‘Undeleted’ data keeps battle over spying alive

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‘Undeleted’ data keeps battle over spying alive

The recovered data deleted by a National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent who committed suicide will be shared with the National Assembly on Monday and is expected to bring about another clash between ruling and opposition lawmakers on whether the spy agency indeed spied on civilians’ cell phones and computers.

Ruling Saenuri Party officials said on Sunday that all the data deleted by Yim, 45, the late NIS employee in charge of operating hacking software purchased from Italy, was retrieved on Friday, and that it had confirmed that there had been no monitoring of South Korean civilians.

The NIS is scheduled to report on the contents of the files deleted by Yim to the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee on Monday afternoon, and is expected to emphasize that the program had not been used against South Korean people. The Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee will also tackle the allegations.

“The NIS has retrieved the deleted files and … they will disprove many of the allegations,” said Lee Jang-woo, a spokesman for the ruling Saenuri Party, at a briefing on Sunday.

He said that the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) party should halt its accusations of civilian hacking and apologize to the people once its falsehoods have been confirmed, adding, “Speculation breeds more speculation and allegations lead to more allegations, and such consistent political attacks are not helpful to the country’s interests.”

After data leaks from the Italian surveillance malware vendor Hacking Team, the NIS admitted it had purchased remote control system software from the company in 2012 to use, it said, against terrorism suspects and North Korea agents, but denied it had been used against the general public.

Yim was found dead on July 18 in his car in rural Gyeonggi province.

In a three-page handwritten suicide note, Yim denied that the NIS monitored ordinary Koreans with the controversial software but admitted that he had deleted material from NIS records that could “cause misunderstandings related to counterterrorism and North Korea operations.”

Answering questions about why the NIS had not released all 30 of the documents requested by the NPAD after its own investigation into the allegations, led by software mogul-turned politician Ahn Cheol-soo, Lee suggested that the NIS should be trusted to show the Assembly anything pertinent. He said, “An investigation by the Intelligence Committee and an on-site visit to the NIS [to read there the documents the NIS would provide] can adequately resolve the issue. Once the allegations are cleared, the ruling and opposition parties need to work on a policy to improve the NIS’ cyber warfare capabilities.”

Lee also cautioned that a bipartisan investigation by the Assembly, agreed to on Thursday, should be a cautious one. “The national interest should be prioritized and investigations should proceed in a careful manner that will not cripple the NIS role and capabilities,” he said

The NPAD scoffed at the notion that the NIS would freely admit it had monitored South Korean civilians and accused Saenuri of trying to cover up the case without an investigation.

Park Soo-hyun, an NPAD spokesman, said, “The ruling party’s position is that an on-site inspection to see the documents [means] admitting that the NIS will show the documents that it wants to show and cover up the truth.”

Saenuri’s Rep. Lee Cheol-woo told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, by phone on Sunday, “If all the log file are revealed [as NPAD wants], the list of North Korean and terrorist agents that Yim monitored would all be revealed.”

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