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spy agency-political intervention dispute

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SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- The chief of South Korea's national intelligence agency has extensively intervened in national elections and Internet discussions to help former conservative president Lee Myung-bak get on better political footing, a liberal party lawmaker said Monday.

Rep. Jin Sun-mee from the Democratic United Party said documents she has secured showed that National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Won Sei-hoon attempted to intervene in domestic politics including last year's presidential election.

The documents included the director's instructions given to agency members from February 2009 to January this year, she said.

Won, who was appointed by Lee and has led the spy agency since 2009, mainly instructed NIS agents to curb left-leaning Internet users' political debates and promote key policy decisions of Lee ahead of the December presidential election last year, the lawmaker said.

Instructions from Won include a task to help manipulate the cyber-space public opinion in favor of the conservative bloc before last year's presidential election as well as a mission to drive out what they called left-wing North Korea followers, Jin said. Won also gave directives to form favorable public opinion around Lee's signature policies including the controversial four-river refurbishment project, according to the opposition party lawmaker.

Won said in July 2010 that "it is important to keep in mind that it is our institution's responsibility to lead young people to have rightist sentiment," according to the documents released to the press.

"The pro-North Korean forces' online propaganda activities and interference in pubic affairs should not be overlooked," he was also quoted as saying in May last year. He again ordered "pre-emptive measures to deal with the pro-North Korean forces' online bashing campaign against the government" in November last year, according to the documents.

Jin claimed that the spy agency has been deeply involved in secret activities to manipulate Internet public opinion, the major debate venue for young people, in favor of the conservative government as well as the right-leaning ruling party in violation of the law banning the agency from engaging in domestic politics.

A female spy agent has been under a police investigation on suspicions that she wrote hundreds of remarks on the Internet before the 2012 presidential election, defending and promoting the conservative bloc while criticizing liberal-minded figures. Jin said the case was part of the intelligence agency's project to help Lee and his ruling party.

According to the records, Won also directed agents to "pro-actively promote and support president Lee and government policies" when the government plan to relocate the capital was under fire in 2010 while ordering them to form favorable public opinion ahead of the opening of the four refurbished rivers in September 2011.

"The National Intelligence Service is under increasing suspicions that it committed the crime of breaching state discipline by illegally intervening in politics," Jin said, calling for stern punishment.

Responding to Jin's claims, however, the national agency refuted the accusations, saying the director ordered political impartiality ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

Won gave only "proper orders" and did "proper activities" as the head of the intelligence agency, NIS said in a statement.

He, in fact, did order agents to curb online activities of pro-North Korean elements, but that was because they detected North Korean spies' and North Korea followers' moves online to trigger interruptions in South Korea's policies including the four-river project, the agency said.

Contacts with North Koreans or possessions of materials extolling the socialist system or the North's ruling Kim family, unless approved by the government, are strictly prohibited in the South.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/yonhap-news-agency/130318/spy-agency-political-intervention-dispute