Korean agent's suicide note denies hacking allegations

Korean agent's suicide note denies hacking allegations
PHOTO: The New Paper

A spy agency official who was recently found dead had denied allegations that the state-run intelligence agency surveilled civilians through a hacking programme, in a death note posthumously released by the police Sunday.

The National Intelligence Service agent surnamed Lim, 45, was found dead Saturday in his car on a mountain road in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. He died of asphyxiation, according to officials in their autopsy report, concluding that he had killed himself. A three-page handwritten will was found on the car's passenger seat.

"There was no monitoring of civilians or election affairs," Lim wrote. The agent also wrote that he had "mistakenly" deleted files out of fears that they could cause misunderstandings over NIS' counterterror operations and further tarnish the spy agency's reputation.

"I deleted the data about counterterrorism activities and secret operations on North Korea, considering that the NIS was more important than the possible impacts that can be caused," he wrote.

"This was my mistake based on bad judgement, but there is nothing to worry about concerning my actions."

Lim's death added fuel to a deepening controversy that the spy agency used a hacking programme bought from Italian firm Hacking Team to bug civilians' smartphones.

The spy agency admitted the purchase of the programme but said it was used only to strengthen cyberwarfare capabilities against Pyongyang and to monitor people in foreign territories who had suspicious ties to the North.

Lim, who was a veteran cybersecurity expert with more than 20 years' experience, was the agent who bought and operated the Hacking Team software, according to Rep. Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party.

The note was disclosed as the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy launched an all-out attack on NIS over its alleged illegal spying on civilians.

Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, a software mogul-turned-politician, claimed that the investigators should reveal the truth behind the agent's death, citing that authorities were not clear about why the agent had killed himself.

NPAD also raised skepticism that over 130 Korean Internet protocol addresses were contained in the log file that was found in the data leaked from the Italian company.

"There were 138 local IPs (in the log file), and the number even reaches 300 when including the overlapping ones. The targets include mobile carrier KT, Seoul National University, the Korea Broadcasting System and even Daum Kakao," said Rep. Shin Kyoung-min.

Later in the afternoon, the NIS countered the opposition party's argument, saying the IP addresses had no relation to NIS' operation but were assumed to be related to that of the Italian firm. The agency also vowed to restore the data by the deceased employee and release them to lawmakers upon their visit to the spy agency. The intelligence body is in the process of verifying what kind of data had been removed, it added.

The ruling Saenuri Party, however, remained cautious about possible political strife over the hacking scandal, arguing that fact-checking must be done before reaching any conclusions.

"Whenever suspicion is raised over the intelligence body, the political parties often raise skepticism first and pressure the agency. Verifying the facts in patience must be the first step," said Saenuri Party spokesperson Rep. Kim Young-woo.

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