S. Korea spy agency admits attempting to rig presidential election
SEOUL — South Korea’s spy agency admitted on Thursday that it had engaged in a far-reaching attempt to manipulate voters as it sought to help conservatives win parliamentary and presidential elections.
In-house investigators from the National Intelligence Service confirmed the agency’s cyber warfare unit organized and operated up to 30 teams for more than two years in the run-up to the 2012 elections, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
They hired internet-savvy civilians and sought to sway voter opinions through postings on portals and Twitter.
“The teams were charged with spreading pro-government opinions and suppressing anti-government views, branding them as pro-North Korean forces’ attempts to disturb state affairs”, it said.
At the time, the country was led by the conservative Lee Myung-bak, and the December 2012 presidential election was won by his now-disgraced colleague Park Geun-hye, who defeated liberal Moon Jae-in.
Moon was elected in May this year after Park was impeached and dismissed over corruption and abuse of power.
He has vowed to reform the NIS to prevent it meddling in elections and make it focus on collecting and analyzing intelligence on foreign affairs.
A spokesman for Park’s party, now in opposition and renamed Liberty Korea, said on Friday the inquiry was “politically motivated”.
“The NIS says it will dissociate itself from politics but it is meddling in politics again by starting this probe,” Kang Hyo-sang said in a statement.
Former NIS chief Won Seihoon is being tried for the second time for leading an online smear campaign against Moon, after his initial conviction was overturned on appeal.
But the NIS investigation results suggest the scale of the voter manipulation was far wider than previously thought.
The probe also found Won ordered the agency to muzzle the press, provide support for pro-government conservative civic groups and put some major opposition politicians under secret surveillance.
The NIS has been tainted by a series of scandals, including the forging of documents to build a false spying case against a former Seoul official.