Ex-defense head approved smear campaign

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Ex-defense head approved smear campaign

A military operational manual has been found that shows former Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, while he was in service, had sanctioned a cyber command unit to manipulate online public opinion in the weeks leading up to the 2012 general election, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.

The ministry has been investigating allegations that the military ran illegal cyber operations during the Lee Myung-bak administration by ordering its agents to post online comments denouncing liberal politicians.

The manual, signed by Kim on March 9, 2012, and titled “Psychological affairs guidelines to counter election interventions by North Korea and pro-North operatives,” said all members of 530 Unit of the Cyber Command would be mobilized from March 12 to April 11, 2012, according to the investigation task force.

Earlier this month, Kim was investigated, detained and indicted over his alleged involvement in the scandal, but was released on Nov. 22, after the Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of a petition he made challenging the legality of his detention.

The task force said Thursday the ministry failed to conduct a proper initial probe into the Cyber Command, when the allegations were first made public in 2013.

The investigation team applied for a court warrant to raid the Cyber Command on Oct. 20, 2013, but the command was already prepared for the move, the task force said. The leader of Unit 530 sent text messages to agents to “quickly prepare for the raids.”

Investigators took 27 hours before starting the raids. “We are investigating whether the leader of Unit 530 heard about the planned raid from an investigator and destroyed evidence,” a ministry task force official said.

The task force also said the Cyber Command directly operated an internet news outlet, Point News, using its budget. A total of 342 million won ($314,570) of its budget was used to operate the outlet from 2012 to 2015. The outlet is no longer in service.

The National Intelligence Service authorized the spending from the command’s military intelligence activities account. The Defense Security Command, the military’s intelligence organ, also operated its own cyber campaign unit, the task force said. According to the investigation task force, 470 members of the Defense Security Command created online accounts under the identities of their families and relatives and conducted smear campaigns against liberal politicians.

The Defense Security Command’s team also ran cyber campaigns to post online comments favoring the conservative president and international events hosted by the Lee administration at the order of the Blue House.

It also created intelligence analysis reports concerning domestic politics such as the leftists’ activities before a by-election and assessments of the social networking services’ influence in the general election.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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