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S. Korean spy found dead in apparent suicide left note denying spying on civilians

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SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean government agent who was found dead in an apparent suicide left a note denying suspicion that the National Intelligence Service has been spying on South Koreans by intercepting cellphone and computer conversations, police said Sunday.

The 46-year-old NIS agent was found dead Saturday in his car parked on a hill in Yongin, just south of Seoul.

In his note revealed by police on Sunday, the agent said that the intelligence service "really didn't" spy on civilians or on political activity related to elections. He apologized to colleagues and NIS senior officials, including director Lee Byoung Ho, saying that overzealousness in doing his job might have created "today's situation."

The intelligence service told lawmakers on Tuesday it had purchased hacking programs capable of intercepting communication on mobile devices and computers in 2012 from an Italian company, Hacking Team, but that it used them only to monitor agents from rival North Korea and for research purposes.

The revelation is sensitive because the NIS has a history of illegally tapping South Koreans' private conversations. The NIS is planning to reveal to lawmakers the details of how the programs were used to quell suspicions that it had been unlawfully monitoring civilians.

In the note he left behind, the agent also said that he destroyed surveillance material on the activity of North Korean agents because the data had created "misunderstandings."

Police officials, who had initially refused to release the details of the note, didn't reveal the name of the agent or what his duties were for the NIS. Phone calls to the NIS office rang unanswered Sunday.

The controversy surrounding NIS emerged earlier this month when a searchable library of a massive email trove stolen from Hacking Team, released by WikiLeaks, showed that South Korean entities were among those dealing with the firm.

Two NIS directors who successively headed the spy service from 1999 to 2003 were convicted and received suspended prison terms for overseeing the monitoring of cellphone conversations of about 1,800 of South Korea's political, corporate and media elite.

On Thursday, South Korea's Supreme Court ordered a new trial for another former spy chief convicted of directing an online campaign to smear a main opposition candidate in the 2012 presidential election, won by current President Park Geun-hye.

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