White House.
An official at the spokesman’s office of the intelligence agency declined to comment today on the lawmakers’ criticism.
China’s ambassador to North Korea, Liu Hongcai, learned that Kim had passed away on the day of his death Dec. 17, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported today, citing an unidentified person familiar with the matter in Beijing.
The criticism over the intelligence lapse is among the challenges faced by President Lee Myung Bak’s administration at a time when the government needs to collect more information to draft measures on how to deal a new nuclear-armed regime. Lee will meet with heads of ruling and opposition parties tomorrow to discuss countermeasures, Yonhap News reported.
South Korea responded to Kim’s death and the naming of his third son Kim Jong Un as successor by raising the military and civilian cyber alerts one notch above standard levels. The younger Kim began asserting his control over the military soon after his father’s death, ordering units to return to base before the state media’s Dec. 19 broadcasts, Yonhap reported.
South Korean financial markets, which dropped on Dec. 19 when Kim’s death was announced, recovered all of their loses as concerns eased over possible political upheaval in the North.
Former South Korean Foreign Minister Han Sung Joo was among those predicting that Kim’s sudden death won’t lead to chaos in the communist regime.
“The situation is pretty much in control,” he said today in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Kim Jong Un is a “figurehead,” while his uncle Jang Song Thaek and military leader Ri Yong Ho are in charge, Han said.
At the Gaeseong industrial complex, an inter-Korean economic zone established six years ago about 10 miles (16 kilometers) inside North Korea, workers are returning to their jobs after their initial shock.
“They were in a state of distraction and just went home,” Ok Sung Seok, who’s run the Nine Mode Co. shirt-making company in Gaeseong since 2007, said by phone in Seoul today. “I was back there yesterday. Passing across the border by bus went as normal and my staff are back at work.”
Little is known on North Korea’s new designated leader and the first official notice that he was being groomed to take over was last year, when the younger Kim was named to senior military and party posts. While he spent most of his life in North Korea, Kim Jong Un he studied in Switzerland in the 1990s. The third son of the deceased dictator, he was the favorite, according to a Japanese chef who wrote a book about his 13 years of cooking for Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang.
“He was unknown until two years ago,” said Michael Green, senior director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There are questions about whether enough legwork was done to keep him going. One question now is will Kim Jong Un and others around him do something to prove he’s in command.”
The uncertainty on the Korean peninsula comes as public discontent over Lee and his party’s administration of an economy buffeted by inflation and income disparity. The GNP lost the Seoul mayoral race in October and senior lawmakers resigned from their party leadership posts earlier this month, adding to turmoil ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections next year.