The Risks of Intelligence Failure in the ROK and Why It Matters

Daniel Pinkston

SEOUL, March 18, 2014 - Daniel Allen Pinkston, the Northeast Asia Deputy Project Director for the International Crisis Group, gave a lecture called "The Risks of Intelligence Failure in the ROK and Why It Matters.”

Dr. Pinkston’s presentation was based on research he has been conducting over the past few months, on which he has a paper that will be released soon. In it, he breaks down the internal structure of the intelligence agencies of the Republic of Korea and gives insights into the international implications of intelligence gathering.

Early in his presentation, Dr. Pinkston distinguished the difference between intelligence and information. Intelligence involves information that is gathered in a situation of strategic interaction, which is where two or more parties are involved in an interaction where no party has complete control over the outcome. For instance, sports games, chess matches, and competing companies, all involve strategic interactions. On the other hand, information involves facts that are neutral and do not have conflicts of interest. States and policymakers often have to rely on intelligence collected in situations of strategic interaction when creating military policy, trade negotiations, and other types of policy. Most times, these policymakers are receiving imperfect information, so in order to make better policy decisions, they need to receive better intelligence.

Dr. Pinkston went on to describe three types of pathologies: intelligence failure, politicization, and intervention in domestic politics. Intelligence failure happens during the process of collecting or analyzing data, and is nearly impossible to avoid. Politicization is when information is manipulated in order to influence the policy making process. Intervention in domestic politics occurs when intelligence services directly intervene to change domestic political affairs, such as a coup d’etat or election rigging.

Next, Dr. Pinkston went on to give descriptions of different types of intelligence. Open source intelligence (OSINT) involves non-clandestine information available on the internet, such as academic journals detailing scientific achievements. Human Intelligence (HUMINT) involves people establishing networks and getting information from human contacts. Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) includes the interception of communication information such as any electronics intelligence. This would include any emissions with electronic signatures or imagery intelligence such as satellite images. Lastly, Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) includes radar, acoustic, nuclear, and chemical emissions.

For these different kinds of intelligences, Dr. Pinkston explained that there are various kinds of technological capabilities and expertise required for each field. This made it necessary for the establishment of different institutions to collect the various types of intelligences. This division of labor, however, created a sort of bureaucratic turf war. The director of SIGINT, for instance, in an effort to increase the budget and resources of his department, may assert importance at the expense of the other intelligence institutions. This kind of bureaucratic rivalry is present in South Korea as well. This can very possibly lead to intelligence failure due to an inability to integrate the different types of information.

When looking at the history of ROK intelligence, the historical context is important. The first intelligence service was established in 1902, but was disbanded during the Japanese colonial period. After the liberation, most of the intelligence used was from the US Army, Air Force, and Navy. They worked with the emerging South Korean Army to begin forming different intelligence institutions. Due to the war, the intelligence agencies were very military focused. The military served as the intelligence institution through the 1950s. In 1961, after the coup led by Park Chung-hee and Kim Jong-pil, the KCIA, or Korean Civil Intelligence Agency, was established. It included foreign intelligence, domestic intelligence, and criminal investigative powers. President Park used this agency to control policy making in the South.

Military intelligence grew in power in the 1970s, as the KCIA grew. However, because of the KCI director’s assassination of President Park in October 1979, the Defense Security Command, was in charge of the investigation. Chun Doo Hwan was able to utilize this agency to purge 300 people out of the KCIA. Reforms were made and the agency was renamed as the National Security Planning Agency. Then further reforms occurred in the 1990s, and when Kim Dae Jung became president, the name changed back to the National Intelligence Service.

To outline the current mapping of the agencies, Dr. Pinkston explained that under the South Korean Military Intelligence, there is the KDI Korean Defense Intelligence Agency. They work with the joint chiefs of staff (ROKJCS) in gathering tactical military intelligence with a lot of cooperation and overlap. In the legal department, there is the Defense Intelligence Command, which is responsible for imagery intelligence. They also collect HUMINT and MASINT as well. A separate military organization is the 777 Command which intercepts SIGINT and other communications from North Korea. Most of their focus is on the North. The Korea Geospatial Agency was founded in 2011 in Daejeon. They deal very secretively with targeting information on geospatial mapping. South Korea is increasing counterstrike capabilities, missile range capabilities, and proactive defense (striking first in the event of an eminent attack). These military organizations make assessments about the North’s intentions and feed the intelligence to decision makers. Due to the geography of the peninsula, the reaction time is very short and extremely critical. Therefore, these agencies must be capable, have technical assets, human resources, and training in order to provide accurate intelligence information.

A fourth, but separate military intelligence agency, is the Defense Security Command. They deal with counter espionage within the military and security counter terrorism. Then there is the NIS which is in charge of internal security, North Korea, foreign intelligence, counter terrorism, industrial espionage, narcotics trafficking, and international crime.

Because of the bureaucratic turf wars, communication isn’t always adequate. In South Korea as well, the desire to protect sensitive information causes a reduction in communication. With such a strong executive branch, the way intelligence is presented to the president depends on his or her management style. Since there is no clearing house or centralized authority to pass the information along, it is left to the NIS director who also has his own individual bureaucratic interests.

Dr. Pinkston concluded his presentation by explaining how South Korea can possibly reduce intelligence failures from occurring. Adequate resources, such as technology, human resources, training, and budgets, must be provided to the intelligence services. However, in South Korea, making this recommendation sets off alarms due to past experiences with politicization and intervention of politics. They are wary of giving more resources to agencies that can intervene in domestic politics. While focusing on these two types of pathologies, intelligence failures may increase. So Dr. Pinkston’s recommendation for South Korea is to create an authority to act as a clearing house that would send intelligence to the executive branch, without conflict of interest, and with increased oversight.