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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

South Korean court convicts ex-spy director of interfering in elections

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org

A former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been convicted in court of directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. 

Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won hasfaced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. 

The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election. 

On Thursday, a court in Seoul sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. In reading out its decision, the court said on Thursday that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. 

The new jail conviction comes right after the defendant completed a 14-month sentence stemming from charges of accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. However, the court dismissed a related charge that Won’s actions had broken South Korean election legislation, which prohibits direct interference in election campaigns by serving government employees. The dismissal of the charge appears to have spared President Park from having to justify her narrow victory in the 2012 elections. 

She has so far remained mostly silent on the subject, saying she did not benefit from NIS’s Internet campaign.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Former South Korean Spy Chief Convicted in Online Campaign Against Liberals

SEOUL, South Korea — A former South Korean intelligence chief accused of directing agents who posted online criticisms of liberal candidates during the 2012 presidential election campaign was convicted Thursday of violating a law that banned the spy agency from involvement in domestic politics.
Won Sei-hoon, who served as director of the National Intelligence Service under President Park Geun-hye’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but the Seoul Central District Court suspended the sentence. Mr. Won had just been released from prison Tuesday after completing a 14-month sentence stemming from a separate corruption trial.
Prosecutors indicted Mr. Won in June of last year, saying that a secret team of National Intelligence Service agents had posted more than 1.2 million messages on Twitter and other forums in a bid to sway public opinion in favor of the conservative governing party and its leader, Ms. Park, ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2012.
Many of the messages merely lauded government policies, but many others ridiculed liberal critics of the government and of Ms. Park, including Ms. Park’s rivals in the presidential election. Some messages called the liberal politicians “servants” of North Korea for holding views on the North that conservatives considered too conciliatory, prosecutors said.
For the spy agency to “directly interfere with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext,” the court said in its ruling on Thursday. “This is a serious crime that shakes the foundation of democracy.”
But though Mr. Won was convicted of violating the law governing the spy agency, the court dismissed a separate charge: that he had violated the country’s election law, which prohibits public servants generally from interfering in elections. In explaining that decision, the court said Mr. Won had not ordered his agents to support or oppose any specific presidential candidate.
That finding spared Ms. Park a potentially serious political liability. Had Mr. Won been convicted of violating the election law, it would have provided fodder for critics of Ms. Park who say that the agency’s online smear campaign undermined the legitimacy of her election. Ms. Park, who was elected by a margin of about a million votes, has said that she neither ordered nor benefited from such a campaign.
Two other former senior officials of the spy agency who had been indicted on similar charges were each sentenced to a year in prison on Thursday, but their sentences were also suspended. Both the prosecutors and the defendants have a week to appeal the verdicts.
The intelligence service has denied trying to discredit opposition politicians, saying that its online messages were posted as part of a normal campaign of psychological warfare against North Korea. It said the North was increasingly using the Internet to spread misinformation in support of the Pyongyang government and to criticize South Korean policies, forcing its agents to defend those policies online.
The intelligence agency was created to spy on North Korea, which is still technically at war with the South. But over its history, it has been repeatedly accused of meddling in domestic politics and of being used as a political tool by sitting presidents. In recent months, courts have acquitted two defectors from North Korea who had been indicted on charges of spying for Pyongyang; the courts said the intelligence service had kept them in solitary confinement for several months, failed to provide the suspects with appropriate access to lawyers and, in one case, even fabricated evidence to build its cases.
The South Korean military’s Cyberwarfare Command was also accused of smearing opposition politicians online before the 2012 elections. Last month, military investigators formally asked prosecutors to consider legal action against the former heads of the command, which was created in 2010 to guard against hacking threats from the North.

3 Dogs for Illegally Elected Korean President, Ms. G.H. Park = NIS (National Intelligent Service) + LAW + MEDIA, STEP DOWN IMMEDIATELY !!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chuseok for modern Korean families Traditional holiday customs scaled down as family values undergo changes

Family members dressed in traditional hanbok gather for the ancestral rite early in the morning on Chuseok, which falls on Aug. 15 on the lunar calendar. Dozens of dishes are laid out on the table for the rite, prepared by female family members over several days. After the ceremony, family members eat breakfast together. They make up for living apart in different regions by spending time together making songpyeong, a half-moon-shaped rice cake eaten during Chuseok.
Such typical Chuseok scenes are not as common as they were decades ago. Rather than following traditional customs, more people travel abroad during the long holiday. Parents in rural villages visit their children in cities to free them from having to make the burdensome journey home along congested and stressful expressways.

According to a recent survey by Duo, a matchmaking agency, more than 78 percent of 142 married respondents said they would not visit their parents this Chuseok. They cited four reasons: Their parents do not put pressure on them to take the long trip home (31.5 percent), they have already made other travel plans (29.7 percent), they just want to take a rest (14.4 percent) or they don’t want to have to deal with the heavy traffic during the holiday exodus (10.8 percent). 
Family members gather to make songpyeon, a traditional Korean rice cake enjoyed during Chuseok. (Korea Tourism Organization)

Asked what they planned to do if they were not visiting their parents, they said they would travel (30 percent), eat out (28.8 percent), just rest at home (21.6 percent) or do other leisure activities (9 percent). The survey polled married people in their 20s and 30s from Aug. 24 to 27. 

“Traditional Korean family values are changing in modern society. People do not regard ancestral rites and other traditional customs highly anymore. They scale down the traditional practices to enjoy the holiday as they wish to do,” said Kim Yu-kyung, research fellow of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, a think tank for policy recommendations on health care, family and social welfare. 

“Korean families have become democratic. Families are no longer centered around parents. Parents and children have become mutually independent. Each of the two generations choose to enjoy the long holiday in its own style,” Kim explained. 

It’s also a sign that the modernization of Korean society is weaning its members off strict Confucian values that have weighed down family members, especially women, who are supposed to cook various ritual foods. 

“My mother-in-law suggested we get together a week before the Chuseok holiday. It would have been a huge pressure on me if I had had to prepare food for Chuseok. But it has been an easy and stress-free Chuseok since we all ate out and just had dessert at home. I’m thinking of a trip next year,” a member of Jinheemom, an online community of young mothers, wrote in a post.

Still, Chuseok and Lunar New Year’s Day, the two most important holidays in Korea, are highly stressful for many women. The demanding job of preparing diverse ritual foods and meals for in-laws who are gathered for the holidays spawned the medical term “traditional holiday syndrome,” which can consists of carpal tunnel syndrome, with pain in the nerves around the wrists; digestive disorders; and dysmenorrhea, according to Ewha Womans University Medical Center. 

“The symptoms occur around traditional holidays. It’s easy to ignore them because those symptoms are just temporary. In the worst case, symptoms may develop into serious diseases,” said Jeon Hye-jin, professor of family medicine at the medical center. 

Kim of the KIHASA said stress from traditional holidays would decrease as families become more egalitarian and democratic. 

“Korean families are in a transition, from following Confucian values to being more democratic and individualistic. The meaning of Chuseok will change as younger generations get older,” Kim said. 

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)

Samsung, LG broaden global partnership

LG Electronics’ organic light-emitting diode TV
South Korean tech giants Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have been beefing up partnerships with global firms in their efforts to pursue convergence and innovation.

Such collaboration efforts can be seen at the 2014 IFA, the world’s largest consumer electronics fair, which kicked off in Berlin Friday. The two tech firms are showcasing high-tech gadgets that they have codeveloped with their global partners. 

Samsung worked hand in hand with Oculus VR, a virtual-reality headset maker, on the Gear VR, virtual-reality goggles which can be paired with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 phablet. 
Samsung Gear S smartwatch

Oculus VR, which was acquired by Facebook in March this year, showcased its digital goggles, named Oculus Rift, at the CES trade show in Las Vegas in 2013. 

The collaboration between Samsung and the startup received attention as the partnership also means strengthened ties between the tech behemoth and Facebook.

In an interview with tech news outlet TechCrunch, Oculus VR CEO Bredan Iribe said that the firm was “laser-focused” on collaboration with Samsung, denying the possibility of further partnership with other smartphone manufacturers for a while. 

Samsung also teamed up with luxury pen maker Montblanc in developing styluses and flip covers for the newly unveiled Galaxy Note 4.

Jewelry brand Swarovski ― another Samsung partner ― made straps for the new standalone smartwatch Gear S. 

“Samsung and Swarovski share a commitment to bringing high-quality, highly desirable products to the consumer market,” Swarovski executive vice president of global marketing Christoph Kargruber said in a statement. 

“Together we will continue to write the success story we began with the ‘Swarovski for Samsung’ collection.”

Samsung’s local rival LG Electronics also showcased a wide range of products based on collaborative efforts on a global level, including a Swarovski-studded organic light-emitting diode TV and a smart home services platform with Google’s Nest, at the Berlin trade show.

Market watchers said the increasing number of collaborations, especially with fashion brands, shows that the tech giants are putting more emphasis on design, which is playing a critical role in drawing in aesthetically inclined consumers.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ferry Crew Member Says He Drank Beer as Ship Sank

The first trial of the sunken ferry Sewol’s captain Lee Joon-seok and 14 sailors, most of them indicted on homicide charges, is underway at the Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, southwestern South Korea, 10 June 2014. The captain and crew face homicide charges after the sinking of the ferry Sewol killed hundreds, many of them students, in one of the country’s worst maritime disasters.
European Pressphoto Agency
A crew member charged with criminal negligence in South Korea’s recent ferry tragedy told an angry courtroom that he drank beer as he waited for rescue.
Testifying at a court in regional city Gwangju on Tuesday, the defendant said that he and another engineer shared a can of beer to calm their nerves, according to accounts of the hearing in Korean media. The other engineer also smoked a cigarette, he added.
“Would you like a beer now?” shouted one of the victims’ families from the gallery, joining a round of jeers that arose following the testimony, local media said.
The testimony came from the sole defendant to plead guilty, an engineer with a last name most commonly romanized as Sohn. South Korean privacy laws limit a release of full names of criminal suspects.
Since the trial began in June, 14 crew members have pleaded not guilty, arguing that they did their best to save the hundreds of passengers that sank with the vessel. Four, including the captain, are charged with “homicide through willful negligence” and 11 with criminal negligence.
The crew drew ire from the public and victims’ families for being some of the first to be rescued from the sinking ship. Survivors have said the passengers, most of them high-school students, followed the crew’s orders to stay inside as the vessel tilted sideways beyond recovery.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Grieving families of Sewol ferry victims want independent South Korean probe

 August 5  
 Kim Yung-oh is not exactly sure how much weight he has lost. But when he undoes his belt buckle, his pants bunch around his concave belly. Twenty pounds, he estimates.
Kim, whose 16-year-old daughter was one of 304 people who died when the Sewol ferry sank in April, will on Wednesday enter the 24th day of a hunger strike — staged on Gwanghwamun Plaza, a wide median strip along a central Seoul boulevard that leads toward the presidential Blue House.
The plaza is also where Pope Francis will celebrate an open-air Mass next week — and Kim is vowing to stay put.
“No matter what, I want to stay here and appeal to the pope,” Kim said weakly during an interview on an elevated platform under a tent on the plaza, part of a protest against perceived government obfuscation over the cause of the ferry disaster.
The pope is scheduled to meet with the Sewol families during his visit, but in Daejeon, a city about 100 miles south of Seoul. Nonetheless, protesters know they have some leverage over President Park Geun-hye’s administration as it prepares for the pontiff’s arrival.
The April 16 capsizing of the Sewol — an overloaded ferry transporting an estimated 476 people and far too many containers from the mainland to the southern island of Jeju — remains an active tragedy in South Korea.
Ten passengers have still not been found, and Seoul’s City Hall remains a carefully tended memorial — complete with funereal chrysanthemums — to the victims, the vast majority of whom were students from one high school.
‘We want to know how our children died’
On Gwanghwamun Plaza, a few blocks from City Hall, Kim sits on his platform, alongside tents designated for victims’ families, religious figures and other supporters. On Tuesday, a group of Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks and Protestant ministers joined Kim in his hunger strike for the day. Supporters handed out free cups of fresh iced coffee to passersby while a TV screen played footage from video shot inside the ferry, by students unaware of the fate about to befall them.
“We want to know how our children died. That’s all,” said Park Yung-woo, a math teacher whose daughter drowned.
The families are urging the country’s president to set up a special investigative panel with a greater proportion of members appointed by victims’ kin than by the government. But, more important, they also want the panel to have the authority to subpoena information it needs and prosecute people it suspects of wrongdoing.
“The parents want truth from the government,” said Won Jae-min, a lawyer who has been helping the families. “We are asking for an independent body of inspectors to look into this case, and we are demanding the government to give them special legal powers so they are able to investigate.”
Park and her ruling Saenuri Party had vowed to establish an independent commission, and the main opposition party had agreed in principle. But they are divided on the details. The deadlock led to the cancellation of hearings scheduled for this week.
The families are calling for the special panel to be established becausePark’s administration is widely accused of bungling its response to the tragedy and not being sufficiently forthcoming with the facts. That has led to rumors of government complicity and a cover-up.
An ongoing criminal investigation has shown that dangerous modifications were made to the ferry — including the addition of an extra floor — and that the ballast water meant to counterweigh the cargo had been emptied out, so as not to alert regulators to the changes.
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Adding fuel to the suspicions, authorities took almost six weeks to identify a body they now think is that of Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old owner of the Sewol ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine, who had been on the run since the sinking.
The decomposed body was found June 12 just two miles from one of Yoo’s houses. Even though the deceased was dressed in designer clothing, police said they initially thought it was a homeless person until DNA tests indicated in late July that it was Yoo.
People wondered why it took so long to identify a man who was the subject of the largest manhunt in South Korean history.
Willing to die for his cause
Park, whose approval rating has slumped since the disaster, criticized police and prosecutors Tuesday for their missteps, noting that they continued searching for Yoo even after the body was found.
“The bungled manhunt resulted in the waste of national resources and severely undermined public confidence in the government,” she said during a cabinet meeting, the Yonhap news agency reported.
At the protest site Tuesday, families handed out pamphlets bearing a photo of a moist-eyed Park expressing remorse for the ferry sinking. The headline read: “Were the president’s tears just lies?” Volunteers urged people to sign a petition calling on the administration to establish the independent inquiry commission.
Throughout, Kim sat on his platform in the sweltering heat, nodding at well-wishers who stopped to bow to him.
A sign on a bib he was wearing marked the number of days he had been fasting and carried an appeal: “Madam President, please bury me next to my love Yu-min if this powerless dad falls and dies.”
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“I feel ready to die for this,” Kim said, sitting cross-legged on a gray pillow, his thin wrists resting on his knees. “I feel so sorry that I couldn’t save my daughter that day and that I can’t do anything to bring her back.”
Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.