Intelligence: Koreans On Koreans

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September 14, 2008:  With the agreement to turn over to South Korea all military authority (for UN troops in South Korea, including American) by 2011, the U.S. is shifting intelligence resources from watching North Korea to keeping an eye on China. South Korea is not happy with this switch, which the U.S. just went ahead and did. It means reassigning several hundred intel people, both in South Korea and back in the United States. As far as the Americans are concerned, as the new top dog, South Korea has to take on all the responsibilities that go along with it, including the task of watching North Korea.

South Korea lost final say in military matters in 1950, after North Korea invaded and the United States, and the UN, came to the rescue. The UN put the U.S. in charge. For the last thirty years, bits and pieces of authority have been transferred to South Korea. But in three years, South Korea will have it all, and in wartime, U.S. commanders will get their marching orders from South Korean commanders. This is similar to situations American forces have found themselves in when dealing with NATO operations.

South Korea has become immensely wealthy in the past three decades, and can afford all the support and logistical responsibilities that go along with being in charge. South Korea has been increasing its spending on intelligence, to include high-ticket items like Global Hawk UAVs. The U.S. still provides a lot of the spy satellite data, but the South Koreans are now able to equip and carry electronic surveillance operations. South Korea has also developed the best human intelligence on North Korea, mainly because of the increasing commercial contacts in the north since the 1990s. In this area, the South Korea have a huge edge on the Americans.

While the U.S. does not always agree with how to interpret the intel on North Korea, they are increasingly dependent on South Korea for the raw material. There is little choice in this area, for no one, except possibly China, has better sources inside North Korea. So while the South Koreans publicly complain of the lowered intensity of intel effort by the U.S., the South Koreans cannot deny the logic behind the decision.

 


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