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Published : 2014-03-20 21:00
Updated : 2014-03-20 21:02

Calls are rising for an independent counsel probe into cyberwarfare agents’ alleged illegal electioneering, as limits in the military’s internal inquiry have been revealed.

Since last October, the Criminal Investigation Command under the Defense Ministry has been conducting the probe, which has so far found that cyber agents posted some 30,000 politics-related comments online during parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012.

Critics have questioned the fairness of the probe, alleging that investigators are trying to downplay the case, while remaining reluctant to thoroughly investigate top officials including Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.

Kim has so far maintained that he was not informed that the agents in question had posted political comments during the elections in violation of military rules on political neutrality. 

But a CIC official told an opposition lawmaker last month that the cyberwarfare command had reported the outcome of its cyberoperations to Kim on a daily basis. This has reinforced speculations that Kim might have been aware of cyberoperations that opposition parties claim have affected the presidential vote.

The CIC official also revealed that the results of the cyberoperations regarding North Korea and neighboring countries had been distributed in a “black book” to 50 related government agencies including the Defense Ministry.

The ministry initially denied that Kim had been briefed on any cyberwarfare operations. But it reversed itself later, saying that parts of the black book were conveyed to the minister.

Opposition politicians argue that the military investigation authorities cannot investigate the case impartially and fairly given that the authorities are under the control of the defense chief.

“Minister Kim, and former and current cyberwarfare chiefs should be exhaustively investigated as they appear to have been informed of questionable cyberoperations,” the office of Democratic Party Rep. Jin Sung-joon told The Korea Herald.

“Given that the CIC is an entity under Kim’s authority, we wonder how much discretionary authority the CIC could exert over the investigation. This is why we are clamoring for a special probe by an independent counsel.”

Former cyberwarfare chief Yeon Jae-wook, currently a presidential secretary for defense affairs, and incumbent chief Ok Do-gyung have remained largely unscathed by the ongoing probe.

Critics suspect that investigators are trying to minimize the fallout for top military officials so as to prevent the case from taking on more political overtones.

In the interim report, which was announced last December, the CIC said Yeon was responsible only for “negligent supervision.” It only accused a lower-level official of encouraging his staff to post political comments in response to ill-intentioned cyberspace activities by North Korea and its followers in the South.

Critics also argued that the CIC appears to have limited the scope of its investigation. Although military agents might have posted far more comments that can be seen as “political” in broader terms, the CIC has been focusing its probe only on online postings about specific parties or politicians, they said.

The CIC is expected to announce the final result of its probe at the end of this month. Observers say more cyberagents could face disciplinary action or prosecution on charges of violating their obligation to remain politically neutral.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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