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Agent's Suicide Note Says South Korea Didn't Spy on Citizens as Hacking Team Scandal Intensifies

A South Korean intelligence agent who was reportedly found dead Saturday of an apparent suicide said his overzealousness may have led to the current situation.

by Gillian Mohney
Jul 19 2015, 7:00pm

Photo by YONHAP/POOL/EPA

A South Korean intelligence agent who was found dead Saturday denied in his suicide note that the country has been spying on its own citizens, as the scandal regarding the country's purchase of software from the Italian firm Hacking Team intensifies.

The dead agent, identified only by his last name Lim, was an officer at South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS). The agency is facing criticism for using hacking software that could potentially be used to monitor calls made by civilians. The NIS has previously come under fire for monitoring private phone calls of citizens and interfering with the 2012 election that brought President Park Geun-hye to power.

Lim, 46, was found dead in his car parked on a hill in Yongin, just south of Seoul. He was reportedly found with a note in which he defended the actions of the NIS and said that it "really didn't " spy on civilians or other activities related to elections.

"I swear that there was no surveillance on domestic citizens and election activities," he said according to the New York Times.

Lim did say in the note that he had destroyed information collected on North Korean agents via the spying technology — which was purchased from Hacking Team in 2012 — because he thought it had created "misunderstandings."

Related: North Korean Sailors Defect to South Korea After Rescue at Sea

In his note, Lim also apologized to others at the agency, including director Lee Byoung Ho, saying his overzealousness might have created "today's situation."

Internal data from Hacking Team was leaked earlier in July via WikiLeaks, and it shows that one of the company's clients was "South Korean Army Unit 5163" — which is thought to be a cover for the NIS.

On Tuesday, NIS officials admitted to Korean lawmakers they used Hacking Team's technology, which is capable of intercepting communication on mobile devices and computers, but said they only used it to spy on North Korean threats and for research, according to the New York Times.

Hacking is a particularly sensitive topic in South Korea, and for the NIS, because the agency has previously been found guilty of monitoring civilians. Two NIS directors who served from 1999 to 2003 were both arrested and convicted of spying and monitoring cellphone conversations of 1,800 South Korean citizens.

A South Korean judge on Thursday ordered a new trial for a former NIS chief who was originally convicted to three years in prison for orchestrating a smear campaign during the 2012 election.

Related: North Korea Has Publicly Executed 1,382 Since 2000, Report Claims

The Associated Press contributed to this report.