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South Korea

The Defense Security Command


Infantry mobile training exercise
Courtesy Ministry of National Defense, Republic of Korea

It was Syngman Rhee, not the military, who initiated the political involvement of the military in intelligence activities. The turning point came in 1952 when Rhee proclaimed martial law-- and the presence of military police in the chamber of the National Assembly guaranteed passage of the constitutional amendment he sought over the objections of a recalcitrant legislative branch and still-independent judicial branch. Throughout Rhee's administration, two military units--the Joint Military Provost Marshal and the army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC)--engaged in extralegal and violent political tactics, apparently not excluding the outright murder of politically undesirable people. Although the details never were disclosed fully, more than a few minor political figures' disappearances were connected to the two units.

Under Park, the provost marshal's political role declined, while the CIC and its successor, the Army Security Command (ASC), concentrated on internal military security. The CIC/ASC, which was under Park's direct control, maintained strict surveillance over all high-ranking officers. It acted as a deterrent to wouldbe coup leaders. It tried, less successfully, to prevent the rise of disruptive factions within the military.

The Defense Security Command was formally activated in October 1977. This merger of the Army Security Command, the Navy Security Unit, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations produced a single, integrated unit under the direct command and operational control of the minister of national defense. Although technically subordinate to the minister, the DSC commander operated semiautonomously and typically had personal, direct access to the president. Given the disparity in service size, the old ASC predominated within the DSC. The strength of the DSC varied over time within a probable range of 5,000 to 7,000 people during the 1980s.

The DSC (and its predecessors) was created to deal with the real question of loyalty within a military on a divided peninsula. It was inspired by the Guomindang model, in which political officers monitored the military services for subversion or disloyalty. The DSC was responsible for monitoring the military for loyalty; safeguarding military information; monitoring domestic political, economic, and social activities that might jeopardize military capabilities and national unity; maintaining defense industrial security--both physically and in terms of counterespionage; countering North Korean infiltration; detecting espionage and anticommunist law violations; and conducting special investigations at the direction of the president.

The DSC assigned small elements to all major military units to monitor security and loyalty. These elements operated outside the unit's chain of command and performed a highly effective independent audit function. The DSC representatives never rivaled unit commanders as political officers occasionally had in communist military units. Their input into officer evaluations, however, often played a decisive role in career progression, giving DSC members influence far beyond their rank and producing friction between them and the "regular" military. Corruption within the DSC was difficult to verify, but political manipulations, misappropriation of operating funds, and undue influencing of promotions certainly occurred and were particularly rampant in the mid- to late 1970s.

For most of the Park regime, the ASC/DSC remained concerned primarily with internal military matters and was involved in the Yun P'il-yong incident in 1972 and removing the army chief of staff, General Yi Se-ho, in 1979 for corruption. Yun P'il-yong, head of the Capital Garrison Command, was court martialed, along with several close followers, on charges of bribery and corruption. His "real" offense, however, was creating a faction among the classes of the four-year graduates of the Korea Military Academy. Yun's faction did not disappear when he was purged. The group of young officers, who called themselves the "Hanahoe," (One Mind Society), had its origins in an alumni group, the Taegu Seven Stars, of seven young officers, including Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, from the first graduating class of the Academy (Class 11). The Hanahoe evolved into a group of some 200 members through ten graduating classes. In 1979 and 1980, Chun drew on the Hanahoe in his ascent to power. The irony of Park's death at the hands of his KCIA chief in 1979, however, was compounded by the rise to power of the commander of the DSC, then Major General Chun Doo Hwan, who used the military's anticoup apparatus to ensure the success of his own coup (see The Chun Regime , ch. 1).

During and following Chun's rise to power, the DSC greatly expanded its charter into domestic politics and during the early 1980s was, perhaps, the dominant domestic intelligence service. The DSC was "credited" with masterminding the media reorganization of 1980 and with being the midwife for the first political parties of the Fifth Republic. Many former DSC members played prominent roles in Chun's administration and in the ruling Democratic Justice Party.

The end of the Fifth Republic brought the DSC under even more pressure than the ANSP to cut back on its domestic political activities. Both the DSC and the ANSP withdrew from the National Assembly at the same time in 1988. In October 1988, Minister of National Defense O Cha-bok reported to the National Assembly that the DSC would concentrate on counterespionage activities, preventing the spread of communism, conducting "relevant research," major restructuring, and would discontinue the investigation of civilians. Subsequently, the DSC eliminated the Office of Information that had been charged with collecting information on civilians, whose members had been active in local government offices. As a result of this move, 116 small detachments were disbanded, and the DSC announced plans to cut 860 personnel, or 14 percent of its 1990 strength. Additionally, the DSC curtailed its involvement in security screening of nonmilitary government personnel. An official of the DSC claimed that surveillance of politicians was turned over to "another agency." Given the historically broad interpretation of national security threats espoused by DSC personnel, however, many analysts doubted that the DSC had totally disengaged from domestic political surveillance. Despite the democratic trends of the late 1980s, intelligence and security agencies still were populated by individuals who were both institutionally and personally loyal to the president and ready to use any means at their disposal to support him.

Data as of June 1990

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