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South Korean Spy Agency Admits to Meddling in 2012 Election

The presidency may never have been meant for Park Geun-hye after all.

By , a freelance journalist and was a 2019-2020 Henry Luce Foundation Scholar at the Japan Times.
South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-Hye waves to supporters as she arrives to deliver a victory speech on a stage in the centre of Seoul on December 19, 2012.   South Korea elected its first female president on December 19, handing a slim but historic victory to conservative ruling party candidate Park Geun-Hye, daughter of the country's former military ruler.  AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE        (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-Hye waves to supporters as she arrives to deliver a victory speech on a stage in the centre of Seoul on December 19, 2012. South Korea elected its first female president on December 19, handing a slim but historic victory to conservative ruling party candidate Park Geun-Hye, daughter of the country's former military ruler. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-Hye waves to supporters as she arrives to deliver a victory speech on a stage in the centre of Seoul on December 19, 2012. South Korea elected its first female president on December 19, handing a slim but historic victory to conservative ruling party candidate Park Geun-Hye, daughter of the country's former military ruler. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea’s spy agency has determined that some of its agents tampered with the 2012 election that put now-disgraced conservative President Park Geun-hye into the top job over liberal Moon Jae-in.

In an attempt to keep a conservative in power, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said the agency attempted to sway public opinion using internet experts and social media, according to the BBC.

The investigation has also revealed meddling attempts under Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who was president from 2008 to 2013. Park and Lee, both part of the same conservative political party and both caught in corruption scandals, were hardliners on North Korea.

South Korea’s spy agency has determined that some of its agents tampered with the 2012 election that put now-disgraced conservative President Park Geun-hye into the top job over liberal Moon Jae-in.

In an attempt to keep a conservative in power, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said the agency attempted to sway public opinion using internet experts and social media, according to the BBC.

The investigation has also revealed meddling attempts under Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who was president from 2008 to 2013. Park and Lee, both part of the same conservative political party and both caught in corruption scandals, were hardliners on North Korea.

The NIS investigation found that at least 30 teams of officials and internet-savvy citizens uploaded pro-conservative social media posts for two years before the 2012 election. Some of the comments described leftist candidates as North Korea sympathizers. (Left-leaning candidates like Moon have long advocated so-called “sunshine policies,” or greater rapprochement with Pyongyang.)

“The teams were charged with spreading pro-government opinions and suppressing anti-government views, branding them as attempts by pro-North Korean forces to disrupt state affairs,” the NIS report said, according to the Guardian.

The spy agency had already determined in 2013 that some intelligence officers had been directed to post thousands of online comments about politics, dipping their toes into the election. But the new conclusions, fruits of a task force created by the spy agency this summer, make clear that the NIS was even more ambitious.

Won Sei-hoon, the former director of NIS, is already on trial for tampering with the election, and could face up to four years in prison.

Park only narrowly beat Moon in 2012 to become the first female president of South Korea. She now stands trial on corruption and abuse of power charges, and could face life in prison. Park’s popularity has been decreasing since last year when she was impeached for helping Choi Soon-sil, an old friend, coerce businesses into donating large sums of money to foundations that Choi controls.

This may, Moon won a landslide victory. He has vowed to prevent the spy agency from meddling in any future elections and has pushed intelligence officials to focus on foreign affairs.

Predictably, the task force’s conclusions on the spy agency’s political meddling drew mixed reactions from South Korea’s main parties. The center-left People’s Party called the news “unpardonable,” while the conservative Liberty Korea Party decried “some sort of political motive” behind the findings.

Photo credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Jesse Chase-Lubitz is a freelance journalist and was a 2019-2020 Henry Luce Foundation Scholar at the Japan Times. Twitter: @jesschaselubitz

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