South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for accepting bribes

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN |
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

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S. Korea parliament probes spy agency’s elections meddling

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’

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

MI6 archives reveal plans for WWII and Cold War black operations

Sir Stewart MenziesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Recently declassified British archives reveal a host of audacious plans for covert operations aimed at Nazi-occupied Europe during wartime and, after 1948, inside the Soviet Union. The plans, proposed by British intelligence officials, ranged from relatively innocuous psychological operations to assassinations of key political figures. The wartime plans were proposed in 1944 by Charles Peake, a British intelligence officer detailed to the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower. The iconic American military commander was in charge of plans for Operation OVERLORD, the allied troop landings on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. According to documents released last week by the United Kingdom National Archives, Peake’s proposal was entitled “Assassination Priorities for OVERLORD”. It contained an extensive list of senior German and French Axis officials that should be targeted for assassination in preparation for the D-Day landings. The hit list included “certain Germans in key positions in France”, notably Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel. It also incorporated several senior members of France’s Nazi-controlled Vichy administration under Marshal Philippe Pétain. The proposal, however, was quickly shot down by no other than General Stewart Menzies, Director of the Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6), who feared that intrusive covert actions by allied operatives would cause brutal reprisals against allied prisoners of war. Ironically, Menzies, known in government simply as “C”, drafted an ever more ambitious plan for black operations after the end of World War II, this time targeted at the Soviet Union. Read more of this post

Seoul arrests N. Korean defector for ‘planning assassination’

Park Sang-hak

Park Sang-hak

South Korean authorities have announced the arrest of a North Korean defector, who is accused of planning to assassinate another defector involved in intensive propaganda operations against the North. A man identified only as “Ahn” was reportedly detained earlier this month after arranging a meeting with Park Sang-hak. Park is a high-profile North Korean defector, known for spearheading an imaginative —and often controversial— propaganda campaign directed against the government of North Korea. In one recent example, Park, his wife and children, used dozens of inflatable helium balloons to smuggle thousands of leaflets, dollar bills, solar-powered radios, and DVDs into North Korea. The nature of Park’s operations, which tend to be designed to attract worldwide media attention, is often the cause of diplomatic rifts between Pyongyang and Seoul, which does not formally endorse Park’s actions. The Associated Press spoke to two South Korean officials, who refused to be named; although they confirmed news of Ahn’s arrest, they refused to discuss a report by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, and now the BBC, according to which Ahn “had a poison-tipped needle on him” when he was detained by South Korean counterintelligence officers. This is the second time in recent months that South Korea has arrested North Korean defectors on suspicion of planning assassination operations. In April of 2010, Seoul announced that two North Koreans, who had defected to the South a few months earlier, had admitted to being intelligence officers on a Pyongyang-sponsored mission to assassinate a North Korean former senior official. The official, Hwang Jang-yop, is a former secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party and the ideological architect of juche, the philosophy of self-reliance, which is North Korea’s officially sanctioned state dogma. Read more of this post

Comment: Bin Laden’s Alleged ‘Magazine Stash’ May be CIA PsyOp

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

Rumors of an alleged discovery of “a stash of pornography” in Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan have spread like wildfire since Friday, when Reuters published an “exclusive” report on the subject. The report, written by Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria, cites “current and former US officials [...] who discussed the discovery [...] on condition of anonymity”. According to the allegations, “[t]he pornography recovered in bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, consists of modern, electronically recorded video and is fairly extensive”. The report was almost immediately picked up by several news outlets, including The New York Times, which notes that the disclosure “will be welcomed by counter-terrorism officials because it could tarnish [the al-Qaeda founder's] legacy and erode [his] appeal”. Indeed. It appears that only Danger Room‘s Spencer Ackerman thought it wise to air a brief disclaimer to the effect that the “welcomed disclosure” may in fact be “a CIA information operation”. He has a point. Read more of this post

West directs spies, information-warfare at Libya

Libyan rebels

Libyan rebels

Along with airborne surveillance and the bombing of targets, Western nations in charge of imposing a no-fly-zone over Libya are directing their intelligence and information-warfare arsenals against the Libyan regime. British newspaper The Daily Mail reports that MI6, the UK’s primary external intelligence agency, is sharing with the British military its lists of telephone numbers belonging to senior Libyan military officials. The latter are now receiving calls from British civilian or military intelligence officers prompting them to defect. The paper cited “a senior source” who claimed MI6 is warning senior Libyan military officers that the Royal Air Force has “the GPS coordinates” of their command posts and that “it could be fatal to remain loyal to the Libyan leader” Muammar al-Gaddafi. Presumably, the calls are conducted in the Arabic language. They also do not appear to be pre-recorded, unlike those directed by the Israel Defense Forces at Palestinians during the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict. The “senior source” told The Mail that the same technique “worked in Iraq” in convincing senior military commanders to either defect or —in most cases— abandon their posts. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #362 (sex & politics edition)

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News you may have missed #326

  • US spends millions on deception operations. The US Joint Information Operations Warfare Center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas has a 435-person unit tasked with “development of television commercials and documentaries, focus group and polling services, television air time, posters, banners, and billboards”, as well as “novelty items”. Novelty items? Jeff Stein takes a closer look.
  • Iranian embassy in Australia spying on activists. The Iranian embassy in Canberra has been accused of spying on Iranian opposition activists in Australia, collecting intelligence on their activities and reporting back to Tehran. The allegations come amid growing concern within Australian security services over the activities of Iranian government-backed militants in Australia.
  • Newsflash: Israeli, Iranian spies active in Gulf! The profound commentary by Dubai Police continues. Last time they warned all spies “present in the Gulf” to leave the region within a week. This time they are reminding us that “Israel and Iran have their spies active in the Gulf region”. You don’t say.

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News you may have missed #0264

  • India jails two Pakistanis on spying charges. India has jailed Adil Anjum Nazir Ahmed and Abdul Shakur Hafiz, claiming they spied on behalf of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. The two were arrested in Lucknow in 2006.
  • US Pentagon re-examines PsyOp doctrine. The field of Psychological Operations (PsyOps) is among the oldest of military disciplines, but a new US Department of Defense report on the subject shows that the DoD continues to wrestle with basic definitional issues.

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Iran monarchists, foreign spies, behind suspicious news reports

Mohammad Reza Madhi

M.R. Madhi

There is no question that the domestic security situation in Iran is critical, and that we may soon witness crucial political shifts in the Islamic Republic. At the same time, however, observers should be cognizant of what Politico’s Laura Rozen calls “a notable uptick [...] in very fishy stories” forecasting the immediate end of the Islamic government by supposed radical Western-aligned forces. IntelNews has detected several such stories in recent days, such as this unconfirmed December 31 report in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which stated that the Iranian government was moving “[h]undreds of military forces and tens of armored vehicles towards Tehran”, something which never actually occurred. Two days earlier, a report in Dutch government-owned Radio Netherlands had suggested that members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, including Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, were preparing to abandon the country and seek political asylum in Russia. Read more of this post

Hamas map discovery shows advanced preparations for ground war

The increasingly sophisticated deception and propaganda operations by all sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been extensively detailed in the relevant specialized literature. But if the recent revelation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of a Hamas urban warfare map is indeed genuine, it signifies well-timed anticipation by the Palestinian faction of Israel’s current offensive in the Gaza Strip. The map, which was allegedly discovered by IDF paratroopers in Beit Lahia, north of Gaza, is said to portray a detailed diagram of the al-Atatra neighborhood, with locations of booby traps. The latter include the use of dolls to lure IDF soldiers, with the intention of killing or –more beneficially from Hamas’ strategic viewpoint– kidnapping them. Read more of this post


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