Seoul admits Kim death intelligence failings
South Korean defence minister says he was unaware of Kim Jong-il’s death until North Korean state media broke the news.
|The demilitarised zone between the two Koreas is considered the most heavily fortified frontier in the world [Reuters]|
Senior South Korean officials have admitted that the country’s intelligence agency failed to learn word of Kim Jong-il’s death until it was announced by the North’s state media, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
North Korea announced Kim’s death on Monday, two days after the 69-year-old had died from an apparent heart attack.
South Korea’s two days of ignorance about events in the North, with which it remains officially at war, had revealed grave problems with Seoul’s intelligence-gathering, officials admitted on Tuesday.
Won Sei-hoon, the head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), told a parliamentary committee he had learned of Kim’s death after the announcement by the North, while Kim Kwan-jin, the defence minister, said he only heard about it after watching the news, according to Yonhap.
“Figuring out Kim Jong-il’s death under the current defence intelligence system is somewhat limited, but I desperately felt the need to beef up our intelligence capacity,” Yonhap quoted the defence minister as saying during a defence parliamentary meeting.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the South Korean capital, said: “There has been some blame passed around for the lack of intelligence on the matter”.
“The defence minister was up in parliament and he received a grilling, we are told, by members of parliament here over the fact that it seems – and there are growing corroborations – that South Korea knew nothing about the death of the former dictator of North Korea until it was broadcast on North Korean television,” Fawcett said.
South Korean condolences
South Korea sent condolences on Tuesday to the North Korean people but officials in Seoul were continuing to discuss how the country should react amid fears that Kim’s death could destabilise already tense relations on the peninsula.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who has called for calm, met ministers to discuss how to react to Kim’s passing and to gauge the state of readiness should anything go wrong in North Korea.
“The government is still on a high state of alert; the military is still on a high state of alert; the presidential office, the national crisis management centre is still on high alert,” our correspondent said.
“They are all looking very carefully to see what they can glean from these images coming from North Korea, from their own human intelligence and surveillance that’s going on.”
Japan, the US and South Korea are considering holding high-level talks on the situation, a senior Japanese official said on Tuesday.
South Korean military chiefs said on Monday the country had stepped up border air surveillance, with Seoul asking the US, which stations 28,500 troops in the South, to also step up monitoring by planes and satellites.
The demilitarised zone between the two Koreas, in place since a ceasefire halted the Korea War in 1953, is considered the most heavily fortified frontier in the world.