Opposition files complaint against NIS officials

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Opposition files complaint against NIS officials

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) on Thursday filed a complaint with the prosecution against Won Sei-hoon, the former director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), and other officials implicated in allegations that the agency may have spied on Korean citizens using an Italian hacking program.

Nanatech, the Korean communications company that served as an intermediary between the NIS and the Italian surveillance malware vendor Hacking Team, was also included in the complaint. The NIS is currently accused of having used spyware purchased from Hacking Team in 2012 to monitor South Korean citizens over their mobile devices, though the agency claims the program was only used on terrorist suspects and North Korean agents.

The complaint filed by the NPAD alleges that Nanatech, in the process of importing the hacking software from Hacking Team, did not receive proper permits and thus violated Korea’s Protection of Communications Secrets Act.

It also stated that in acquiring and circulating the spyware, the NIS violated the Act on the Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Data Protection.

Software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo, the NPAD’s former co-chairman, said at a National Assembly press conference Thursday morning that he had requested that 30 documents from the agency related to the controversy and the death of an NIS official be delivered to him by 2 p.m., but that he had yet to receive them.

“There is already plenty of evidence out of what has been revealed so far that shows the acts [by the NIS] to be illegal, so a prosecutorial investigation must begin,” said Ahn, who heads the party committee set up to look into the allegations and protect civilian’s security.

He added that it was necessary that the probe reveals the targets the spy agency intended to hack, particularly because leaked Hacking Team logs showed IP addresses traced to South Korean companies, schools and agencies, including the telecommunications provider SK Telecom.

The scandal, which broke after WikiLeaks disclosed internal data from Hacking Team two weeks ago, snowballed after an NIS agent involved in the operation of the remote control system (RCS) programs purchased from Italy was found to have committed suicide on Saturday.

The 45-year-old NIS employee, surnamed Yim, left behind a befuddling three-page note in which he denied that the NIS monitored ordinary Koreans with controversial software purchased from Italy.

He also admitted that he had deleted material, which he said was related to counterterrorism and North Korean operations that could “cause misunderstandings” from NIS records.

The deletion of the data, which the NIS said is completely retrievable, raised new questions as to why Yim, as an expert, did not do a more thorough job destroying the files - particularly if the data contains any evidence of NIS involvement in monitoring ordinary citizens - and why he felt compelled to take his own life.

Ahn added that the data not yet released by the NIS, including information regarding Yim’s decision to destroy evidence and material confirming whether the spy agency monitored local SK Telecom subscribers, was “key” to shedding light on the allegations.

Current NIS Director Lee Byung-ho, however, was not included by name in the NPAD’s complaint.

“Because we do not know exactly who is related to the case, we have for now included in the complaint ‘all personnel related to the NIS’ case,” the main opposition said in a statement.

It also requested that the prosecution reveal the names of those involved in its investigation.

“There is a limit to what the opposition party can do in a situation where the NIS turns a blind eye, so we need an investigative body to reveal everything, like when the prosecution helped reveal the spy agency’s interference [in the 2012 presidential elections],” said an NPAD official.

In response to the NPAD’s allegations, ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Suh Chung-won said that the NIS probably should be surveilling its citizens, citing that other countries do it.

“Over 70 government agencies from 35 countries bought the Italian Hacking Team’s program, but why is it a problem only in our country?” Suh said. “Now all hackers will rush in to attack the South Korean NIS, thinking it’s some sort of pushover.”

“It should be noted that not once since the hacking program was acquired has it been used to monitor civilians,” he emphasized. “Other countries do it, so we should too.”

“Don’t you know what the administration in 1998 did? Some 20 to 30 National Assembly representatives were threatened and wiretapped, so the NIS directors were arrested,” Suh said, referring to the directors under the Kim Dae-jung administration.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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