Lee Byung-kee, 67, was nominated to be the director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on June 10, 2014. Before his nomination, he has been the Republic of Korea (ROK) ambassador to Japan since June 4, 2013.
Upon entering foreign service as a diplomat in 1974, Lee worked at the UN Secretariat and International Organizations in Geneva and the ROK embassy in Kenya. He started his career in politics in 1985 as the secretary to the chairman of the Democratic Justice Party, former president Roh Tae-woo. Ambassador Lee has also served as the Senior Secretary for Security during the Roh Tae-woo administration in the 1990s, deputy chief at the NIS’s predecessor organization, the Agency for National Security Planning, under the Kim Young-sam administration, and as a political and policy adviser at the Yeouido Institute, the think tank of the Grand National Party and its successor, the Saenuri Party.
Why has he been in the news?
Ambassador Lee was nominated by President Park Geun-hye as the new Director of the NIS on June 10. The National Assembly announced its endorsement of him on July 9 after undergoing a two-day confirmation hearing that started on July 7. President Park officially appointed Ambassador Lee on July 15 along with four other cabinet position nominees.
What can we expect from him?
The appointment of Ambassador Lee comes at a critical time when the NIS has been ridden with political scandals. The organization came under strong accusations of having interfered with the 2012 presidential election and also having forged Chinese immigration records to present as evidence in court against a North Korean defector who was accused of espionage in April 2014.
In response to these concerns, Ambassador Lee has vowed to remove the NIS from politics and focus on only serving the nation. The NIS’s involvement in domestic politics led to both ruling and opposition parties to come to agreement in December 2013 to adopt new measures for NIS reforms in order to prevent the agency’s potential political interference and to enhance the transparency of its activities. However, questions linger on the effectiveness of these new measures. As Lee has expressed reservations about the extent to which these measures will serve national security interests, whether and how these NIS reforms measures will be implemented under his leadership remains to be seen.