South Korea, Intelligence and Security

South Korea, Intelligence and Security

South Korea, or the Republic of Korea (ROK), has an intelligence and security apparatus that is, in many respects, modeled on that of the United States. The ranking system in the defense forces is similar to that of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, and the Presidential Security Service (PSS) performs a role similar to that of the U.S. Secret Service. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) was even known as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) from 1961 to 1981. On the other hand, the police system in the ROK is quite unlike that of the United States.

In addition to an army, navy, air force, and marine corps, the ROK military includes the Homeland Reserve Force. Overseeing the entire military structure are two executive bodies, the National Security Council and the Ministry of Defense. Military intelligence across all branches is the work of the Defense Security Command, formed in 1977 from a merger of the Army Security Command, the Navy Security Unit, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Though some of these units had names identical to agencies in the U.S. Army, the model for the DSC and its predecessor organizations was the system in Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC), where the Guomindang Party had political officers monitoring the military services. The ROK and ROC have similar political histories. Both represent democracy in divided nations whose other portion—North Korea and the People's Republic of China respectively—is communist. Yet both systems were, until near the end of the twentieth century, notorious in the West for the limitations they placed on individual liberties. Both have since experienced liberalization efforts that, in the ROC, led to the end of the one-party Guomindang rule, and in the ROK, reduced the power of the chief intelligence agency.

Created in 1961, KCIA had a mission combining that of the United States CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, though its power in domestic affairs—including virtually unlimited authority to arrest and imprison—was far greater than that of its American counterparts. After KCIA chief Kim Chae-gyu assassinated the dictatorial President Park Chung Hee in 1979, KCIA experienced a purge and loss of power. It emerged in 1981 as the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP), which still exerted enormous influence. ANSP's role in the 1987 torture and death of student dissident Pak Chong-ch'ol helped spark a move for greater democratization. This ultimately resulted in the 1999 dissolution of ANSP in favor of the National Intelligence Service, which is more clearly subordinated to the national assembly.

In the ROK, there is no local police system; rather, all police are under the authority of the National Police Agency. The latter exerts its authority from the capital in Seoul, where it controls five special-task police agencies, including marine police, and thirteen provincial police headquarters.



Kim, Jin-hyun, and Chung-in Moon. Post-Cold War, Democratization, and National Intelligence: A Comparative Perspective. Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1996.


South Korea Intelligence and Security Agencies. Federation of American Scientists. < > (March 1, 2003).


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