Fri, May 17, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Spies caught in Web site scandal embarrass Seoul

The South Korean spy agency has said its agents were engaged in missions to cope with North Korea’s cyberwarfare, but opposition lawmakers and activists suspect something more insidious is afoot

By Kim Hung-jin  /  AP, SEOUL

Police said last month they have found that at least two agents and an ordinary citizen, who was allegedly in collusion with them, posted 100 comments on at least two Web sites in violation of a law banning the NIS from engaging in domestic politics. Police subsequently requested that prosecutors indict all three people, one of whom is the agent the opposition had accused before the election.

One of the Web sites is the online forum Today Humor, which had more than 950,000 unique visitors last month, according to Nielsen KoreanClick.

Police found that the agents did not violate the law because they were not influential enough to sway the election’s outcome and only supported government policies and projects rather than directly criticizing Moon. One of the comments disclosed by police praised Park Geun-hye’s predecessor and fellow ruling party member Lee Myung-bak for making many overseas trips: “President Lee Myung-bak will make a five-day trip to Indonesia and Thailand from tomorrow. This will be his 48th overseas trip and it is overwhelmingly the largest-ever [among South Korean presidents]. He is really great.”

Democratic Party officials agreed the comments did not have straightforward, bold criticism of Moon, but rather tried to derogate him and support Park Geun-hye by slightly tweaking the spelling of their names. For instance, in their postings they called Moon Jae-in “Moon Joein” — which means “Moon, the criminal” — while calling Park Geun-hye “Geun-hye, jjang” — which means “Geun-hye, the best” — party officials said.

The NIS has defended itself, saying the two agents were only engaged in missions to cope with North Korea’s cyberwarfare by posting comments countering messages praising the North’s system and spreading groundless rumors about South Korean government policies.

Opposition lawmakers and activists suspect a broader, systemic operation than has been revealed so far, involving a far larger number of NIS agents.

A nonprofit organization called Lawyers for a Democratic Society conducted an independent investigation and said NIS agents also tried to vote down posts unfavorable to Park Geun-hye at Today Humor, which selects the daily top comments based on votes from users. At least four individuals created 73 IDs at the Today Humor forum since August last year and cast more than 1,100 votes against the posts that depicted Park Geun-hye unfavorably, according to Park Ju-min, an attorney at the organization. They collectively expressed opposition to the posts that depicted Moon favorably, he said.

Critics attacked what they see as an attempt to affect the election, and said the work had little to do with the spy agency’s job.

“How much effort had been needed to make the spy agency commit itself to its main duty? What’s happening now is like having backtracked in those efforts,” said Lee Cheol-hee, head of the private Doomun Political Strategy Institute in Seoul. “It’s a very serious matter.”

“They did something that they shouldn’t do ... while little achievement on one of its main duties — North Korea intelligence — are seen,” analyst Paik Hak-soon at the Sejong Institute in South Korea said. “Unless it places its priority on something, that cannot help being neglected.”

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