This is a series of notes written to touch upon several intricate topics that we promised to keep track of, and for acquainting the audience with the latest news from the Korean peninsula.
The Case of the coup in South Korea
There is no radical new evidence against the United Progressive Party. However, according to the National Security Law, it is enough what the investigators already have, moreover, the fact that there was meeting is undisputed, and only quotes are being challenged as taken out of context.
It is clear that the National Security Act (NSA) is applied selectively, otherwise all those who work in the field of inter-Korean cooperation, would have been put in prison for supporting the enemy. However, in this case, the political situation coincides with the desire of the secret service to inflate this profile case, and there are formal grounds for this. There was a meeting with the performance of illicit North Korean songs, praising of the DPRK government. Some claim that the talk of a coup or a discussion on how “to undermine gas stations and grab telecom stations” were jokes, but a loyal citizen will not even joke on such topics. It is necessary to recall the situation when one South Korean blogger merely quoted northerners in an ironic context, and he received a suspended sentence. Therefore, it is unclear what serious consequences the matter will have, but the blow to the reputation of the party has already been carried out.
Moreover, this is the first time since the Sixth Republic was born, that they have tried officially to dissolve the United Progressive Party. On November 5, 2013, the Cabinet of Ministers of Korea decided to send a request to the Constitutional Court for the dissolution of the party. As Hwang Kyo-ahn, the Minister of Justice, stated during an emergency press briefing, “We came to the conclusion that the objectives and activities of UPP are contrary to the democratic order.”
If the request is satisfied and approved by the president, the registration of UPP will be cancelled, although formally, it is the third largest of the political parties. Generally speaking, this “third” party is the first of the small, after the two large parties (it has 6 seats in the National Assembly, where there are 299 seats). However, as such, it remains the party gathered around the left-wing ideology and defending, in particular, the interests of workers in the state, which is far from social.
The decision is controversial. Some of the left-wing MPs even cut their hair in protest, and the spokesman, Hong Song-nam, said that the Cabinet in its decision trampled basic principles of democracy and accused President Park Geun-hye of the violation of the Constitution.
In his turn, Hwang Woo-yea, Saenuri leader, said that it is necessary to protect the principles of liberal democracy with the help of the Constitutional Court. The leader of the parliamentary fraction also stressed that the political forces that deny the legitimacy of the country, should not be allowed into the National Assembly, representing the interests and the will of the people.
Leader of Democratic Party, Kim Han-gil, on the contrary, stressed that a very careful approach should be chosen to making decisions. He noted that this situation is rare in the world and the first in the constitutional history of the country. However, it all happened as if timed to the absence of the president in the country, and urged the United Progressive Party to use this opportunity to explain clearly the purpose of their activity to the people. The leader of the parliamentary faction of the party, Ben Chong Hon, said that pro-North Korean sentiment and the benefits from the political machinations should not be allowed.
However, the Democratic Party supported the government after all: as they said in their statement, “the democratic foundations of the order should be maintained in any case. It must comply with the objectives and activities of any party. We hope that the Constitutional Court will take a sober decision based on historical consciousness.”
The other moderates note that the party should only be forbidden after the investigation has been completed and the guilt of the participants of the “coup” is determined by the court’s decision.
Meanwhile, on November 12, 2013, Lee Sok Chin and seven members of the party were put on trial. It is reported that many citizens are willing to attend the trial, so, it was decided to choose the audience every Wednesday through lots. Interestingly, the process is taking place not in Seoul, but in the City Court of Suwon, in the Gyeonggi Province.
Case of the “trolls in uniform”
There are new details described here. First, on November 8, 2013, Yun Sok Yol, the former head of a special investigation unit, working on the case of the National Intelligence Service, was dismissed. The second most important man in the investigation, Park Geun-hye, the head of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Central Public Prosecutors Office, received disciplinary action. It turns out that they allegedly violated the Law “On the Prosecutor’s Office” by not respecting the established procedure for conducting the investigation and by not informing their superiors of the progress of criminal investigation although the dismissal happened just after Yun had given the prosecutor all the collected data and evidence.
Simultaneously Cho Young-gon, the head of the Central Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office was cleared of all suspicion of putting pressure on the investigative team, as a result of absence of any evidence. The decision was taken at a meeting of the inspection committee of the General Prosecutor’s Office, dedicated to the issue of conflicts arising between the leadership of the investigation team and prosecutors. This creates the impression that previously independent investigation was under the influence of specific prosecutorial officials, after the former prosecutor was forced to resign.
Second, it turns out, how widely the social networks are used, including Twitter, where (it is necessary to recall that in South Korea there are no anonymous commentators, and identification is required by means of an identity card) more than 400 accounts were created, which “rocked the boat” or defended the “correct” point of view. According to data, provided by the prosecutor’s office, about the opposition, the National Intelligence Service officers posted on Twitter 55,000 comments regarding the recent elections. In response to the ruling party, Saenuri stressed that prosecutors provided evidence against only 2,200 comments and, besides, this happened during the previous government, so the ruling powers do not intend to blame the secret services. Nevertheless, on October 30, 2013, new evidence was added to accuse Won Se-hoon and Ko, and suspicions began to swirl around the new director Nam Jae-joon.
It also emerged that the army, having their Cyber Command was also involved. Instead of being engaged in fighting against external threats, they became engaged in a struggle with the left-wing members inside the Korean network. On October 18, 2013, four of the employees were called in for questioning, and it turned out that they really wrote comments of political nature online. However, the questioned stressed that the comments had a purely private character, and no order from above was received. The investigation team will try to restore the already deleted messages. In addition, the investigation team has begun to clarify the evidence of a violation of military service rules requiring the political neutrality of soldiers. Moreover, it will investigate other related issues. The opposition demands a detailed and honest investigation.
The situation has become piquant due to the recent revelations of Edward Snowden, who presented evidence that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. systematically monitored the President of Korea, and the UN Secretary General of South Korean origin. NSA tapped mobile and landline phones, intercepted faxes and the emails were regularly read.
According to the document from the NSA in 2007, published by the New York Times, Korea was among the countries that U.S. secret agencies collected information about, particularly in areas such as foreign policy and technology. Most likely, the global monitoring was carried out for the preparation of negotiators of the South Korean-US Free Trade Agreement. Moreover, the U.S. side might have been made aware of strategic South Korean technology.
According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the NSA centres are based in Seoul at the U.S. Embassy, in the centre of the capital, the military base in Yongsan District and, according to the newspaper Jungang Ilbo, the Seoul suburb of Seongnam, where South Korean secret service and the CIA collect information on the DPRK. And if the CIA and DIA (Defence Ministry Intelligence Division) exchange information on North Korea with South Korean allies, everything received via the NSA, has been stamped “not for foreigners” and is sent only to the U.S.
As a result, Seoul expressed its concern about the revealed facts and formally requested an explanation about this from Washington, but in society, there was a haunting question: “Should those who are usually supposed to guard the border of Korea, be engaged in performing their direct duties rather than getting illegally involved in domestic politics?” Korean demands to stop spying on an allied country’s president and demands for apologies are clearly heard.
And while some measures are taken against wiretapping (costs of the protective equipment, which is attached to the walls or windows, and does not allow laser rays or radio waves to penetrate, reach 400 million von, or almost 380,000 dollars), the political forces of the RK continue the controversy. The ruling party Saenuri considers that this is an irrelevant conflict. They claim that the behaviour of the opposition is pointless, and call for an end to unfounded suspicions that the outcome of the presidential election was affected by a small amount of comments in the social networks. The opposition Democratic Party requires the appointment of a special prosecutor, and changing of laws to prevent fraud in the next elections, the resignation of the Director of National Intelligence Service Nam Jae-joon, head of the administration of President, Kim Jong Un and Minister of Justice, Hwang Kyo-ahn and calls upon the President to apologize officially for the current scandal. Such a view is shared by other opposition members, including an independent member of the National Assembly, Ahn Cheol-soo, who aspired to the presidency and removed his candidacy in favour of the representative of the Democrats.
As for the position of the prime minister, Jung Hong-won, then, according to him, the government is ready to accept any decision of the court, and encourages political circles to cooperate, deploring the ongoing debate.
President Park Geun-hye has repeatedly pointed to the need for a thorough investigation into the matter, but so far, in this regard, she is not making any comments because it is clear that the issue is too politicized. To join the critics of her own security forces means to weaken the support for the president, at a time when it is necessary to strengthen her position. But since the entire campaign had formally been initiated in favour of Park Geun-hye, in not making any comments she is understood to be supporting this fact. So even the newspapers such as the Korea Times indicate that the passive position of the presidential administration on this issue is damaging the image of the leader of the country.
Meanwhile, the closure of the group leading the psychological war with the North is announced. At the first stage of the reform, it is planned to reorganize the management of the Third Directorate, to which the psychological warfare group belonged. It will be called the Office of Science and Information, and one of its tasks would be to avert North Korean cyber-attacks. After all, if you believe the intelligence data, in North Korea, there were about 6,000 professional hackers, who are united in at least seven government agencies, and according to the number of specialists involved in conducting cyber warfare, North Korea occupies third place in the world after Russia and the United States. This is a very, very terrible threat, on the background of Snowden’s data.
(To be continued…)
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.