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NPAD ups ante over NIS tapping

The main opposition party on Monday intensified calls to investigate the country’s spy agency, following last week’s apparent suicide of an agency official linked to accusations that spies had allegedly wiretapped government critics for years.

New Politics Alliance for Democracy whip Rep. Lee Jong-kul urged the National Intelligence Service chief Lee Byung-ho to attend related parliamentary questioning, and urged President Park Geun-hye to calm growing public fears over intensifying surveillance on the public.

But ruling bloc officials insisted that the opposition was using the scandal and recent death of an NIS agent to attack the Park administration, calling the accusations “rootless.” Cheong Wa Dae remained mute on the scandal.

NPAD chair Rep. Moon Jae-in (left) and NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul (center) at the main opposition party's morning meeting, Monday. (Yonhap)
NPAD chair Rep. Moon Jae-in (left) and NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul (center) at the main opposition party's morning meeting, Monday. (Yonhap)

“A cybersecurity expert with 20 years of service to his country died last week,” a ruling Saenuri Party statement posted online earlier Monday read.

Drawing an analogy to clean air which should not be contaminated, the statements adds, “The NIS should take this incident as an opportunity to clearly state the facts (surrounding the scandal). Politicians should also remain quiet until the facts are clearly found. Groundless accusations will only worsen the confusion.”

Local reports last week accused the NIS of wiretapping government critics, citing leaked emails exchanged between suspected NIS agents and Hacking Team, an Italian software firm.

The NIS had contracted Hacking Team to develop malware to bug South Koreans using Samsung phones produced and sold locally, the reports asserted.

The allegations came amid public distrust in the NIS due to the spy agency’s alleged meddling in the 2012 presidential elections. The NIS was accused of conducting a smear campaign against opposition candidate Moon Jae-in. NPAD said that the NIS’ alleged interfering in the election may have contributed to the victory of Moon’s rival, Park.

Last week’s apparent suicide of an NIS agent suspected to have been involved in the agency’s deals with Hacking Team only worsened public distrust in the NIS.

The agent admitted to deleting digital records related to the case, but added that the NIS had not wiretapped private citizens, according to his publicized suicide note.

The suicide note written by the NIS agent. (Yonhap)
The suicide note written by the NIS agent. (Yonhap)
NIS and Saenuri officials though have remained adamant that the country’s spy agency did not use the malware to bug citizens.

“The records deleted by the agent are completely restorable according to the NIS,” Saenuri Rep. Park Min-shik said later Monday, citing a meeting with NIS officials on Monday. “Everything will be answered within the week,” he added.

The NIS offered to invite lawmakers on the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee to inspect its facilities last week, expressing confidence that no evidence would be found to support the allegations.

Parties remain split over the offer.

The Saenuri Party says that lawmakers should inspect the facilities now. The NPAD insists that the inspection should occur after the NIS submits related secret documents to the Intelligence Committee. Representatives of the main parties will meet Tuesday.

By Jeong Hunny (