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S. Korea's spy agency influenced 2012 elections

Lewis Sanders IV
August 4, 2017

A task force has unveiled a wide-ranging operation by the National Intelligence Service to support disgraced President Park Geun-hye. The manipulation involved elements of the agency's pyschological warfare division.

A campaign mural for Park Geun-hye during the 2012 election
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Jin-man

South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) launched an illegal operation during the 2012 presidential election to sway voters into casting their ballot for former President Park Geun-hye, an internal probe team said late Thursday.

The NIS ran up to 30 "extra-departmental teams" that included civilian operators for tasks that fell outside the intelligence agency's authority, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Read more: Can North Korea's elites oust Kim Kong Un?

Elements of the NIS' anti-North Korea psychological warfare division also posted messages criticizing then-opposition candidate Moon Jae-in on social networks, the task force said.

In 2012, Park won the election with 51.6 percent of the vote compared to Moon's 48 percent. However, she was unable to finish her five-year term after a influence-peddling scandal involving her confidant led to her impeachment.

Moon was elected president earlier this year.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in raises his hands
President Moon Jae-in has vowed to reform the NIS to prevent it meddling in electionsImage: Picture-Alliance/AP Photo/A. Young-joon

Several elections targeted

Within weeks of assuming the presidency, President Moon Jae-in created a task force to investigate allegations that the agency had attempted to influence elections within the country.

Former spy chief Won Sei-hoon is responsible for ordering the illegal operation, according to the investigators. Measures included press manipulation and surveillance of opposition politicians. Won is currently on trial for leading a smear campaign against Moon. 

Read more: Increasingly desperate North Koreans defect to South Korea

The task force noted that the NIS also attempted to influence South Korea's parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012, including by putting select opposition politicians under surveillance without their knowledge.