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Special Probe into South Korean Spy Agency's Electioneering Falls Flat

As protests continue in South Korea, critics are calling special investigations into the actions of agents within the intelligence agency who wrote Internet comments to manipulate public opinion in favor of the ruling party before elections in December 2012 a disappointment.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has come under fire for interfering with the latest presidential election for the Internet posts that tried to sway readers against the opposition. A flurry of protests have taken place in major cities for several months now, almost regularly every weekend from mid-May. Rallies grew substantially bigger around mid-July, with an estimated 40,000 [ko] participating in the latest candle light vigil held in Seoul. (Police estimates 9,000)

Prominent citizen blogger Media Mongu tweeted a dramatic photo of the recent protest with a short description: “Candles light up the Seoul Plaza”.

The month-long parliamentary investigation appeared to be an attempt to quell public anger over the scandal. The low expectations of the public regarding the effectiveness and sincerity of the probe seem to have been right on: The investigation has turned out to be a disappointment, hobbled by a lack of cooperation from key witnesses and the ruling party.

Two key witnesses, the former chief of NIS and the ex-Seoul Police Agency commissioner, refused to swear to tell the truth and that the third hearing was not even held properly as the ruling Saenuri party boycotted [ko] so that it is almost impossible come up with the full conclusive report by the deadline of August 23, 2013.

One newspaper even comments [ko] that it was a “probe that beat around the bush” and “seeing it was almost like watching a conspiracy drama unfolding that the ruling party, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the police work together to cover up the major issues”. Web reactions are similarly critical.

However, the probe revealed further insight into the electioneering scandal, including that there were 12 subdivisions [ko] of the NIS specifically worked on leaving Internet comments, with one covering major Korean portal sites such as Naver.com, another one handling mid-sized community sites such as TodayHumor.co.kr, and another on social media sites such as Twitter.

A female whistle-blower, Kwon Eun-hee, the ex-chief investigator at Seoul’s Suseo District Police Station, made a shocking revelation that police tried to cover up the case when the NIS scandal initially broke out in mid-December 2012. Kwon told at the hearing [ko] that her and her team had received “unreasonable orders” from above that could lead to reducing the scope of investigation and that they also were pressured from their superior.

Net users praised Kwon and even set up an online petition page [ko] to show their support. Only three days have passed, but it has gathered more than 27,000 signatures. Some related tweets read:

In this parliamentary investigation, by meeting Kwon Eun-hee, I saw hope. As a woman, she has demonstrated unyielding integrity and tenacious spirit in face of threats. Such a person should become the head of police, only then this nation will stand firm.

The NIS argued that the Internet posts were a legitimate operation, a part of online psychological warfare against the pro-North Korean groups or North Korean sympathizers. However, people pointed out [ko] that if they were really serious in executing “anti-North psychological warfare”, why did they leave so many trashy comments against people from certain provinces that are traditionally “safe states” for the opposing Democratic party? And more over, if their acts can be justified, why delete the comments? @jjnsoo made similar points:

NIS witnesses claim that their commenting was an operation against the pro-North Korean groups and their Internet activities. It that were true, they could have just traced [the sources] and caught people who write that stuff, and then report the outcome. Why did they need to react online and leave comments?

Net users also lashed out at two key witnesses, the ex-chief of NIS and the former Seoul Police Agency commissioner, who refused to be sworn in before the hearing–a tactic [ko] people use to avoid perjury. However, it seems to have backfired:

Won Sei-hoon and Kim Yong-pan, by refusing to be sworn at the parliamentary hearing, avoided the chance of being punished for perjury even if their testimonies turned out to be false. However, it revealed in front of the entire nation that they are not being honest and told lies.

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