South Korea: National Intelligence Service (NIS)
Up From the Cold War
The functions of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) include:
- collection, coordination and distribution of South Korea’s strategy and security
- the investigation of crimes related to national security
- maintenance of materials, documents and facilities related to the nation’s classified information
- and the planning and coordination of classified and public information.
South Korean intelligence agencies have played a central–and sometimes bloody–role in the country’s politics and foreign policy.
The NIS, created in 1998, was a successor agency to the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), which dominated South Korea’s government during the Cold War. The first director of the KCIA, Kim Jong-pil, helped lead the 1961 military coup that brought President Park Chung-hee to power. Park’s government used the agency suppress and disrupt anti-government and student protests for two decades. Then, in 1979, Park was assassinated during a dinner meeting by KCIA director Kim Jae-gyu. Kim was subsequently hanged.
The NIS, created to reduce the agency’s influence in domestic politics, continued to become embroiled in political scandals. After the country’s 2012 presidential election, NIS officials admitted they conducted an illicit campaign in favor of a conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, who defeated her liberal rival, Moon Jae-in. In June 2018 three former NIS directors (Lee Byung-kee, Lee Byung-ho, and Nam Jae-joon) were found guilty of illegally passing money to President Park’s office for use as bribes.
When Moon Jae-in won the presidency in 2017, he promised to take the NIS out of politics. The NIS has played an important role in assessing the state of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and supporting Moon’s efforts to forge an agreement between North Korea and the United States to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and end the Korean war.
The NIS director is Park Jie-won. The agency’s budget is classified.