North Korea conducts 5 missile engine tests this year: report

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military intelligence agency confirmed Tuesday that North Korea has conducted five missile engine tests at the country's northwest site in Dongchang-ri this year and has been renovating the test facility since spring.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) briefed lawmakers of the parliamentary intelligence committee on the latest development of North Korea's missile and nuclear program, which has been making progress since its long-range rocket test in last December and third nuclear test in February.

"North Korea has continued its missile development following its successful long-range rocket launch in December and conducted five engine tests at Dongchang-ri site this year alone," Rep. Cho Won-jin of the ruling Saenuri Party said in a briefing after a closed-door audit of the DIA, an intelligence agency under the defense ministry.

Construction has been under way since May to expand the missile launch site, while an underground nuclear test site in Punggye-ri in the northeast has been in atomic test-ready condition, Cho said.

DIS chief Jo Bo-geun said the communist nation has stepped up its forces targeting the heavily populated Seoul metropolitan area, placing 70 percent of its 1 million-strong armed forces, 80 percent of fire arms and 2,000 tanks within a 100-kilometer range of the front-line, according to lawmakers briefed by the DIA.

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers continued to raise suspicions over the link between the defense ministry's Cyber Warfare Command and the National Intelligence Service (NIS), citing the spy agency's involvement in allocating the command's annual budget.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said his agency plans and assigns the budget for the cyber command, while the NIS plays a coordinating role to avoid overlaps in spending on military intelligence activities.

According to the defense ministry, the NIS and the finance ministry assign the budget for the cyber command as the spy agency has the authority over spending in the military and intelligence activities, which are classified as confidential information.

In response to criticism over the cyber command's involvement in domestic politics, Kim said the command's psychological warfare activities are designed to "protect South Koreans from North Korea's propaganda activities in the cyberspace."

"The cyber warfare activities not aimed at misleading people but at fending off wrong propaganda by North Korea," Kim said during a meeting of the Special Committee of Budget and Accounts.

The 400-member cyber command under the defense ministry was created in 2010 to guard against growing online security threat posed by the communist rival, which is believed to have trained elite hackers against South Korea.

But the secretive cyber unit has been at the center of an online smear campaign scandal that also involves the spy agency and other government agencies, tracing back to last December's presidential election.

The scandal centers on allegations that employees of the government agencies in question posted political online comments against then opposition camp candidate Moon Jae-in during the presidential campaign in a bid to sway public opinion in favor of then ruling party candidate and now president, Park Geun-hye.

Former NIS chief Won Sei-won is currently under going trials on charges of election meddling.

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