A Commentary on the National Intelligence Service’s Fabricated
‘Conspiracy for Rebellion’ Charge against the Unified Progressive Party
It has been eight months since the public exposure of the National Intelligence Service’s (NIS) illegal intervention in the 2012 presidential election. The police and the ruling Saenuri Party’s attempts to conceal the truth of the NIS’ systematic interference in last year’s presidential election is now being brought to light. Based on the revelations so far alone, President Park Geun-hye should be held accountable and the NIS should be dissolved. Events, however, seem to be unfolding in the opposite direction. Leaders of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) have been summoned or arrested on charges of ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ and the party, which spearheaded anti-war and peace campaigns as well as the movement to dismantle the NIS, is now under serious threat of being dissolved. Today in Korea, a witch hunt is instilling fear and self-censorship across the nation. Members of UPP, nevertheless, stand united with greater resolve than ever to withstand the terror campaign and emerge victorious in the end.
1. NIS’ Political Maneuver and Interference in the Presidential Election
– After taking office, the former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon reorganized the Psychological Warfare Team in February 2012. The team was put under the command of the third deputy director and was divided into four teams of about 70 agents. These agents received directives with ‘key issues and talking points’ through the order of the NIS’ third deputy director, the new head of the psychological warfare division, and created online aliases to pose as ordinary netizens and posted comments about the presidential candidates and their political platforms on the internet.
– Contentious issues in the presidential election – such as the creation of Sejong City, the free school lunch program, the ‘four rivers’ project and the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement – were the main subjects of their online posts. The agents unilaterally supported the government’s position and accused all opponents of the government’s position of being “agents of North Korea.” This was clearly illegal political activity in violation of the NIS Act, which prohibits NIS agents from political involvement.
– In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, the NIS, under the guise of eradicating so-called ‘North Korean agents’, openly intervened in the election. NIS agents put up 5,333 online comments on 15 websites. The Prosecutor General’s office identified 1,704 comments posted by NIS agents as political involvement and 73 comments as direct intervention in the presidential election, and indicted the former NIS director as well as the chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. The Prosecutor General’s investigation was limited to only one section of twelve sections under the Psychological Warfare Division.
– Moreover it was discovered that the NIS agents used an automation program to systemically retweet millions of comments about the presidential election. According to the Prosecutor General, it took less than one second to retweet millions of comments through hundreds of accounts.
– It is also notable that a civilian known as Lee used five of the sixteen online IDs that belonged to NIS agent Kim Ha-young. Approximately 92 million Korean won was wired to Lee’s bank account from the NIS. Lee, during the last general election, was in charge of planning in the campaign of a lawmaker (whose name we only know as Kim, based on court documents) of the Saenuri Party. Lee and Kim are former classmates and alumni of Yonsei University, where they both majored in political science and diplomacy.
– The online comments and tweets posted by the NIS agents exploit and aggravate regional tensions and include unspeakable expressions. For example, an NIS agent who goes by the online alias ‘jwa-ik hyo-su’ posted comments such as “Kill all Cheollado savages,” degrading the Honam region, and distorted the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Movement by calling it a riot.
– Although the truth of the NIS’ interference in the presidential election was uncovered and exposed by former Chief of Investigations Kwon Eun-hee of the Soo-Seo Police Department, a search and seizure warrant was denied by the order of former Chief Kim Yong-pan of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. The police made an official presentation denying any evidence of illegal NIS online activity before the presidential election, and ignored all digital evidence found by the Soo-Seo Police and Seoul Metropolitan Police.
– Most significantly, the ruling Saenuri Party was involved in covering up the NIS’ interference in the presidential election. Kwon Young-se, then-senior official of Park Geun-hye’s election campaign, was found to have had a conversation with former NIS Chief Won Se-hoon about acquiring the so-called ‘NLL transcript’ (referring to a transcript of the 2007 Inter-Korea Summit in which former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was alleged to have proposed changing the Northern Limit Line), which was in NIS possession. Furthermore, Kim Moo-sung, then-chief of Park Geun-hye’s election campaign, was found to have cited parts of the NLL transcript verbatim in his stump speech in Busan. The day before, former Chief Kim Yong-pan of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency had had a meeting at a restaurant near the Blue House. All this points to a connection between the Saenuri Party, the NIS and the police, and President Park Geun-hye should be held accountable. It was only through the power of the people’s candlelight protests, with UPP at the helm, that the truth of NIS’ crimes was finally exposed.
2. Candlelight – Hotter than the Summer Heat Wave
– The candlelight protest against the NIS’ political interference was first held in Sejong-ro, Seoul on June 21. About 500 citizens participated in the protest organized by the 21st Century Korean Federation of University Student Councils. One week later on June 28, more than 5,000 people gathered to join the protest organized by the Civil Society Emergency Task Force, which consists of 284 civil society organizations. In the next 50 days, participation grew steadily to about 50,000 in Seoul alone.
– Compared to the candlelight protests against U.S. beef import in 2008, the growth rate is relatively slow. In 2008, the first vigil began with 20,000 people on May 2, grew to 50,000 in 30 days and topped one million people across the country by June. But considering the harsh conditions the NIS protests endured – such as the record-long rainy season that lasted 49 days, the extreme heat wave, and the complete indifference of the mainstream media – the candlelight, it seems, will not be easily extinguished.
– In order to divert public attention from its political involvement in the election, the NIS leaked the so-called ‘NLL transcript’ to raise the specter of a national security threat. The ruling power’s strategy, however, has now backfired. The anger of the people is turning against the Park Geun-hye administration for tacitly allowing and sometimes actively leading attacks against democracy.
– At the candlelight protests, the Civil Society Emergency Task Force called for President Park Geun-hye’s apology, a guarantee that the NIS will not interfere in domestic political affairs, the dismissal of NIS Director Nam Jae-jun, and reform of the NIS. Student unions of Seoul National University, Ewha Women’s University, Duksung Women’s University, Pusan National University, Sookmyung Women’s University and Chonnam National University held a demonstration in front of the Saenuri party headquarters and criticized the party for conducting a deceptive parliamentary investigation and evading responsibility for NIS’ involvement in the presidential election. The Network of Professors and Researchers Concerned about the State of Affairs, composed of 1,900 members, including professors in 70 universities, held a demonstration in front of the NIS. 2,124 Catholic priests – 43% of the priests – signed the Declaration on the State of Affairs. Even the Archdiocese of Daegu, which kept silent during the 1987 June Uprising, issued a declaration signed by about 200 priests – the first of such kind in 102 years.
– To mollify the growing candlelight protest, the ruling Saenuri Party reluctantly agreed to a parliamentary investigation of the NIS’ illegal online campaign. However the 50-day investigation was sabotaged by the NIS as its witnesses refused to take oaths or answer questions, and some even used masks to shield their faces.
– The fight against the NIS for its interference in the presidential election is now calling for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor. The movement to dismantle the NIS drew a clear line in the sand between the Park Geun-hye administration and the democratic forces, and neither side is willing to yield. The demand to dissolve the NIS is no longer just a call for political reform, but has now become an imperative for the entire people’s movement.
– While the candlelight protests against U.S. beef import was limited to criticizing the lack of policies and institutions designed to protect public health, this time, the protest against the NIS targets the reactionary forces themselves, and is gaining momentum despite attempts at sabotage so systemic and consistent that it’s hard not to believe that the administration is behind it. The struggle has now become a death duel between the NIS and the people. More severe persecution will trigger an even bigger reaction.
3. UPP – Guardian of Peace and Democracy
– Not a single day passed in 2013 without the UPP working for the people. Soon after reorganizing the party’s leadership with Representative Lee Jung-hee at its center, UPP faced urgent political and social conditions. From March to May, when the Korean peninsula fell into a crisis of intensifying war threats, UPP organized a wave of anti-war actions calling for peace across the country. It was in fact the only political party calling for peace. The Party proposed to solve the crisis not through confrontation but dialogue, and insisted “Not another Korean War.” It also proposed signing a Peace Treaty as a fundamental solution.
– UPP Representative Lee Jung-hee issued an urgent appeal on March 6, calling for talks between the relevant states to address the crisis of war threats and encouraging citizens to join the anti-war peace movement. It was UPP that continued to promote a peaceful solution through dialogue amidst the urgent crisis when a military conflict seemed unavoidable after new sanctions against North Korea and the ROK-US joint military drill.
– UPP held an urgent joint meeting of its regional branch chairs on March 23 and organized the ‘5,000 Activists against War and for Peace’ campaign, affirming its determination to make the entire country aspire for peace amidst the crisis of growing war threats. Regional branch chairs insisted on a resolution to resist a war that will “only result in co-destruction” and declare that a peaceful resolution through dialogue and negotiation is the only way to prevent war. The resolution also called on the U.S., one of the direct parties of the Armistice, to “begin dialogue with North Korea immediately,” and called on the Park Geun-hye admnistration to “dispatch a special envoy to North Korea and launch an inter-Korean dialogue.”
– The 5,000 UPP activists collected 76,888 signatures calling for peace and delivered them to the Blue House on May 2. ‘Peace trainings,’ organized to raise awareness of party members, was attended by 10,000 members. In July, UPP held the International Peace March and the International Peace Symposium to enhance solidarity with overseas scholars and peace activists.
– On April 25, Legislator Lee Seok-ki presented to the Prime Minister a proposal for a declaration of a permanent ceasefire through four-party talks as a solution to the present crisis. Legislator Lee called on President Park Geun-hye to discuss the proposal in her meeting with President Obama during her state visit to the U.S. in early May. He announced, “If President Park Geun-hye advocates for the declaration of a permanent ceasefire through four-party talks following a trust-building process, UPP will lend our full support.” In this way, whether on the streets or inside the halls of Parliament, UPP was always on the front lines opposing the outbreak of war.
– As soon as the findings of the Prosecutor General’s investigation of the NIS’ illegal interference in the presidential election was released, student members of UPP boldly held the first street march, which became the catalyst for the candlelight protests. UPP Legislator Lee Sang-gyu exposed the NIS’ interference in the presidential election by analyzing CCTV materials during the parliamentary investigation and staged a hunger strike in front of the Blue House to demand accountability from President Park Geun-hye. As a result, UPP gained popular support. Public approval rating for the party increased from 1% in 2012 to 6% in 2013, with more than 10% among people in their 40s.
– The people came to clearly recognize whose side UPP is on and what UPP stands for. Its efforts for peace and leadership in the candlelight struggle against the NIS provided UPP an important opportunity to work with the people and overcome its negative public image of being branded a “pro-North Korean party,” as well as a small opening for forging an alliance of all opposition forces. It was at this precise moment – when UPP was regaining popular support, the frontline of popular struggle was being restored, and opposition forces were beginning to align – that the NIS launched its strike against UPP.
4. Government’s Counterattack for Survival, Resurrection of Yushin and Political Persecution
– The Blue House and the NIS, facing an unprecedented crisis due to the revelation of the NIS’ illegal campaign, launched a massive counterattack on August 28 to turn the table. The NIS issued warrants for search and seizure and the arrest of ten former and current members of UPP’s Gyeonggi Province branch, including Legislator Lee Seok-ki. Three were arrested. The ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ charge was revived 33 years after former President Kim Dae-jung was arrested on the same charge in 1980.
– Before this, the NIS had tried to use the ‘NLL transcript’ as a wild card to divert criticism over its illegal election campaign. But the plan had backfired and the number of candlelight protest participants had increased from 20,000 to 30,000, then 50,000 and 100,000. Finally, the NIS fabricated the ‘rebellion conspiracy’ case. This time as well, a manipulated transcript was presented as evidence.
– The NIS leaked the so-called transcript to the media and alleged that Legislator Lee Seok-ki convened a meeting of ‘RO’ (Revolutionary Organization) on May 12 to plot a rebellion. The fact, however, is that the meeting was organized by the Chair of UPP’s Gyeonggi branch in consultation with other executives. Legislator Lee was invited as a lecturer to the party’s membership gathering. After his lecture, the participants had group discussions on ways to prevent a war and realize peace on the Korean Peninsula.
– There is no statement in the so-called transcript that shows that Legislator Lee ordered or conspired a rebellion. On the contrary, it shows that the legislator explicitly told the participants not to carry a gun or a knife. But the NIS and the mainstream media opted not to report on that fact.
– Moreover, some of the participants’ comments in the NIS’ transcript was severely distorted to the point of fabrication. The NIS handling of this case is no different from when it manipulated former President Roh Moo-hyun’s comments in the so-called ‘NLL transcript’ to claim that he gave up the Northern Limit Line (NLL) to North Korea. The NIS and the conservative media produce fabricated and distorted reports to smear UPP in a witch hunt-style trial by media and openly declare their intention to dismantle UPP.
– The ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic Party passed the arrest motion for Legislator Lee Seok-ki in the National Assembly solely based on the NIS’ unilateral allegation. The next day on September 5, an arrest warrant was issued.
– On September 6, the Saenuri Party submitted a bill, sponsored by all the legislators in its party, to expel Legislator Lee from the National Assembly. The Ministry of Justice established the Task Force on Unconstitutional Political Parties and Organizations to review measures to dissolve UPP and expel its lawmakers from the National Assembly.
– It is clear that the Blue House and the NIS conducted an illegitimate surveillance, bribed an informant, and revived an outdated charge of ‘conspiring a rebellion’ to avert its own crisis. It is trying to intimidate the democratic forces in order to silence and divide the growing national candlelight resistance, which calls on President Park Geun-hye to take responsibility. The smear campaign against UPP is political persecution aimed at destroying the party, which spearheaded the campaign for reform of the NIS, and a warning shot to the progressive and democratic forces. The so-called ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ is a fabricated case by the NIS to exaggerate its own importance amidst growing pressure for its dissolution.
5. NIS – the One that Needs to be Dissolved
– The transcript of the so-called ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ contains comments that are much more damaging and sensational than those in the ‘NLL transcript’. These statements were all fabricated based on the false testimony of an informant who was bribed by the NIS.
– Just as in the so-called ‘Seoul Municipal Government Employee Spy’ case, in which the defendant was found not guilty, the NIS is notorious for having fabricated ‘spy cases’ for the last several decades. This time, the NIS bribed an informant to make false statements about a conspiracy for rebellion that allegedly includes plans to sabotage communication facilities and police stations.
– There is no practical threat of a rebellion nor a specific plan or even physical force capable of usurping national territory or subverting the constitution. Moreover, an individual’s opinion or expression should be protected under the right to freedom of thought and expression. Sadly, the reality of the current situation in Korea is that based solely on what one has said, without any concrete plan or physical action, one can be arrested and punished on charges of plotting a rebellion under the National Security Law.
– The need to prepare for the possibility of war is not just something that’s behind us in the past but reflects the current reality of a divided Korea in its 60th year since the signing of the armistice. The Korean War is not yet over, and without a permanent peace treaty, it can resume at any time. Worrying about a potential collision between North Korea’s nuclear program and the US’ nuclear umbrella with its high-tech stealth bombers flying over our territory is not out of step with today’s reality. It is very much a part of living in a divided country still dominated by anti-communist and anti-North Korea ideology.
– The materialization of anti-communist and anti-North Korea ideology through the National Security Law or a fabricated rebellion conspiracy case serves to strengthen the security state. The present administration exploits inter-Korean conflict to force anti-communism on the people. What we’re witnessing today is how anti-communism manifests as violent authority and becomes a measure of suppression and persecution.
– However, the candlelight protest grows brighter night after night. The 100,000 members of UPP are boldly confronting the persecution and witch hunt launched by the government, the NIS and the conservative media. UPP is regrouping its forces and growing stronger everyday. Civil society organizations are united to fight against government repression and protect democracy. Unless the NIS bribes the judiciary, the fabricated ‘rebellion conspiracy’ case can never win. Rather, it will decide the fate of the NIS and the Park Geun-hye administration. It is the NIS, not the UPP, that will dissolve.
Q&A: The Truth behind the “Conspiracy for Rebellion” Charge
Q1. Wasn’t the May 12 meeting an RO gathering to conspire a rebellion?
– The meeting was a closed meeting organized by UPP’s Gyeonggi branch for party executives and members. Legislator Lee Seok-ki was invited as a lecturer.
– It is absolutely false that it was a gathering of 130 members of an ‘underground organization’.
Q2. Is RO an actual anti-government organization?
– Only in the imagination of the NIS. There is not a single piece of evidence to substantiate their mention of guns, bombs or violent actions.
– There is no evidence of the existence of such an organization – not even basic information on when it was founded or who its founding members are.
Q3. According to media reports, Legislator Lee Seok-ki ordered people to prepare fire arms and use military force. Is this true?
– The legislator did not make such a remark. It is a malicious distortion taken out of context.
– On the contrary, he appealed to people to fulfill their mission as progressives to oppose war and realize peace in the worst case event that a war breaks out.
– What he meant by “Let us counter war” is not to start a war but to build the peace movement to oppose war.
– His comments were in the same vein as when he expressed concerns on increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula in his personal report on March 22 as well as on April 25 in the National Assembly.
– As the participants of the meeting have long experiences of working in progressive movement circles, their jargon may sound unfamiliar or strange to others, but the main thrust of Lee’s lecture was ‘Oppose war and realize peace.’
Q4. Doesn’t the NIS have clear physical evidence, such as the meeting transcript?
– First, the NIS should disclose whether or not the transcript was obtained by due process of law and verify that there is no distortion or fabrication in the leaked transcript.
– In the transcript, a mention of “Jeol-du-san” (the Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine) was changed to “gyeol-jeon” (the final battle) shrine; an explicit appeal not to carry guns was distorted to an order to secure guns.
– There is a significant gap between the transcript and the memory and understanding of the participants who were at the meeting.
– The NIS has already been found to have distorted and illegally leaked the transcript of the inter-Korea Summit. It purposefully changed one letter in former President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark to make it seem as though he assumed a submissive posture during the summit.
Q5. Is it true that Legislator Lee sang the ‘Red Flag’ song at the May 12 meeting?
– He did not sing the ‘Red Flag’ song at the meeting. But it is true that some activists sometimes do sing the song.
– Contrary to media reports, ‘Red Flag’ is not a North Korean song. The tune is from a German folk song. In the late 1880s, workers in the UK borrowed the tune and created the ‘Red Flag,’ then made it popular across the world. The song was introduced in Korea in the 1930s and sung as a protest song among the anti-Japanese independence fighters.
– It is incidentally also the theme song of Manchester United, which Korean footballer Park Ji-sung plays for. It is also the original version of the chorus of the song ‘Pine Tree.’
Q6. Did Legislator Lee betray state secrets from the National Assembly to RO ?
– All of his requests for documents were part of regular and official parliamentary activities to prepare for budget reviews or parliamentary inspections of government offices. The materials he received were approved by the relevant government offices.
– Regarding his request for documents related to wartime operational control –
▸ He made the request to the Ministry of Defense for the purpose of verifying an April 2 report entitled “S.Korea, U.S. to Keep Combined Forces Command” in Chosun Ilbo
▸ The Ministry of Defense responded that nothing had been confirmed related to the Combined Forces Command and cast doubt on the newspaper’s report.
– Regarding his request for the list of North Korean defectors featured in a KBS program –
▸ He requested a total of seven materials including the program script in response to allegations that the program, the stated mission of which is to promote the shared heritage of the people of North and South Korea, was fanning north-south tensions by featuring the story of North Korean defectors.
▸ KBS responded that it was difficult to make public North Korean defector-related information. The legislator accepted the explanation and didn’t ask for additional documents.
– Regarding his request for information on contingency plans of broadcasting systems for electrical power outages –
▸ Amidst increased public concern on the possibility of blackouts due to the shortage of power, he requested documents to the Ministry of Science, ICT and the Future Planning and the Korea Communications Commission for the purpose of assessing the present situation and creating appropriate countermeasures.
– Regarding his request for information on the Korea Space Launch Vehicle –
▸ The materials he received were those already reported to the National Assembly for budget
deliberations. He requested them to do a feasibility assessment as well as examine its budget allocation in comparison with other R&D budgets as the development of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle is one of President Park’s national priority agendas. He also wanted to learn more about it as he was scheduled to observe the launching of the Arirang 5.
Q7. Were the Russian rubles and U.S. dollars found in his shoe cupboard operational funds for RO?
– The foreign exchange confiscated by the NIS was 10,000 rubles (about 330,000 won) and 600 U.S. dollars. The rubles and dollars were currency he had exchanged for his business trip to Russia (for the observation of the launching of Arirang 5) from August 18 to 25.
– The rest of the money (in Korean won) was security deposit he was planning to return for lease of his property. The building is included in his official personal property report.
Q8. Did he try to run away in disguise?
– Immediately after the NIS announced the ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ charge against Lee on August 28, news reporters who couldn’t find him falsely reported that Lee Seok-ki was “on the run in disguise.” At that exact moment, however, he was holding a press conference at the National Assembly.
Q9. Is it true that he received letters of loyalty oath?
– The so-called ’57 letters of loyalty oath to Lee Seok-ki’ don’t exist, although the existence of these letters is mentioned in the arrest motion signed by President Park Geun-hye and submitted to the National Assembly.
– Right after the general election in April 2012, he did receive congratulatory letters from UPP members. The letters read, “Congratulations, please work to represent the working class.” These letters do not contain a single word or phrase swearing ‘loyalty.’
– Distorting information so that congratulatory letters become ‘loyalty letters’ is a classic tactic of the NIS to mislead the media and the people. It is nothing more than a red scare tactic to intimidate the people.
Q10. Is it true that some of his close friends and aids illegally visited North Korea?
– They visited Mt. Kumgang with the official approval of the Ministry of Reunification during the Roh Moo-hyun Administration. Calling the legitimate trip illicit is malicious. The NIS should provide concrete evidence for the allegation.
Q11. Is it true that a recipe for a homemade bomb was found on a desktop computer?
– The NIS and the conservative pro-government media reported that Kim Hong-yeol, Chair of UPP’s Gyeonggi branch had four recipes for homemade bombs on his computer.
– This is a complete fabrication. Chairman Kim Hong-yeol suffers from high-blood pressure and obesity, and he tries very hard to guard his health by walking for an hour-and-a-half or riding a bicycle whenever possible according to the recommendation of his doctor to lose weight. He also frequently downloads health information from internet websites. He downloaded some health-related materials from a health information website called “Miraero Entertainment. Ltd.”. The NIS extracted items from these materials and deliberately fabricated them as ‘a recipe for a homemade bomb.’
– Nitroglycerin is used medically to prevent heart attacks and cellulose is used for skin protection. Potassium nitrate treats toothache and dry ice is used as folk remedy to freeze and eliminate warts.
Q12. Did Legislator Lee Seok-ki have a framed calligraphy of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung’s lifetime motto ‘Hold Up the People as Heaven’ in his home?
– This is also malicious reporting by the media trying to link him with North Korea. ‘Hold Up the People as Heaven (以民爲天)’ was first written by Chinese historian Sima Qian who wrote the Shiji (史記).
– King Sejong of Joseon Dynasty, as well as former President Kim Dae-jung and former Grand National Party leader Kang Jae-seop are all known to have appreciated the idiom.
Q13. Did he use words like ‘decisive stage’ or ‘holy war’ in his May 12 speech to encourage people to wage war?
– He only mentioned ‘Jeol-du-san’ referring to the Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine. The NIS distorted his words to mean the ‘final battle’ shrine in the transcript.