SEOUL, South Korea — State prosecutors raided the headquarters of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea on Tuesday to investigate accusations that the spy agency used its agents and hired bloggers to influence the presidential election in December.
The raid, which started on Tuesday morning and continued into the evening, was highly unusual, dealing a blow to the reputation of the spy agency. Such a raid would have been unthinkable decades ago when the agency had served as the main tool of political control for South Korea’s military dictators.
Even after South Korea was democratized in the early 1990s, prosecutors raided the secretive agency only once — in 2005, when it was revealed that the agency illegally ran an extensive operation of bugging the telephones of politicians, businessmen, journalists and others.
Although the intelligence agency has repeatedly vowed not to meddle in politics, accusations of wrongdoing by its agents resurfaced during the campaign for the Dec. 19 presidential election. The main opposition, the Democratic United Party, and government critics accused the agency of trying to influence online debates in favor of President Park Geun-hye, the governing party’s candidate at the time. Ms. Park beat her opposition rival, Moon Jae-in, by a million votes.
Last month, the police said that at least two agents from the National Intelligence Service illegally posted comments online criticizing the political opposition ahead of the election. But they said they could not determine whether the two were part of a much bigger operation by the leadership of the agency to influence the election, as the opposition party alleged.
A chief police investigator, who had been replaced in the middle of the investigation, said in interviews with domestic news media that her bosses had intervened in an effort to whitewash the inquiry. The National Police Agency denied the accusation.
Prosecutors have since taken over the investigation.
They themselves faced a long-running accusation from the political opposition and other critics that they shied away from offending the top political power. Because of that mistrust, the political parties have agreed to begin a separate parliamentary investigation.
On Tuesday, prosecutors raided the psychological intelligence bureau in the spy agency’s sprawling compound in the southern edge of the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Their action came a day after prosecutors summoned the former intelligence service director, Won Sei-hoon, a close ally of former President Lee Myung-bak, for questioning. Two other senior intelligence officials were questioned in the past few days.
The spy agency had no comment on the raid, a spokesman said by telephone. But it had earlier denied interfering in the election. The agency said its officers’ online activities had been part of its normal psychological operations aimed at North Korea.
April 30, 2013
By CHOE SANG-HUN
© 2013 The New York Times Company