The defense ministry launched its new military intelligence unit Saturday, with its authority reduced and a ban on it from engaging in any political issues.
Under an amended military ordinance, the Defense Security Support Command (DSSC) began operations Sept. 1, the Ministry of National Defense said. The DSSC replaces the former scandal-tainted Defense Security Command.
The launch of the DSSC occurred about a month after President Moon Jae-in ordered Defense Minister Song Young-moo to disband the former security command and create a "wholly new" organization with limited authority.
The decision was part of countermeasures after it was revealed that the unit planned to deploy armed forces last year to quell pro-democracy protestors who called for the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.
The military intelligence unit has in recent months come under a harsh public backlash for its multiple engagements in political activities. The unit is also suspected of forming a 60-member taskforce to manage the aftermath of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster by trying to manipulate public sentiment.
"We have prohibited the DSSC from carrying out any background checks on soldiers and civilian military personnel when it is aimed at finding out about their private lives," DSSC Commander Nam Young-sin said in a press conference.
The remark is in line with the new ordinance under which the DSSC disallowed any of its officials to collect private information on other soldiers.
The DSSC begins its work with a reduced workforce. The former security command consisted of 4,100 but after restructuring, the defense ministry cut the number to 2,900.
The DSSC chief also pledged to cut long-lasting political ties between the organization and Cheong Wa Dae.
The military intelligence unit has for decades been regarded as a "privileged organization," as it was able to bypass the defense minister and directly present reports to the president.
"Our role is to assist the defense minister for national security and the prevention of espionage," Nam said. "We are going to report anything to the defense minister first and, when necessary, to the presidential office afterward."
Nam also promised to do his best to serve the public and tighten military discipline at the DSSC.
"I do not have a keen sense in handling political affairs," Nam said. "I only think of performing my duty for the public and the military. I swear on my honor that the DSSC will be a decent organization which never betrays the public."
The defense minister also called for the need to transform the security command into a scandal-free and transparent organization without any sense of entitlement.
"Now is the time to reflect deeply on the past and move to the future," Song said during the launch ceremony for the DSSC.
The ruling and opposition parties have called for the need for the DSSC to remain politically neutral.
"The DSSC launch is a big leap-forward in that it has institutionalized the military's political neutrality," Hong Ik-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) also welcomed the launch of the new intelligence unit.
"Securing political neutrality should be the top priority of the new organization," LKP spokesman Yoon Young-seok said. "The DSSC should become a key organization for national security amid growing concerns that the rapid disbandment of the former intelligence unit could have created a security vacuum."