Published : 2013-10-18 20:39
Updated : 2013-10-19 11:17
An allegation has been made that at least one noncommissioned officer and three civilians attached to the military’s cyber warfare unit engaged in an online smear campaign against the opposition presidential candidate last year.
The smear campaign, if proven true, would have breached political neutrality required of the military. Though denial was the initial response from the military, emerging circumstantial evidence is connecting the military personnel to negative comments made about Moon Jae-in when he was bidding for the presidency as the Democratic Party’s candidate.
At this initial stage, however, it is reckless to conclude that the alleged meddling in the December presidential election was an organized offensive by the power elite to shake “the nation’s foundations,” as the Democratic Party has claimed. Equally irresponsible is the ruling Saenuri Party, which accused the opposition party of attempting “to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
The challenge ahead of the two parties is to take a step back from an inspection that has started and keep themselves from jumping to conclusions. It will not be too late to take action when the findings of the investigation are made public.
The alleged smear campaign came to the fore when opposition lawmakers claimed earlier in the week that noncommissioned officers and civilians attached to the Cyber Warfare Command posted hundreds of online comments against the opposition presidential candidate ahead of the election. The lawmakers did so when the National Assembly was conducting an annual 20-day inspection of government agencies. The claim gained greater credence as it came at a time when Won Sei-hoon, former director of the National Intelligence Service, was being tried on charges of ordering his spy agency to smear the opposition presidential candidate.
In his testimony at the National Defense Committee, the commander of the Cyber Warfare Command denied the charges of illegal electioneering. He said that if anyone posted comments against the opposition candidate, he did so not on an order from the command, but on his own. He added that all personnel had been ordered five times to strictly maintain political neutrality during the run-up to the election.
The Ministry of National Defense created the Cyber Warfare Command in 2010, one year after North Korea launched a massive attack on the websites of South Korean government agencies and companies. The ministry has since bolstered the command’s clandestine missions of cyber and psychological warfare, reportedly increasing its personnel to more than 400.
It is lamentable that the command, whose organization and operations are classified, is drawn into an open political conflict. But it will have no one else but itself to blame if any of its personnel is found to have engaged in illegal electioneering.
The floor leader of the ruling party says, “What influence could a few online postings have had on the presidential election?” Admittedly, online postings by a few people can hardly sway the outcome of a presidential election.
But such an action cannot be taken lightly because it can chip away at the foundations of democracy. It would have much more serious implications if the command is found to have ordered its personnel to engage in illegal electioneering and the former spy agency chief is found guilty of ordering a campaign against the opposition candidate.