New South Korean president bans spy agency’s domestic operations

Moon Jae-in and Suh Hoon in South KoreaThe new president of South Korea has officially banned the country’s spy agency from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering, in a move that some say signals an era of sweeping security reforms in the country. South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) fell into disrepute in recent years, after many of its officers were found to have secretly sided with conservative political candidates for public office. In 2015, the NIS’ former director, Won Sei-hoon, was jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians.

Won headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential elections, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. In the months prior to his assumption of the presidency, Moon promised his supporters that he would reform the NIS and prevent it from meddling again into South Korea’s domestic political affairs.

Last Thursday, President Moon replaced all of NIS’ deputy directors, who are tasked with focusing on North Korea and other foreign countries, espionage and terrorism, and cyber security. Later on the same day, Moon announced the appointment of Suh Hoon as director of NIS. Suh is a career intelligence officer who served as one of NIS’ deputy directors until Thursday’s appointment. Within hours of his appointment, Suh had ordered the termination of all NIS domestic intelligence-gathering operations and vowed to reform the spy agency once and for all. He also said that he would proceed to dissolve the NIS’ domestic wing, and that all such tasks would be transferred to South Korea’s National Police Agency. The new NIS director also vowed that, under his leadership, the NIS would become “a completely different entity” and that he would apply “a zero tolerance principle” in cases of contravention by NIS officers.

Also on Thursday, the NIS issued a press release stating that all domestic operations by the agency had been terminated and that no information was being gathered on government entities, media or other organizations in South Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 June 2017 | Permalink

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CIA director makes unannounced visit to South Korea to discuss tensions

Korean DMZThe director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency made an unannounced visit to South Korea over the weekend, to discuss the rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula with his South Korean counterpart and other senior officials. A spokesperson from the US embassy in Seoul made an official announcement on Monday, in which he revealed the visit by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who was appointed by US President Donald Trump in January of this year. When asked for details, however, the spokesperson refused to provide them. Consequently, Pompeo’s date of arrival to Seoul remains unknown, as is his date of departure. It is believed that he is now back in the US.

During his visit to the South Korean capital, Pompeo met with South Korean counterpart, Lee Byung-ho, who heads South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. South Korean media reports said Pompeo also met with senior officials in the office of the South Korean president. Additionally, he is said to have held several meetings with American intelligence and military officials stationed in South Korea, including a meeting with General Vincent Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea. Reports in local media outlets said Pompeo’s visit aimed to coordinate American and South Korean intelligence responses to what Washington claims is increasing provocation by North Korea. The United States objects to North Korea’s repeated missile tests in recent weeks. On Saturday, Pyongyang attempted to launch a missile without success. The attempt, the third one in a month, elicited strong criticism from Washington and Seoul.

Pompeo’s trip to Seoul marked the fourth visit to South Korea by a senior US government official in recent weeks. The CIA director’s unannounced visit was preceded by separate official visits to Seoul by US Vice President Mike pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Additionally, last Wednesday the White House organized an “extraordinary national security briefing” about North Korea for members of the United States Senate. The briefing featured presentations by senior American diplomats and military officials.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 May 2017 | Permalink

S. Korean spy agency admits error, says ‘executed’ N. Korean general is alive

NIS South KoreaThe intelligence agency of South Korea has admitted it made an error when it claimed earlier this year that North Korean authorities had executed one of the regime’s most prominent military figures. On February 10, South Korean newspapers printed a series of articles suggesting that Pyongyang had executed General Ri Yong-gil, who led the Korean People’s Army (KPA), holding post that was equivalent to the United States’ chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The articles said at the time that the information about General Ri’s execution came directly from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s primary external spy agency. The general had allegedly been executed after being found guilty of “factionalism, abuse of power and corruption”. The reports added that General Ri had turned into an alcoholic and was in poor health as a result. Speculation as to the reason for General Ri’s alleged execution brought up the possibility that he had led an opposition faction within the KPA. This, in turn, led some analysts to speculate that the administration of Kim Jong-un was close to collapse.

However, after the seventh congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which concluded on Monday, not only has the view of Kim’s rule as weak been overturned, but General Ri appears to have come back from the dead. On May 10, the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the WPK, announced that General Ri had been appointed member of the WPK’s Central Military Commission. The announcement also said that the General would also be a candidate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, in accordance with the Committee’s wishes. It appears, therefore, that, not only is General Ri alive and well, but that he also features prominently the inner sanctum of the WPK’s political leadership.

Soon after Rodong Sinmun’s announcement, Hong Yong-pyo, South Korea’s Minister of Unification, told reporters in Seoul that the government would have to “check the details” of General Ri’s fate. An anonymous South Korean government official told newspapers that the NIS had assumed General Ri had been purged because he “hadn’t been seen for some time”. But critics of the government in Seoul accused the conservative administration of President Park Geun-hye of using “skewed perceptions” of the regime in Pyongyang in order to block negotiations with North Korea, and urged “some serious soul-searching” regarding the dependability of the NIS. IntelNews regulars will recall that Won Sei-hoon, who headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, was jailed last year for interfering with national elections in order to further Park’s electoral power.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 May 2016 | Permalink

South Korean spy’s suicide reportedly linked to wiretap controversy

NIS South KoreaA suicide note found next to the body of a South Korean intelligence officer mentions a phone hacking scandal that has caused controversy in the country. The 45-year-old man, identified only as “Lim” by South Korean authorities, worked for the country’s primary intelligence organization, the National Intelligence Service (NIS). He was found dead late on Saturday morning inside his car, which had been parked on a deserted rural road on the outskirts of South Korean capital Seoul. According to local reports, authorities found a metal plate with burnt-out coal inside his car, which had been locked from the inside. Finding no apparent marks on his body, the police have ruled his death a suicide.

The man reportedly left a three-page handwritten note on the passenger seat of his car, which is said to contain his will and a list of the reasons that drove him to kill himself. South Korean media cited a “senior government insider” who said that among the reasons mentioned in the suicide note is a controversial phone tapping scandal that has made national news in recent days. According to the insider, the program is identified in the letter as a wiretapping scheme “of national importance”.

The program appears to refer to the the disclosure made this month by a group of unidentified hackers that exposed the dealings of a surveillance software manufacturer with a markedly poor civil-liberties record. The disclosure, made by British newspaper The Guardian, shows that the Italian company, Hacking Team Ltd, is believed to have sold powerful surveillance software to governments with a history of civil-rights violations, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Among the customers, however, are a number of countries with stronger civil-rights protections, including South Korea and Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union. Cyprus’ intelligence chief resigned earlier this month as a result of the disclosure. According to technical experts, the software sold by Hacking Team can intercept data exchanged via cellular phones and other wireless devices. It can also spy on all communications devices connected to the Internet using malware that is undetectable by commonly used antivirus software. Moreover, software supplied by Hacking Team cannot be removed from a compromised cellular device unless it is reset at the factory.

NIS authorities in Seoul issued a press statement last week, claiming that the phone hacking software had been used only against North Korean targets abroad, including agents of Pyongyang operating around the world. But human rights organizations, as well as opposition parties in South Korea, said they believed the software had been used to monitor domestic dissent. Earlier this year, a former director of NIS was jailed for organizing an online propaganda campaign to dissuade citizens to vote for the liberal opposition. The NIS issued a statement last week saying that it would be willing to share the operational details and records of the controversial software with lawmakers in order to dispel rumors that it was used against domestic political activity.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/20/01-1738/

South Korea’s ex-spy chief jailed for interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a recent 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.

Last September, a court in Seoul had 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. But the judge had suspended the sentence, arguing that there was no direct proof that Won directly sought to alter the outcome of the presidential election. On Monday, however, the Seoul High Court overruled the earlier decision, saying that Won had directly breached election laws and that the violation was sufficient for a prison sentence. In reading out its decision, the judge said 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”. Won was transferred directly from the court to prison, where he will serve his sentence.

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

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