Controversy grows over cyber command's smear campaign scandal

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) -- Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday raised fresh allegations there were more officials involved than the already named four in an alleged online smear campaign by the defense ministry's cyber command, despite the military's denial of its role in the snowballing scandal.

On Monday, the defense ministry confirmed that four officials on the cyber warfare command posted political comments on Twitter and blogs ahead of last year's election, noting they acted on their own and not under orders from their superiors. The ministry also raided offices of the command headquarters and senior officials to look into their involvement.

While the military's internal investigation focused on the four members who were revealed during the parliamentary audit, opposition lawmakers claimed there were more officials who posted political writings critical of the opposition camp's presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, leading to suspicions of systematic smear campaign by the military.

On Tuesday, main opposition Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Kim Kwang-jin unveiled that 15 cyber warfare officials posted comments on Twitter and other websites during the election period in favor of the ruling party candidate and now president, Park Geun-hye.

One of the cyber command officials supported Park, while another claimed that Representative Kim, a left-leaning lawmaker, is a "supporter of North Korea," said Kim.

Kim also alleged that they deleted their online comments after controversy surrounding the secretive unit's activities took center stage at the recent parliamentary audit.

Another DP lawmaker Jin Sung-jun claimed there is another member who posted political messages online in addition to the four officials who were investigated by the defense ministry.

Rep. Lee Sang-kyu of the minor Unified Progressive Party also said eight members posted political writings or retweeted video clips ahead of the election. It is not yet known whether they are the same members mentioned by the DP lawmakers.

The cyber command's scandal comes at a time when the ruling and opposition parties have been locked in a heated political showdown for months over similar allegations involving the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that the spy agency intervened in the presidential election.

Prosecutors have said NIS agents posted thousands of anonymous Internet messages during the presidential campaign period supporting Park or personally attacking the opposition candidate. The former NIS chief, who is currently under arrest, is undergoing trials on charges of illegal electioneering.

On Monday, a group of lawmakers belonging to the parliamentary defense committee urged the opposition lawmakers to stop politicizing the scandal engulfing the cyber command, whose organization and activities should be kept secret to allow for covert operations against North Korean hackers believed to be trained by the military.

The cyber warfare command was created in 2010 to guard against growing North Korean hacking threat.

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