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

Panama tries to block extradition of Colombia’s former spy chief

Ana BelfonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior government officials in Panama continue to shelter one of Colombia’s notorious former spy chiefs, who is wanted in Colombia for spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a chief subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Finally, after years of diplomatic pressure by Uribe’s successor, Panama’s supreme court ruled last week that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. It consequently ordered that her residence permit, which was granted to her under the personal authorization of Panama’s heavy-handed President, Ricardo Martinelli, would become invalid after three working days. The three working-day deadline was set to expire at 5:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. However, shortly before the cut-off time, Panama’s Attorney General, Ana Belfon (pictured), stepped in and effectively extended Hurtado’s residence permit deadline. In a dramatic move, Belfon filed an appeal on behalf of the government, asking the Supreme Court to clarify the conditions of the former spy chief’s deportation back to Colombia. In accordance with Panamanian legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Hurtado’s residence permit is now suspended and the Colombian former spymaster will continue to enjoy the Panamanian government’s protection until the Supreme Court responds to the Attorney General’s appeal. 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

Files reveal names of Americans targeted by NSA during Vietnam War

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The names of several prominent Americans, who were targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) during the height of the protests against the Vietnam War, have been revealed in declassified documents. The controversial communications interception operation, known as Project MINARET, was publicly acknowledged in the mind-1970s, during Congressional inquiries into the Watergate affair. We know that MINARET was conducted by the NSA between 1967 and 1973, and that it targeted over a thousand American citizens. Many believe that MINARET was in violation of the Agency’s charter, which expressly prevents it from spying on Americans. But despite the media attention MINARET received during the Watergate investigations, the names of those targeted under the program were kept secret until Wednesday, when the project’s target list was declassified by the US government. The declassification decision was sparked by a Freedom of Information Request filed by George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The two Archive researchers who filed the declassification request, William Burr and Matthew Aid, said MINARET appears to have targeted many prominent Americans who openly criticized America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The reason for the surveillance was that US President Lyndon Johnson, who authorized the operation, was convinced that antiwar protests were promoted and/or supported by elements outside the US. The newly declassified documents show that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a major surveillance target of the government. Read more of this post

CIA kept file on American academic Noam Chomsky, say experts

Noam Chomsky in 1970By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 1970 communiqué between two United States government agencies appears to show that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) kept a file on the iconic American linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky. Widely seen as a pioneer of modern linguistics, Chomsky adopted an uncompromisingly critical stance against the US’ involvement in the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. The US Intelligence Community’s systematic surveillance of antiwar and civil rights activists at the time prompted legal scholars and historians to deduce that Chomsky’s activities must have been routinely spied on by the American government. But a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in recent years turned up blank, with the CIA stating that it could “not locate any records” responsive to the requests. Scholars insisted, however, and a recent FOIA request unearthed what appears to be proof that the CIA did in fact compile a file on the dissident academic. The request was submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by attorney Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, a group specializing in “lawfully acquiring from the government material related to national security matters and distributing it to the public”. According to Foreign Policy magazine blog The Cable, McClanahan’s FOIA request revealed a memorandum sent from the CIA to the FBI on June 8, 1970. In it, the Agency seeks information about an upcoming trip by American antiwar activists to North Vietnam, which, according to the CIA, had received the “endorsement of Noam Chomsky”. The memo also asks the FBI for information on the trip’s participants, including Professor Chomsky. The Cable spoke to Marquette University Professor Athan Theoharis, domestic surveillance expert and author of Spying on Americans, who opined that the CIA request for information on Chomsky amounts to an outright confirmation that the Agency kept a file on the dissident academic. Read more of this post

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