South Korean court convicts ex-spy director of interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been convicted in court of directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won has faced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election. On Thursday, a court in Seoul sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. In reading out its decision, the court said on Thursday that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. The new jail conviction comes right after the defendant completed a 14-month sentence stemming from charges of accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Read more of this post

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Korean spy charged with forging Chinese files attempts suicide

NIS headquarters in Seoul, South KoreaBy I. ALLEN and J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A South Korean intelligence officer, who was charged earlier this month with deliberately forging Chinese government documents, tried to kill himself inside a car on Sunday, according to local media. The officer, identified in reports only by his last name, Kwon, was fingered last week by South Korean media as the source of a set of documents used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. Government prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South while working for the Seoul city government. The prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that Yoo had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013; this was followed by allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Court documents surfaced last week identifying Kwon (named initially as ‘Kim’) as one of the sources of the forged documents. Kwon fervently denied the accusations, claiming that he too had been duped by a Chinese asset who gave him the forms. He also argued that that the asset was probably working for Chinese intelligence. On Sunday, however, Kwon apparently tried to kill himself at his home in a suburb of Seoul. Read more of this post

South Korean spy charged with forging Chinese government records

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Authorities in South Korea have charged an intelligence officer with forging Chinese government documents that were used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. IntelNews readers will remember the case of Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. In May of that year, court documents revealed that Yoo had been arrested following testimony from his own sister, also a North Korean defector. She had apparently been sent to the South by the North Korean intelligence services, and tasked with collecting information on North Korean defectors living across the border. Prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South, while he worked for the Seoul city government. Yoo maintained his innocence throughout his trial. However, his protestations appeared untenable once the South Korean prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that he had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013 amidst allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Read more of this post

South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for accepting bribes

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
One of the most powerful figures in South Korea’s intelligence establishment has been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of President Lee Myung-bak. The once supremely powerful organization, founded in 1961 as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, was intimately involved in the murky South Korean politics of the Cold War era, during which the country’s political life was dominated by bloody military coups and political repression. In the late 1980s, a process of democratization began in the NIS, and in recent years many intelligence observers believed that the agency had managed to shed its controversial reputation. On Wednesday, however, a court in South Korean capital Seoul sentenced Won to two years in prison for receiving kickbacks from the private sector while heading the NIS. Won was accused of having taken over $150,000 from Hwang Bo-yeon, former director of Hwangbo Construction, in exchange for lobbying the government to award construction contracts to the company. Regular readers of this blog will recall that Won is also standing accused of having meddled in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the official indictment in the case, Won is said to have ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #852

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Did US deny entry to German author because he criticized the NSA? Questions have arisen after the German author Ilija Trojanow was denied entry to the United States, apparently without reason. Trojanow had been invited to a German language convention in the US city of Denver. However, he was left stranded at Salvador da Bahia airport, in Brazil. A colleague of the writer claims his call for clarity about US spying activity is the answer. A spokeswoman for Trojanow’s publisher said he was on his way back to Germany on Tuesday.
►►Analysts stress ‘sophisticated tradecraft’ after Iranian spy arrested in Israel. Israeli officials over the weekend released details regarding the arrest of an Iranian-Belgian citizen accused of conducting extensive espionage against Israeli and American targets inside the Jewish state, deepening concerns regarding the scope and sophistication of Iranian intelligence tradecraft. Ali Mansouri, in his mid-50s, was arrested on September 11 at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport by the Shin Bet intelligence service. One Israeli military correspondent observed that, in the case of Mansouri, “Iran followed the playbooks of the most advanced intelligence agencies in the world”.
►►Northern spy lifts cloak on Koreas’ deadly rivalry. Kim Dong-sik is a North Korean agent captured in the South in 1995. He underwent four years of interrogations before joining the South Korean military counterintelligence command. He is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research organization affiliated with the National Intelligence Service. His tale, detailed in a new memoir, provides a rare, firsthand look at the often lethal spy war that the rival Koreas waged for decades and that many fear may persist today.

S. Korea parliament probes spy agency’s elections meddling

Won Sei-hoonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A parliamentary probe began last week into whether South Korea’s main intelligence agency tried to steer voters away from the liberal candidate during the 2012 presidential election. The country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is accused of having deliberately leaked a classified document in order to embarrass the late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who was also a member of the liberal Uri Party (now Democratic Party) of South Korea. IntelNews readers will recall that Won Sei-hoon, who headed NIS from 2008 to 2013, was recently indicted for meddling in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the indictment, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing DP candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The NIS affair has gripped South Korea’s media headlines for months, but fuel was added to the fire in June, when the NIS “mistakenly” declassified an internal document describing a series of secret North-South Korean negotiations. The document, from 2007, shows that the then-President of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, from the Uri Party, had proposed to North Korean officials the establishment of a “maritime peace zone” along the disputed border between the two nations. Liberal politicians allege that, according to South Korean declassification laws, the document should have remained secret for many decades, and accuse the NIS of deliberately leaking it in order to promote the image of South Korean liberals as “North Korean sympathizers”. Meanwhile, another senior South Korean security official, former Seoul metropolitan police chief Kim Yong-pan, has also been indicted for allegedly hampering a police investigation into Won’s internet campaign. This series of apparently interlinked events is now at center stage in the parliamentary probe, as rival parties prepare to clash over the allegations. Read more of this post

S. Korea’s spy agency accused of politicization, ‘dividing country’

Won Sei-hoonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
South Korea’s main opposition party has accused the country’s intelligence agency of acting as a “political provocateur”, “championing conservative causes” and promoting partisanship among the electorate. Lawmakers from the liberal Democratic Party (DP) of South Korea were reacting to allegations last week that the country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) deliberately leaked a classified document in order to embarrass former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. IntelNews readers will recall that, earlier this year, Won Sei-hoon, who headed NIS from 2008 to 2013, was indicted for meddling in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the indictment, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing DP candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. If Won, who has since resigned from his NIS post, is found guilty, he faces sentencing of up to five years in prison. Won’s indictment has increased tensions between the DP and the conservative Saenuri Party, which is currently in power in Seoul, and is believed to have strong ties with NIS executive circles. The NIS is supposed to be politically nonpartisan, though its history is highly controversial. Democratization within the NIS only began in the late 1980s, as South Korean politics gradually emerged from a Cold War period dominated by bloody rightwing military coups. This past June, as the country continued to deliberate the 2012 Internet postings affair, the NIS “mistakenly” declassified an internal document describing a series of secret North-South Korean negotiations. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #840

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►S. Korea prosecutors might seek ex-spy chief’s arrest. Prosecutors said Monday they will decide sometime this week whether to seek an arrest warrant against Won Sei-hoon, who headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) for about four years until early this year. He is suspected of ordering agents to post a slew of politically sensitive comments on the Internet in order to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party candidate prior to the December 19 national election. Won, who headed the NIS under former President Lee Myung-bak, has been barred from leaving the country pending investigation.
►►CIA self-described whistleblower writes about life in prison. In 2012, former CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In January of this year, he was sentenced to 30 months in a low security prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania. In a letter released by his lawyer, Kiriakou describes his day-to-day life behind bars, from his own tiny cell to an almost anthropological study of the lunchroom and the relatively rare prison fights.
►►Comment: End the spy budget secrecy in Israel. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, the security establishment has enjoyed confidentiality with regard to the details of its budget, justified by the need to keep secrets from enemy intelligence services. This lack of transparency has impaired public scrutiny of security expenditure, which represents a large chunk of the Israeli economy. When the watchful eye is distant, the temptation is great to inflate job slots, exaggerate salary increments and hike up pension conditions.

Korea spy gave North data on 10,000 defectors living in South

North and South KoreaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An employee of the South Korean government has been detained for allegedly providing North Korea with detailed resettlement information on over 10,000 North Korean defectors living in the South. The 33-year-old man, who has been identified simply as “Mr. Yu”, was arrested on January 11 by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. The NIS, which leads South Korea’s intelligence community, described Yu’s activities as “an unusual breach of the South Korean civil service”. The detainee is accused of providing Pyongyang with a “complete list” of thousands of North Korean defectors living in South Korean capital Seoul. The list is said to include information such as the defectors’ resettlement addresses and employment information among other personal data. Interestingly, the accused spy is himself a North Korean defector, according to South Korean news outlets. A trained surgeon, he is said to have been a member of North Korea’s social elite before defecting to the South on foot via China, in 2004. Seven years later, in 2011, he joined the Seoul city municipal government, where he was tasked with providing assistance and services to the thousands of North Korean defectors living in the South Korean capital and surrounding areas. According to reports, Yu was arrested after the NIS discovered that he made frequent trips to China and came to suspect that he might have crossed into North Korea on several occasions during his trips. South Korean counterintelligence investigators are currently trying to determine whether the accused spy entered South Korea with the intention of conducting espionage on behalf of Pyongyang. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #769 (analysis edition)

John McLaughlinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is S. Korea’s spy agency losing its capabilities? The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s primary external intelligence agency, is presumed to spend around US $1 billion a year, most of which it uses to spy on its northern neighbor. But when asked about the identity of the young woman who frequently accompanies new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his public appearances, the state intelligence agency offers no clear answer. Although it was seven months ago, at the time of Kim Jong-il’s funeral, that the woman was first spotted, the agency still does not know who she is. In the past 20 years, NIS has undergone a process of transformation to rid it of political functions. But the lingering question is: have the changes compromised the overall capabilities of the giant organization?
►►How 10 years of war has changed US spies. John McLaughlin, who was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as Deputy Director and Acting Director from 2000-2004, says he is often asked how American intelligence has changed in the 11 years since 9/11. His answer is that the changes are profound and have been transformative. Perhaps the most important thing to realize about American intelligence officers in 2012, he says, is that this is the first generation since Vietnam to have been “socialized” –that is hired, trained, and initiated– in wartime. And to a greater degree than even the Vietnam generation, their experience approximates that of their World War II forbears in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) –the organization to which most American intelligence officers trace their professional roots.
►►Assessing the Social Media Battlefield in Syria. While the numerous insurgent factions and the Syrian security forces engage each other in combat in towns and cities to secure tangible battlefield gains, the warring parties are also waging a contentious information war in cyberspace, specifically within the virtual arena of online social media. The various strands of the opposition in Syria —political and violent— have taken to social media since the earliest stages of the uprising to advance their agendas. Analogous to their role in facilitating communication and information exchange during the wave of revolts that have been sweeping the Arab world since 2011, new media platforms such as the array of social media websites and related technologies that are available to the public at virtually little or no cost have become crucial to shaping how the crisis in Syria is portrayed and perceived.

News you may have missed #548 (China edition)

NIS HQ

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►China detains Korean spy officers. It emerged last week that Chinese authorities have kept in detention for nearly a year two South Korean NIS intelligence officers, who were caught collecting information about North Korea on Chinese soil. It appears that the Chinese did share the information with the North Koreans, because usually the North Korean news agency would have announced this when the officers were first arrested. Of course, NIS denied the Chinese report. ►►US intelligence on China declassified. George Washington University’s National Security Archive has published a series of declassified US intelligence reports on China, spanning the period from 1955 until 2010. In one report authored in 2005, US intelligence analysts speculate that Beijing might be trying to develop a capability to incapacitate Taiwan through high-power microwave and electromagnetic radiation, so as not to trigger a nuclear retaliation from the US. ►►IMF investigators see China behind computer hacking. Back in June, intelNews reported on a massive and sophisticated cyberattack on the computer systems of the International Monetary Fund, which experts claimed was “linked to a foreign government”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #478

  • Israel and Chile collaborated to spy on Iran and Venezuela. Documents released by WikiLeaks show Israel and Chile cooperated to spy on Iran as it developed bilateral links with Venezuela. A diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Santiago to the State Department in Washington, dated July 21, 2008, said Chile and Israel both expressed concern about growing ties as well as a potential Iranian presence on the border with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
  • Korean spies broke into Indonesian delegation’s hotel room. Members of South Korea’s NIS spy agency broke into a hotel room of a visiting high-level Indonesian delegation to try to steal sensitive information on a possible arms deal, according to Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper. The report said the NIS officers left “after being disturbed by a delegate”.
  • High-ranking Libyan pilots defect to Malta. Two air force jets landed in Malta on Monday and their pilots, who said they are “senior colonels” in the Libyan air force, asked for political asylum. The pilots claim to have defected after refusing to follow orders to attack civilians protesting in Benghazi in Libya. Meanwhile, a group of Libyan army officers have issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to “join the people” and help remove Muammar Gaddafi by marching to Tripoli.

South Korean spy reportedly expelled from Libya

Seal of the National Intelligence Service of the Republic of Korea

NIS seal

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Libya has expelled a South Korean intelligence officer and has shut down its mission in Seoul, according to South Korean diplomatic sources. The unnamed officer, who was expelled by the Libyans on June 18, is reportedly a member of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service who was stationed in the Libyan capital Tripoli. He was arrested in early June, after having been kept under surveillance for three months by Libyan counterintelligence officers. During that period, he was reportedly photographed in the act of bribing a Libyan intelligence officer. Some reports suggest that the expelled spy attempted to collect intelligence on Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, his family and senior Libyan government members. Other sources allege that he was gathering information on defense industry contacts between Libya and North Korea. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0175

  • South Korean spy agency now regards North as ‘international affairs’. The Seoul-based National Intelligence Service (NIS) has relocated its unit that monitors North Korea under a department dealing with international affairs. The change, described as a “paradigm shift” by one South Korean official, apparently reflects President Lee Myung-bak’s view that the North Korean issue should be dealt more “from the international geopolitical perspective”.
  • Robbery of S. African intel agent was planned, say officials. The robbery by five men of a woman said to be an agent of South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency “was conducted as though it was very well planned”, according to police.
  • Interview with ex-West German spy master. Radio France Internationale has aired an interview with Hans-Georg Wieck, chief of the West German Secret Service (BND) between 1985 and 1990. Among other things, Wieck claims that BND had “well-placed” agents in East Germany, as well as in spy services of other communist, including the KGB.

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News you may have missed #0163

  • South Korean ex-spy master dies. Lee Hu-rak, who has died at age 85, headed the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, a predecessor of today’s National Intelligence Service, from 1970-1973. He was best known for brokering the signing of a historic 1972 peace document with North Korea, after an unprecedented secret trip to Pyongyang, during which he met North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
  • Spy like us. How a mild-mannered Baltimore antique dealer became one of the FBI’s best undercover agents.
  • Bulgaria quits plans to disband State National Security Agency. Bulgaria’s government has made clear it does not plan to suspend, but just to “streamline”, the operations of the scandal-prone State National Security Agency DANS.

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