An unthinkable failure

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An unthinkable failure

An internal reform committee has exposed organized meddling in domestic politics and elections by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) under former President Lee Myung-bak. The scope of the crimes committed by the spy agency, under the former conservative government, is truly mind-boggling.

An internal task force discovered that the NIS outsourced the work of shaping public opinion through online posts to 30 teams comprising 3,500 agents from May 2009 to December 2012. They were tasked with posting pro-government comments on online sites and social media to influence public opinion while ganging upon critics of the government by stigmatizing them as pro-North. They were annually paid 3 billion won ($2.7 million) total. The agency also conducted surveys on public complaints and spied on opposition party members and regularly reported to the Blue House.

The findings showed that the NIS, whose primary role is to protect the country from North Korean threats, had been more preoccupied with defending the ruling power by acting as its secret police.

The law bans a state intelligence office from meddling in domestic political affairs, but according to taped records, revealed at the trial of former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon, he instructed agents to break the law and post online comments to sway opinions in favor of conservative candidate Park Geun-hye during the 2012 election.

In the records, Won, during a meeting of senior officials in 2009, said candidates for local governments and city or district councils should be “scrutinized” to see if they can help the incumbent government. He also chastised agents for “not doing the role of intelligence officers” for failing to keep the media under control.

For the state agency to get illegally involved in politics and censor the press is unthinkable in a modern democracy. We are appalled to learn that the head of the agency forced officers to break the law. The probe must be extended to uncover everyone responsible.

The clampdown on “past ills,” however, should not be used as a kind of political vendetta against former governments. The Moon administration has already irked the main opposition by disclosing confidential materials belonging to former President Park Geun-hye. The NIS’s reform could founder if the moves appear to be political. All steps must be in compliance with the law.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 5, Page 26
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