Investigation reveals that Cyber Command managed a private news outlet with NIS support

Posted on : 2017-09-28 16:50 KST Modified on : 2017-09-28 16:50 KST
The discovery could widen probe into political malfeasance committed by the agencies
Chu Myeong-ho
Chu Myeong-ho

Revelations that the South Korean Military Cyber Command managed a private news outlet with support from the National Intelligence Service’s (NIS) special activities budget are fanning speculation that the prosecutors will broaden the scope of their investigation into the Command’s political operations.

The NIS’s support for the launch of the conservative-leading Media Watch and advertising orders for it was previously learned of in an NIS reform and development committee investigation, but the latest revelations are the first of a news outlet being created directly by the Cyber Command and NIS – the chief forces behind public opinion manipulation during past conservative administrations.

NIS Support for Unit 530 of Cyber Command
NIS Support for Unit 530 of Cyber Command

According to an account on Sept. 27 by Minjoo Party lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee, the Cyber Command planned the 2011 establishment of the online news outlet Point News with the goal of “rallying cyber allies,” with budget outlays of around 14 million won (US$12,200) in 2011, 160 million won (US$139,900) in 2012, and 280 million won (US$244,900) in 2013. In all cases, the money came out of the NIS special activities budget. The NIS has provided an annual intelligence budget of around 180 billion won (US$157 million) to the Ministry of National Defense, around 3 to 6 billion won (US$2.6–5.2 million) of which is allocated to the Cyber Command.

Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, Point News took up residence in ‘K’ Officetel in Seoul’s Hapjeong neighborhood, one of several Cyber Command “bases” operated under the NIS intelligence budget. The bases in question were officetels (combined residential and commercial buildings), used mainly by project team staffers with Unit 530.

“Three bases were used to confirm information through military offices: ‘K’ Officetel in Hapjeong and ‘T’ and ‘M’ Officetels in Gongdeok [another neighborhood in Seoul],” Lee said.

“Apparently it was commonplace to relocate bases if there were concerns about the projects leaking,” he added. Indeed, after opening initially in a building in Seoul’s Seocho district, Point News was relocated to ‘K’ Officetel in Hapjeong in Sept. 2012, and then again back to Seocho a year later.

Point News operations appear to have been connected with the Cyber Command’s online posting operations. In 2013, a Cyber Command staffer using the ID “spoon1212” tweeted a link to a Point News article titled “Defense Minister Nominee Kim Byung-kwan a Strategy Expert Well Versed in ROK-US Relations.”

“I hope he gets the opportunity to show his capabilities,” the staffer wrote in the tweet. Kim was then-President Park Geun-hye’s first nominee to serve as Minister of Defense.

Another staffer using the ID “kino8396” retweeted the message, writing, “I look forward to robust national defense.” In his recent questioning by prosecutors, former Cyber Command Unit 530 General Planning Department Director Kim Ki-hyun said there were “orders under the Park administration for posting operations, including messages praising Kim Byung-kwan.”

After the Cyber Command’s posting operation was exposed in Oct. 2013 in reports by the Hankyoreh and other news outlets, military prosecutors launched an investigation. The two domains for accessing Point News ( and were shut down in June 2014, and the business registration was deleted. As a result, it has not been possible to confirm exactly what content it produced and distributed.

Cyber Command Unit 530 also created a mobile game designed to promote patriotism and support for the military. Launched in Jan. 2013, the game Dokdo Defense featured historic figures like General Yi Sun-sin and patriotic martyrs Ahn Jung-geun and Yu Gwan-sun fighting off enemy forces and cost around 100 million won (U$87,500) in development costs alone. The game’s developer billed itself as a private company (identified by the initial “S”), but an investigation by the Hankyoreh found that the individuals involved in external operations as de facto “development team directors” for the business were two Unit 530 agents, identified by the surnames Yang and Kim. Both also received written warnings from the Ministry of Defense in 2015 over the online posting operation.

At the time of the game’s launch, a source with S, the online game development company, told the press that the company “decided to develop a Dokdo-themed gun battle game after seeing how much of an issue Dokdo became when President Lee Myung-bak visited in Aug. 2012.” The appropriateness of Lee’s visit to Dokdo was the topic of heated debate at the time by politicians and others. S received an order for the game and signed a contract in Sept. 2012, shortly after the visit. While it was soon deleted from the App store, the NIS reportedly awarded a commendation for it.

“It was difficult to understand how a little-known company could have developed a blockbuster game like that, only to have it completely deleted from the App store soon afterwards,” said a gaming industry source well acquainted with the situation at the time.

By Um Ji-won, staff reporter

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