NIS agents held for questioning

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NIS agents held for questioning

Three agents of the National Intelligence Service were questioned over allegations they posted politically-motivated comments on Twitter ahead of last year’s presidential election, the prosecution said yesterday.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office arrested the trio from the spy agency late on Wednesday but released them a few hours later after the NIS claimed the law required advance warning of the arrest of NIS officials.

The agency said it was not properly informed of the arrests.

The questioning was the latest wrinkle in a long-running investigation into whether the top spy agency meddled in last year’s presidential election by conducting an online smear campaign against two opposition candidates.

Although the questioning lasted only a few hours, the prosecutors said they tried to ascertain whether the agents’ superiors ordered alleged partisan activities on Twitter.

They also raided the residences of the suspects, confiscating hard disks, cell phones and documents.

In June, the prosecution said it had sifted through 402 suspect Twitter accounts allegedly run by NIS agents. Some 320 postings on the accounts allegedly slandered Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in and supported the Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye. The agents are suspected of using an automatic retweet function to spread their comments.

Prosecutors have zeroed in on verifying the creators of the Twitter accounts, requesting cooperation from the United States Department of Justice.

The prosecution was given the IDs and e-mail addresses of the creators of the accounts, and the information appeared to match the suspected agents’ personal details, according to prosecutors.

In June, the prosecution also confirmed that former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon was charged with an Election Law violation, as well as breach of the agency’s internal code of conduct, which requires political neutrality for all of its members.

A total of 1,760 postings on the Internet, which were written by nine agents under Won, were reviewed to determine whether the comments were politically motivated or not.

Of all the postings, 67 are considered evidence that the spy agency chief intended to meddle in the election.

Six posts criticized Moon and independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo while the rest mostly accuse the opposition Democratic Party of being “pro-Pyongyang.”

In a separate but related development, members of the Defense Ministry’s special cyber unit are currently under investigation on suspicions that they too posted negative comments online against Moon in last year’s election campaign.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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