South Korea's National Intelligence Service was involved in far-reaching illicit political operations aimed at manipulating voters several years ago, an internal probe team announced Thursday.
The agency operated up to 30 "extra-departmental teams," many involving Internet-savvy civilians, for such activities beyond its official role and authority, according to the task force created weeks after the inauguration of liberal president Moon Jae-in.
The task force put the blame on Won Sei-hoon, who led the NIS from 2009-2013 under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.
Won is on trial for allegedly pulling the strings of the NIS's smear campaign, largely based on the Internet, to influence the 2012 presidential election in then-conservative candidate Park Geun-hye's favor.
Days before the presidential polls, members of the NIS's anti-North Korea psychological warfare team posted messages critical of then main opposition candidate Moon Jae-in and supporting Park on social networking and news websites. Park was elected by a narrow margin.
Won was also found to have ordered the agency to muzzle the press and provide support for conservative civic groups.
It has been confirmed as well that the NIS attempted to influence parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012 and put some major opposition politicians under secret surveillance, said the task force, which scrutinized transcripts of Won's instructions.
Many files were deleted apparently by Won and his aides but restored by investigators.
The country's new administration of reform-minded Moon Jae-in has vowed to reform the NIS by making it focus on collecting and analyzing intelligence and information on North Korea and foreign affairs.
The task force is looking into a dozen other cases of the agency's alleged past wrongdoings. (Yonhap)