Published : 2013-12-09 19:55
Updated : 2013-12-09 19:55
A National Intelligence Service agent admitted in court on Monday to receiving orders to tweet political comments during last year’s presidential elections.
The official, only identified by his surname Lee, testified in the trial of former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon and others charged with interfering in last year’s presidential election.
Lee told the Seoul Central District Court that members of the agency’s psychological warfare unit had received verbal orders to follow an “issues & points” directive while conducting their daily activities on the social networking site Twitter. The unit is responsible for countering any North Korean propaganda lurking online.
Under the auspices of following the directive, Lee and fellow members of the unit then tweeted and retweeted comments that favored the ruling camp candidate Park Geun-hye and criticized lawmaker Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, one of the opposition camp candidates.
“There was a sense among team members there could be a misunderstanding in the future that the NIS had attempted to meddle with the (presidential) elections,” Lee said.
Election laws forbid government officials from participating in any campaign activities. According to Lee, it was unclear as to who had written the directive, although the NIS operative suspected the order was given to “all members of the NIS through the chain of command.”
The state intelligence agency’s psychological warfare team has been under intense public scrutiny recently as prosecutors continued investigating how much the NIS had interfered in the 2012 presidential elections, if at all.
The most recent charges against the government institution include allegations that NIS agents during last year’s elections were involved in over 20 million tweets and retweets supportive of the ruling camp and defamatory against the opposition.
Lee acknowledged he retweeted personal tweets originally posted by Park, telling justices at the Seoul court that he had “made a mistake.” Lee denied however, that the retweets were intended to help Park get elected to the presidency, maintaining that they reflected Lee’s own personal, political ideological beliefs.
“If I had such a purpose (getting Park elected) in mind, I would have retweeted many more tweets,” said Lee.
Lee’s comment is expected to cause a stir among members of the recently-formed bipartisan special parliamentary committee to reform the intelligence agency. The parliamentary committee, which will design methods to prevent illegal electioneering activities by the NIS in future elections, is experiencing a rough start as members from the ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic Party continue to disagree over the specifics of potential preventive measures.