North Korean espionage operations target South Korea’s presidential election

North Korea is actively using pro-North websites and social media networks to encourage a fear of war in an apparent attempt to influence South Korea’s upcoming snap presidential election.
Yoo Dong Ryul, Director of the Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy commented during a seminar on April 17 that “North Korea is actively using its websites including ‘Anti-Imperialist National Democratic Front (AINDF)’ and approximately 160 other pro-North websites, including ‘Uriminzokkiri (Amongst Our Nation),’ the website for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, in its operations to influence the South Korean election campaign.”
“North Korea has criticized South Korea’s conservative camp, mentioning three specific political parties in the comments section of an April 11 AINDF article entitled ‘A political show to restore the Park Geun Hye government.’ The regime has not slandered the other candidates, claiming that democratic reformers should be elected,” Director Yoo said. In fact, North Korea has been continuously publishing articles criticizing the former Saenuri Party (now the Liberty Korea Party) through its media such as the Rodong Sinmun and pro-North websites from early this year.
North Korea has been advising pro-North groups in South Korea on which candidate to vote for through the AINDF, Yoo noted, adding that North Korea’s approach to election interference is diversifying. Yoo highlighted the Wang Jae San Spy ring case, in which the spymaster Wang directly funded a progressive party in April by-elections in 2011.
In addition, he suggested the possibility that North Korea’s United Front Department and the foreign intelligence division of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance may conduct operations targeting overseas South Koreans. Yoo noted that “the average voter turnout for overseas citizens is over 70%, so we should be prepared for North Korea trying to influence these people.”
It has also been noted that North Korea is actually using the hard-line policy of the Trump administration to influence South Korea’s 19th presidential election. North Korea appears to have divided South Korea’s presidential candidates into two groups, which it labels the ‘peace-seeking group versus violence-seeking group’, and is criticizing the possibility of a preemptive strike.
“North Korea is likely to make the best of the frame of ‘war versus peace,’ following the Trump administration’s mention of a preemptive strike on North Korea. Some predict that reckless military provocations will have the opposite effect. But North Korea appears to be confident in the belief that a fear of war will induce voters to support its best interests,” Yoo pointed out.
Some analysts note that the South Korean government should take careful measures against North Korea’s blatant electoral intervention. “We should be prepared for limited military provocations by North Korea in its efforts to spread a fear of war during the election period,” Yoo added, warning that if the South Korean government responds passively to Pyongyang’s provocations, it can expect far greater security threats in terms of Pyongyang’s interference with the election.
“There is a possibility that the rumors spread by North Korea through social media will influence voters. Therefore, we should take measures to counteract this influence,” Yoo added.
Kim Jin, a former editorial writer at the Korea Joongang Daily, commented at the seminar, “Now it is a time for the so-called ‘strongmen’ including Trump of the US, Xi of China and Abe of Japan. But we have an unprecedented power vacuum due to the impeachment of the president. The nature of the next presidency will decide the future of South Korea and its people.” 
The seminar was chaired by Song Dae Sung, a Konkuk University visiting professor, and speakers included Yoo Dong Ryul, Director of Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy, and Kim Yong Sam, former editor of the Monthly Chosun. Panelists included Kim Jin, former editor of the Joongang Daily, Kang Kyu Hyung, a Myongji University professor, and Lee Yoon Gul, director of the North Korean Strategic Information Service Center.
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