The Defense Ministry on Thursday sent 11 cyber warfare officials to the military prosecution, recommending indictment on charges of posting political comments online from 2010 to October, including during last year’s presidential election.
Announcing an interim result of its two-month probe, the ministry’s investigation unit dismissed the allegation that the cyber warfare command interfered in last year’s election on an organizational level, despite their breach of military rules on political neutrality.
The main opposition Democratic Party denounced the ministry for whitewashing the investigation with what it called extensive election meddling involving top military officials.
“We confirmed that the agents contravened their obligation of political neutrality in the process of responding to propaganda activities from North Korea and outside, and promoting national security and defense policies,” Maj. Gen. Baek Nak-jong, the head of the Criminal Investigation Command, told a press conference.
“But we judged that they did not interfere in the presidential election.”
Calling the announcement “unreliable, ridiculous and shameless,” the opposition party repeated its call for a special probe by an independent counsel into government agencies’ alleged illegal electioneering.
The DP has alleged that military operatives and intelligence agents staged a collective, clandestine smear campaign last year to help the ruling Saenuri Party’s then-candidate Park Geun-hye in a tight presidential race.
With technological support from civilian cyber experts, the CIC found that cyber warfare agents posted some 15,000 political comments including about 2,100 written posts that supported or criticized specific politicians or parties.
The political postings on social networking sites, blogs and other Internet communities were made as part of their psychological warfare to counter ill-intentioned political activities by North Korea and its followers in the South, the officials said.
The 11 operatives, who were sent to military prosecution without detention, are the psychological warfare chief, identified only by his surname Lee, four civilian workers and six active-duty officials.
The investigators said that Lee “deviated from the limits of his authorities” and directed his operatives “not to hesitate to use political expressions” in their psychological warfare activities over national security issues.
The issues include the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border Pyongyang has long disputed; the 2010 torpedo attack on the corvette Cheonan for which the North denies its responsibility; and the establishment of a strategic naval base on Jejudo Island, which pro-North Korea figures vehemently oppose.
Lee himself posted 351 political comments online.
Lee also ordered his staff after the investigation began in October to delete psychological warfare materials stored on computer servers ― a reason investigators pushed for a charge against him of destruction of evidence.
The investigation command also said that it was considering holding former and current cyber warfare commanders responsible for the negligence of supervision, although they did not give any directives about political writings.
By Song Sang-ho