What NIS is accused of doing

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Nov 14, 2017 - 18:00
Updated : Nov 14, 2017 - 18:00

The ongoing investigation into the National Intelligence Service is offering a hint of how the nation’s spy agency may have been serving those in power. 


From shady deals to secret surveillance of political opponents and a cyber campaign to sway voter sentiment ahead of elections, here are some things that South Korea’s intelligence service is accused of doing.

Writing internet posts to sway voters

It was revealed that the intelligence body’s domestic division had operated a number of cyber operation teams to sway public opinion in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.
An internal probe by the NIS itself found at least 30 such teams worked to influence public opinion from 2009-2012 under the direction of now-imprisoned NIS Director Won Sei-hoon.

Each team, consisting of former agents and internet-savvy civilians, was tasked with writing comments and posts in favor of Park Geun-hye -- then the presidential candidate for the conservative ruling party -- and critical of her liberal rival Moon Jae-in. In a tight race, she beat Moon 51-49 in 2012. 

Former NIS psychological warfare unit leader Min Byung-joo is currently under arrest for directing the team members to write internet posts and comments in favor of Park. 

Prosecutors suspect at least 5 billion won ($4.4 million) of state money was spent on their operations.

Creating fake nude photos

The NIS’ internal probe also found that their agents, under the Lee administration, had participated in a blacklist operation against artists and cultural figures deemed critical of the government.

Prosecutors are now looking into the blacklist of such figures, which was created and used to give those on the list disadvantages and remove them from mainstream media.

As part of the agents’ methods, it has been revealed that the agency’s psychological warfare team created fake photos of veteran actor Moon Seong-geun, one of 82 figures allegedly blacklisted by the Lee government, in bed naked with actress Kim Yeo-jin and distributed it online to defame the two celebrities in 2011.

“The NIS created and distributed pornography with state money,” Moon told reporters as he appeared at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office earlier this week as a witness in the case. “I think it’s shocking and lamentable that the Lee administration disgraced the country in an unthinkable way.”

Taming TV criticism

The spy agency also sought to eliminate broadcasting critical of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

It has come to light that the NIS conducted surveillance of KBS and MBC reporters and executives in an effort to eliminate reports and programs critical of the government. The NIS was in charge of the overall planning in the conservative administration’s attempt to manipulate public broadcasting and devise a road map for the suppression of press-related labor unions.

The NIS created a document titled “Strategies and Measures for the Normalization of the MBC” to lay out basic tactics for gaining control over MBC. It said the purpose was to “get rid of left-leaning personnel and problematic programs and marginalize the labor union.”

Tactics for KBS went even deeper than MBC, extending to the details of personnel recruitment. A document titled “A Proposal for Replacement of Personnel after the Reorganization of KBS” which was created in 2010, cited that leftist tendencies were considered disqualifications for hiring.

Spying on civilians

Last month, the prosecution began looking into a complaint filed by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon that he was spied on by NIS agents during the Lee administration.

This came after the NIS’ internal probe committee revealed two documents detailing its covert scheme targeting Park, then a human rights lawyer.

The documents showed that the Lee government labeled Park as pro-North Korea, and drafted internal reports on ways to block his political influence. It also contained ways to induce conservative civic groups to bolster their campaigns against Park’s key proposals and spread rumors online maligning him and his family from 2009-2011. Park was elected Seoul mayor in 2011.

Following the mayor’s action, nearly 600 others in civic organizations and politics formed a civic group to demand the NIS reveal its files on them, claiming that they too were spied on.

Petitioning against Kim Dae-jung’s Nobel Prize

The NIS’ probe in October found that the Lee Myung-bak administration abetted a civic petition in 2010 to revoke the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to former liberal President Kim Dae-jung in 2000.

The NIS said there was a failed attempt by the Lee administration to strip Kim of his Nobel Prize, using the spy agency and a rightist group.

In 2010, the civic group sent a letter to then-Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad, arguing that the Nobel Prize awarded to the liberal president should be annulled. The attempt, however, was rebuffed.

The NIS found the group was paid by the spy agency under the Lee administration for the attempt.

Sending secret funds for Cheong Wa Dae

The latest in the series of revelations against the NIS involve regular money offerings to officials at Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office. 

The NIS is accused of channeling as much as 100 million won ($89,000) of the agency’s “special activities” budget to presidential aides each month during the Park Geun-hye administration. The practice may have preceded the Park era, prosecutors suspect. 

Intended to finance the most covert operations, the special activities fund is not audited and scrutinized by the National Assembly. 

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)


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