Ruling party claims NPAD gambling with lives

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Ruling party claims NPAD gambling with lives

The ruling Saenuri Party said on Tuesday that the opposition’s demand to see a master file from a National Intelligence Service (NIS) server was folly and worse - that it could cost lives.

“Ahn Cheol-soo of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) is continuing to demand that the original log file be released,” Saenuri Rep. Lee Cheol-woo of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee said, “but if it is revealed, there will be people losing their lives.”

Based on data released by WikiLeaks earlier this month, the main opposition NPAD has accused the NIS of having used spyware purchased from a company in Italy, Hacking Team, to monitor South Koreans over their mobile devices.

The NIS admitted it purchased remote control system (RCS) software that can hack into computers and mobile devices from Hacking Team in 2012 for some 448,000 euros ($ 496,000).

But it claims the programs were only used on terrorist suspects, North Korean agents and for research purposes.

An NIS agent in charge of operating the hacking program committed suicide on July 18, after deleting a number of files that he thought would give the wrong impression about the agency’s surveillance.

The NIS claimed to have restored those files from the server and says they actually vindicate its position. But they have only released excerpts to lawmakers, including the NPAD.

The NPAD wants the entire log file of the server to have experts analyze it. The log file would contain a record of all operations on the powerful server used for the hacking.

Lee, a former NIS official, said Tuesday that the file would expose people working with the NIS who could be easily recognized just by their names.

He added that he was not sure if Ahn, who heads an NPAD committee to investigate the scandal, was “protecting intelligence or exposing it” and requested that the former presidential candidate “restrain himself for the sake of the country’s security.”

Lee’s remarks implied that the log file would contain the names of all targets of hacking controlled by Yim, the agent who committed suicide.

Yim, a 45-year-old NIS employee involved in purchasing and operating the RCS software, was found dead in his car in Yongin, Gyeonggi, on July 18.

He is believed to have killed himself by asphyxiation from toxic charcoal fumes.

In a three-page handwritten suicide note, Yim admitted he deleted material from an NIS server that could “cause misunderstandings related to counterterrorism and North Korea operations.” But he denied that the NIS monitored ordinary South Korean citizens.

The NIS reported to the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee on Monday that none of the 51 fully retrieved files deleted by Yim showed any monitoring of regular Koreans.

NIS Director Lee Byung-ho told the Intelligence Committee, “I swear on my position [as director of the NIS] that there was no illegal surveillance.”

The NIS report to the committee said that the RCS software could only be used on telephone logs, contact lists, text messages and photos, not on the messenger app KakaoTalk.

It added that IP addresses traced to South Korea that were hacked were for “testing purposes,” and that this could be confirmed by SK Telecom.

While Saenuri lawmakers said Monday’s report was exhaustive and dismisses all allegations, the NPAD remained skeptical.

Software mogul-turned politician Ahn renewed his request on Monday that the original log file from Yim’s server be revealed.

Rep. Lee Jong-kul, the NPAD floor leader and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday, “The NIS did its own investigation of the hacking allegations against itself and, with the ruling party, is granting itself a self-pardon.”

“Yesterday, there was a report to the Intelligence Committee, but the NIS strongly denied any surveillance of ordinary people,” he continued. “The Saenuri Party agreed in a parliamentary hearing to review [the allegations] but is now blocking an investigation into the truth.”

Lee added, “If an investigation is impossible even for lawmakers, who will investigate the suspicious acts of the NIS?”

Saenuri has said the Intelligence Committee can visit the NIS to inspect related data, but the NPAD said all the data couldn’t be analyzed in such a short time.

The NPAD has requested a hearing on hacking allegations and to examine Yim’s suicide and his exact role in the NIS, as well as to confirm that local IP addresses were not accessed with the hacking program.

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

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