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South Korea raids cyberwarfare office

Campaigning scandal keeps expanding

Scandal claims have followed the election of Park Geun-hye as president of South Korea.

AP/File

Scandal claims have followed the election of Park Geun-hye as president of South Korea.

SEOUL — Military investigators raided South Korea’s Cyberwarfare Command on Tuesday after four of its officials were found to have posted political messages online last year, in what opposition lawmakers have called a smear campaign against President Park Geun-hye’s opponents before her election in December.

Park defeated her main opposition rival, Moon Jae-in, by roughly 1 million votes in the election and took office in February. But in a snowballing scandal, prosecutors have since said that during the presidential campaign, agents of the National Intelligence Service posted thousands of Internet messages supporting Park and her governing Saenuri Party or berating government critics, including opposition presidential candidates, as shills for North Korea.

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Last week, opposition lawmakers alleged in the National Assembly that the military’s secretive Cyberwarfare Command had carried out a similar online campaign, separately or in coordination with the spy agency, to help sway public opinion in favor of Park before the Dec. 19 election.

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry confirmed that four cyberwarfare officials had posted political messages. But it quoted them as saying they had acted on their own.

Still, “the ministry will investigate whether there was command-level involvement,” the ministry’s spokesman, Kim Min-seok, said in explaining the raid on the command headquarters.

The cyberwarfare command, created in 2010 to guard South Korea against hacking threats from North Korea, is only the latest state agency to have been touched by the scandal.

The political opposition first raised the charge of illegal electioneering during the presidential campaign last year. Three days before the voting, however, the police announced that they had investigated and found no evidence to support the accusations.

But in June, prosecutors indicted Won Sei-hoon, the intelligence agency’s former director, for allegedly supervising an online smear campaign against Park’s political opponents. They also indicted Kim Yang-pan, the former chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police, saying he had whitewashed an investigation into the matter.

Won and the spy agency insisted that the online messages were posted as part of normal psychological warfare operations against North Korea and did not amount to meddling in an election. Park has denied using the spy agency for her campaign.

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