New transcripts reveal the extent of NIS’s meddling in elections

Posted on : 2017-07-25 17:01 KST Modified on : 2017-07-25 17:01 KST
Prosecutors seeking four years in prison for former director, who acted as previous government’s lackey
Former National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon arrives at Seoul High Court in Seocho district on July 24. (by Kim Seong-gwang
Former National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon arrives at Seoul High Court in Seocho district on July 24. (by Kim Seong-gwang

After many twists and turns, transcripts clearly showing that the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s main intelligence agency, blatantly meddled in elections and engaged in psychological operations, both online and offline during the tenure of former NIS Director Won Sei-hoon, were abruptly made public on the final day of Won’s retrial. The transcripts had played a crucial role in convicting Won of meddling in the election, but the Supreme Court under President Park Geun-hye did not admit them as evidence. It remains to be seen whether the transcripts will now serve as key evidence for proving the charges against Won.

In the final hearing of Won‘s retrial, held on July 24 at the 7th criminal division of Seoul High Court (with Justice Kim Dae-woong presiding), prosecutors released the transcripts of meetings with all NIS department heads chaired by Won. The transcripts of the meetings that Won chaired from his appointment in Feb. 2009 until 2012 were submitted to the court after Won was indicted in 2013, but at the time the NIS redacted key passages from those transcripts for security reasons. The transcripts released on July 24 were submitted to prosecutors after being restored by a task force for uprooting chronic problems at the NIS, which was set up by the new Moon Jae-in administration.

The transcripts made public on July 24 explicitly show that Won asked the NIS to aggressively intervene in elections. “We lost in the elections for school superintendents because of infighting, you know. Let’s work on getting ready now so that we don‘t break ranks. This is a battle between the current government and anti-government forces. Pre-registration starts in December, doesn’t it? Have the branch managers take action to make sure that things go smoothly on the ground,” Won said on Nov. 18, 2011.

“There are 11 months left until the local government elections, and we need to carefully vet the candidates in our branch offices. In the 1995 elections, all the Democratic Liberal Party candidates for district mayor campaigned because the NIS told them to, not because they wanted to,” Won said during a meeting on June 19, 2009.

Won also emphasized the battle for public opinion that was being fought online and offline. “There are two major elections next year, and the elections are being affected by things that are not true because the NIS isn’t doing its job,” Won said on Nov. 18, 2011. “The heads of each division need to meet with their affiliated organizations and make clear the groups that are on our side. I’m talking about normalizing things, not deceiving the public. As I see it, that’s the most important part of our offline activities,” he added.

Won gave the following instructions about the NIS’s online activities: “No one is going to believe something just because you say it on social media. When the director of the National Institute of Korean History or the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, for example, say that something isn‘t true, there’s a limit on what they can do. So that’s when we need to back them up.”

“We’re also doing this now, but we need to beef it up. Our psychological operations against North Korea are important, but our psychological operations against the South Korean public are pretty important, too,” Won said during a meeting on April 20, 2012.

“The transcripts clearly show that Won thought [of the NIS] not as an intelligence agency but as an organization aiding the administration and the president. He violated the National Intelligence Service Act and the Election Act by having the intention of intervening in politics and the presidential election,” the prosecutors argued during the hearing. On July 24, prosecutors requested a four-year prison sentence for Won.

By Kim Min-kyung, staff reporter

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