The military hits the wrong targetThe military has announced the results of its investigations into the Cyber Warfare Command’s alleged intervention in last December’s presidential election. According to the month-long probe by the Inspection Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense, the head of the Psychological Operation Group, a high-ranking civilian employee, ordered soldiers to “not hesitate to express political opinions” on the Internet before posting pro-Park Geun-hye and anti-Moon Jae-in messages en masse.
The Defense Ministry claimed that former and current commanders had not been aware of the order, and that the Blue House and the National Intelligence Service were not involved in the online campaign. The opposition Democratic Party has denounced it for merely transferring accountability to a civilian worker in the ministry. The suspicion over the military’s meddling in the election campaign is not expected to subside easily.
It’s difficult to determine if the Inspection Bureau has really found the truth. It’ll probably take a while to tell the whole truth behind the Cyber Warfare Command’s unlawful political activities. One thing that’s clear is that the military violated the sacred principle of “no intervention in politics.” Whatever motivation the military had ahead of the election, defamatory comments aimed at a particular candidate constitute a critical violation of the political neutrality required of the military and an illicit intervention in the election.
The problem is that psychological operations run by the Cyber Warfare Command of the military or the nation’s spy agency could lead to such types of illegitimate activities. When North Korea is intent on launching cyberattacks against South Korea to take the upper hand in psychological warfare, it’s necessary for the military to cope with them. But the military’s arbitrary intervention in politics to meddle with citizens’ freedom of speech shakes the very foundation of democracy. Political intervention must not be allowed under any circumstances.
In reality, it’s not easy to thoroughly differentiate between the North’s cyberattacks against the South and our people’s expression of their opinions. But the target of the government or military’s psychological warfare should be North Korea not our people. Yet Kim Kwan-jin, the defense minister, suggested that the military can take aim at our own people by using a suspicious jargon of “internal psychological warfare.” If the top official of our military demonstrates such negligent attitudes, we can hardly expect the Cyber Warfare Command to draw clear lines between its innate missions and political temptations.