For­mer spy chief sen­tenced to 4 years

For­mer Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak faces ques­tion­ing

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Lee Kyung-min lkm@ktimes.com

The Seoul High Court sen­tenced the na­tion’s for­mer top spy to four years in prison Wed­nes­day for or­ches­trat­ing cy­ber­war­fare to med­dle in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

For­mer Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice (NIS) chief Won Sei-hoon was im­pris­oned im­me­di­ately af­ter the rul­ing. Two for­mer se­nior NIS of­fi­cials in­dicted on the same charge were both sen­tenced to 30-month prison terms sus­pended for four years.

The court said the state agency un­der Won’s di­rec­tion en­gaged in wide-rang­ing or­ga­nized ef­forts to con­trol and ma­nip­u­late pub­lic opinion.

Won, who headed the NIS from 2009 to 2013, was in­dicted in June 2013 for or­der­ing his staff to con­duct il­le­gal on­line cam­paign­ing to help then-con­ser­va­tive can­di­date Park Geun-hye and hurt her then-ma­jor lib­eral op­po­nent Moon Jae-in. Park nar­rowly won in the elec­tion at the time.

“The NIS failed to main­tain po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity and about 70 of­fi­cials there were deeply in­volved in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics with the spe­cific in­ten­tion to sway pub­lic opinion to ad­vance the pre­set agenda man­aged and de­liv­ered through Won. The of­fi­cials that used fake on­line IDs to help or hurt cer­tain politi­cians vi­o­lated the law and be­trayed the pub­lic trust,” the court said in its rul­ing.

Won de­serves harsh pun­ish­ment for his me­thod­i­cal and care­ful ex­e­cu­tion of il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties that con­tin­ued for a long pe­riod of time, the court added.

“Won was aware of the im­pli­ca­tions of his or­ders the en­tire time and was reg­u­larly briefed to more pre­cisely con­trol the cy­ber op­er­a­tion,” it said.

The sen­tenc­ing came more than two years af­ter the Supreme Court re­turned the case to the ap­pel­late court in 2015, or­der­ing a re­view of the lat­ter’s de­ter­mi­na­tion about rec­og­niz­ing ev­i­dence.

The top court said an email record, which the pros­e­cu­tion pre­sented as crit­i­cal ev­i­dence that led to his con­vic­tion, was in­ad­mis­si­ble.

Be­fore this, a district court found him guilty of vi­o­lat­ing the NIS Law but not the Elec­tion Law, sen­tenc­ing him to a 30-month prison term sus­pended for four years, along­side a three-year sus­pen­sion from of­fi­cial duty. It did not rec­og­nize the email ev­i­dence.

How­ever, the ap­pel­late court said Won vi­o­lated the Elec­tion Law as well, sen­tenc­ing him to three years in prison.

The NIS Law bans its work­ers from en­gag­ing in any ac­tiv­i­ties that could in­flu­ence the out­come of a po­lit­i­cally di­vi­sive is­sue.

The Elec­tion Law bans pub­lic of­fi­cials from elec­tion­eer­ing by abus­ing their power and au­thor­ity us­ing the nature of their posts.

Ex­pec­ta­tions were that Won would face harsher pun­ish­ment fol­low­ing last-minute ev­i­dence sub­mit­ted by the pros­e­cu­tion last month.

The ev­i­dence, writ­ten ac­counts of meet­ing min­utes pre­served be­tween 2009 and 2012, was re­cov­ered by the NIS task force that is look­ing into past wrong­do­ings of the agency un­der the two for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tions.

In the meet­ings at­tended by man­age­rial-level of­fi­cers in the NIS, Won said the NIS should screen can­di­dates be­fore hav­ing them run in local elec­tions. He also said news sto­ries crit­i­cal of gov­ern­ment should not be run, or op­er­a­tions should be launched to shut down me­dia out­lets that run such sto­ries, adding “it is the in­tel­li­gence agency’s job to beat up those who do some­thing wrong.”

Psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare, he added, was not only lim­ited to North Korea, but also was needed against the (South Korean) pub­lic.

Won also urged the meet­ings at­ten­dees to in­crease ef­forts to pre­vent lib­er­als in the coun­try from pos­ing a nui­sance against the then con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tive to push nu­mer­ous poli­cies.

Mean­while, for­mer Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak, the pre­de­ces­sor of Park faces the in­creased pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing ques­tioned over his in­volve­ment in such il­le­gal­i­ties.

The rul­ing comes amid the pros­e­cu­tion’s ex­pand­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into wrong­do­ings of two for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tions with an NIS in-house task force con­tinue to dis­close many such ac­tiv­i­ties, as part of Moon’s ini­tia­tive to elim­i­nate “so­cial ills.”

Ear­lier, the task force con­cluded the NIS ran 30 ex­tra-de­part­men­tal teams to ma­nip­u­late pub­lic opinion in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

It said the agency ran such a cam­paign by hir­ing tech-savvy NIS of­fi­cials and pri­vate cit­i­zens. Their os­ten­si­ble task was cy­ber­war­fare. The NIS spent 3 bil­lion won ($2.6 mil­lion) on this in 2012 alone.

Yon­hap

Ex-spy chief Won Sei-hoon is about to board a van at the Seoul High Court in Seo­cho-gu, Seoul, Wed­nes­day af­ter he was sen­tenced to four years in prison for elec­tion-med­dling.

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