Cyber unit did not try to sway election: Ministry

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Cyber unit did not try to sway election: Ministry

The Ministry of National Defense said yesterday that nearly a dozen agents from the military’s cyber warfare unit breached their political neutrality by posting thousands of political comments online during last year’s presidential race.

The ministry, however, said it had no intention of influencing the election outcome, denying any sort of systemic order from its upper chain of command. It launched a probe in October after the opposition Democratic Party revealed that the Army’s Cyber Warfare Command conducted an online smear campaign against its candidate, Moon Jae-in, before the 2012 presidential election.

The investigation came in the aftermath of a similar scandal involving the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

After a two-month probe, the Army’s Maj. Gen. Baek Nak-jong, the chief investigator, announced yesterday its findings. He said the chief of unit 350 of the Cyber Warfare Command - identified only by his surname Lee - and 10 members under his supervision were involved in the online campaign; the military prosecution was asked to press charges.

Investigators looked into all the team’s online activities since the command’s inception in 2010, Baek said.

While conducting cyber campaigns related to the Northern Limit Line, the sinking of the Cheonan warship by North Korea and the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, Lee made inappropriate orders, Baek said.

According to the probe, 286,000 posts were made by the unit on social media sites, blogs and Internet forums, with the agents allegedly believing that all the missions ordered by Lee were legitimate. Among them, 15,000 posts were on political topics, and 2,100 of them mentioned political parties or politicians by name, either in support of them or criticizing them.

Lee himself made 351 political posts and urged his agents to use them in their operations. When the ministry launched its probe on Oct. 15, he ordered the team to delete data from the server, the investigation found.

Baek, however, denied that the military unit intended to influence the presidential election, saying that the operations were meant to counter the North and promote national security.

Lee was immediately relieved of his duties. Ten agents in the unit will also face criminal charges even though they acted upon Lee’s orders.

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