Revealed: North Korean leader’s aunt defected to the US in 1998

Kim Jong-un surrounded by generalsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The maternal aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un secretly defected to the United States with her husband in 1998, a South Korean newspaper has alleged. Ko Yong-suk is the younger sister of the North Korean supreme leader’s mother, Ko Yong-hui, who died of breast cancer in 2004, aged 51. As a young man, Kim studied at the prestigious International School in Berne, Switzerland, from 1996 to 2001. Along with him, the North Korean government sent to Switzerland his aunt and her husband, ostensibly to look after him. However, Ko and her husband vanished without trace in early May 1998. It was generally assumed that they had been recalled back to Pyongyang by the North Korean regime. But on Tuesday, a report in South Korea’s JoongAng Daily said that the couple secretly visited the United States embassy in Geneva and requested political asylum. The paper cited a former “senior official” in South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who was privy to the information about the couple’s defection. It also cited an unnamed South Koran diplomat who was stationed in Berne at the time of the alleged defection. The former NIS official told JoongAng that Washington granted Ko and her husband asylum and spirited them away to an American military base in Frankfurt, Germany. There they were debriefed before being flown to the United States. The official said that the two defectors underwent months of questioning about the inner circle of North Korea’s ruling elite. The NIS source told the South Korean paper that, at the end of that process, the couple underwent “cosmetic surgery to conceal their identities” before being given new names by the US government. Read more of this post

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Alleged coup attempt against North Korean leader in Pyongyang

Kim Jong-un surrounded by generalsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A prolonged exchange of gunfire that took place in the North Korean capital last November was part of a failed military coup against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to intelligence sources. On Wednesday, South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo quoted an anonymous intelligence source in Seoul, who said the coup was linked to an ongoing power struggle unfolding inside the North Korean armed forces. The unnamed source told the paper that Seoul had confirmed the accuracy of rumors of an “armed skirmish” that took place at a central location in downtown Pyongyang in mid-November of 2012. The exchange of gunfire, which stunned residents of the eerily ordered city, was allegedly an effort to assassinate Kim, but failed after the assailants were rounded up and arrested by troops loyal to the country’s leadership. The culprits appear to be members of the Reconnaissance Bureau of the General Staff Department, which operates as the primary intelligence-collection agency of North Korea’s Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces. In early November of last year, the Reconnaissance Bureau was restructured to accommodate two newly amalgamated intelligence agencies, the Intelligence Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea and a combat-intelligence unit of the People’s Armed Forces. A number of North Korean generals, who were previously leading these amalgamated agencies, were demoted to reflect their new posts under the Reconnaissance Bureau. Among them was Kim Yong-chol, who saw his rank change overnight from a four-star general to that of a two-star lieutenant general. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #769 (analysis edition)

John McLaughlinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is S. Korea’s spy agency losing its capabilities? The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s primary external intelligence agency, is presumed to spend around US $1 billion a year, most of which it uses to spy on its northern neighbor. But when asked about the identity of the young woman who frequently accompanies new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his public appearances, the state intelligence agency offers no clear answer. Although it was seven months ago, at the time of Kim Jong-il’s funeral, that the woman was first spotted, the agency still does not know who she is. In the past 20 years, NIS has undergone a process of transformation to rid it of political functions. But the lingering question is: have the changes compromised the overall capabilities of the giant organization?
►►How 10 years of war has changed US spies. John McLaughlin, who was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as Deputy Director and Acting Director from 2000-2004, says he is often asked how American intelligence has changed in the 11 years since 9/11. His answer is that the changes are profound and have been transformative. Perhaps the most important thing to realize about American intelligence officers in 2012, he says, is that this is the first generation since Vietnam to have been “socialized” –that is hired, trained, and initiated– in wartime. And to a greater degree than even the Vietnam generation, their experience approximates that of their World War II forbears in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) –the organization to which most American intelligence officers trace their professional roots.
►►Assessing the Social Media Battlefield in Syria. While the numerous insurgent factions and the Syrian security forces engage each other in combat in towns and cities to secure tangible battlefield gains, the warring parties are also waging a contentious information war in cyberspace, specifically within the virtual arena of online social media. The various strands of the opposition in Syria —political and violent— have taken to social media since the earliest stages of the uprising to advance their agendas. Analogous to their role in facilitating communication and information exchange during the wave of revolts that have been sweeping the Arab world since 2011, new media platforms such as the array of social media websites and related technologies that are available to the public at virtually little or no cost have become crucial to shaping how the crisis in Syria is portrayed and perceived.

Spy agencies scramble for clues after North Korean leader’s death

Kim Jong IlBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
Even though rumors had been rife for quite some time about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s worsening health, his death startled intelligence agencies the world over. In typical fashion, North Korean state media announced yesterday that “the dear leader” had died on Saturday onboard a train during one of his usual field trips, “due to immense mental and physical strain caused by his […] building of a thriving nation”. A period of national mourning has been declared in the country until December 29. In the hours following the startling announcement, which Time magazine dubbed “a nightmare before Christmas”, no unusual activity was observed in the North, while early Monday reports from North Korean capital Pyongyang stated that traffic was “moving as usual”. Moreover, despite longstanding rumors about Kim Jong Il’s ill health, few intelligence analysts in South Korea, Japan, or the United States have been observing overt signs of political instability, or a leadership crisis. However, despite the apparent calm in the North, intelligence agencies around the world have gone on high alert, led by those in South Korea, which has remained technically at war with the North since 1950.  South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reportedly placed the country’s military on emergency alert on Sunday, and has ordered government officials to remain in capital Seoul and “maintain emergency contact” with their office staff. French sources said that one of the first outcomes of an emergency National Security Council meeting that took place in Seoul on Sunday was to request that the American Pentagon, which maintains nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, steps up aerial surveillance over the North. Japan has also stepped up its intelligence-gathering operations in North Korea, and its Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, instructed his government to “closely share information” on North Korea with the United States, South Korea, and —notably— China. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0106

  • North Korean succession rumor mill now silent. Rumors circulated last summer by South Korean intelligence sources, that Kim Jong Il was on his deathbed and was about to be replaced with his son, Kim Jong Un, have gone quiet, after the health of the “Great Leader” appears to have miraculously improved. Some now believe Pyongyang may have deliberately fed those rumors to discern reactions among senior North Korean officials in Kim John Il’s circle.
  • UK government issues apology for treatment of gay cryptanalyst after 57 years. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he is sorry for the “appalling” way World War II code-breaker Alan Turing was treated by British authorities for being gay. In 1952, Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. Two years later, he killed himself. He is most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park, also known as Station X, during WWII, where he helped create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines.
  • Ex-chief of Greek secret services to stand for far-right party. Yannis Korantis, who was axed two months ago from his post as chief of Greece’s State Intelligence Service (EYP), said he will stand for extreme-right party LAOS in next month’s parliamentary elections. Notorious neo-Nazi Dimitris Zafeiropoulos, who recently joined LAOS, said he would also stand for the party in Patras, in the northern Peloponnese. LAOS entered parliament for the first time in 2007, with 3.8 percent of votes and 10 parliamentarians.

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News you may have missed #0039

  • Russians suspect sabotage behind ICBM test failure. The FSB is investigating the reasons behind the test failure earlier this month of a Russian Navy Bulava-30 (SS-NX-30) sea-based intercontinental ballistic missile, which disintegrated 28 seconds after launch. The Russian Navy developed the ICBM specifically to avoid future US ballistic missile defenses.
  • CIA kept bin Laden son’s death secret for months. US officials think that Saad bin Laden was killed in a Predator drone strike earlier this year in Pakistan, but CIA has tried to keep the news secret, allegedly in an attempt to confuse al-Qaeda. You may recall that some time ago intelNews reported that some in US intelligence believed Saad had been given government protection in Iran.
  • US DNI sees signs of North Korean succession. The Open Source Center of the US Directorate of National Intelligence adds its voice to widespread speculation that Kim Jong il may be preparing to hand power to his third son, Kim Jong Un.

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News you may have missed #0010

  • Kim Jong Il’s son to head North Korea secret police. Since 1987, Kim Jong Il has been the official leader of the State Security Department of North Korea. However, South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo reports that Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s third son, has now been named as the agency’s head. There are rumors in South Korea that the move could signify that a handover of power in Pyongyang may be imminent.
  • First US economic espionage trial winds down. A US court is preparing to sentence Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a Chinese-born engineer accused of passing critical trade secrets on the US space program to China for three decades. 
  • US and Venezuela to restore expelled ambassadors. The move appears to be a thawing gesture toward the new leadership in Washington by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Latin American leader has toned down his criticism of US foreign policy since Barack Obama took office in January, partly because the US president is popular in Latin America in contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush. 
  • US to send ambassador to Damascus. Washington has confirmed it is to send an ambassador to Damascus, ending a four-year diplomatic absence in Syria. The US envoy in Syria was withdrawn in 2005, following the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM Rafiq Hariri. 
  • Cuban Five spy case an obstacle to US-Cuban thaw, says Havana. The Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 and convicted of spying on anti-Castro exile groups on behalf of Havana. Cuba regards them as political prisoners and has lobbied intensively for their release. Cuban President Raúl Castro has said he would be willing to swap jailed political dissidents for the Five, but the US government has rejected the idea.
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