S. Korea police says professor was secret handler of N. Korea spies

Chongryon A Korean resident of Japan, who was arrested in South Korea for credit card fraud, was allegedly a handler of North Korean sleeper agents operating in South Korea, Japan and China, according to police in Seoul. Pak Chae Hun, 49, was arrested on Tuesday at his home in Seoul by officers of the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department. A statement issued by South Korean police said Pak was until recently an associate professor at Korea University, a higher-education institution based in the Japanese capital Tokyo. The University is funded directly by the government of North Korea through Chongryon, a pro-Pyongyang organization otherwise known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The group represents tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are ideologically affiliated with Pyongyang.

Pak was initially investigated for purchasing computer hardware in Japan using a credit card he had obtained from a Korean company using a false identity and date of birth. But when South Korean police authorities raided his home, they found encrypted messages written on scraps of paper. Further investigations detected encrypted email messages sent to Pak from Japan. According to government sources in Seoul, the messages turned out to contain instructions from Office 225 of the North Korean Workers’ Party Korea, which is tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea. South Korean authorities now claim Pak was regularly receiving encrypted instructions from Pyongyang, which he relayed to North Korean agents in China and South Korea.

South Korean sources said Pak also provided North Korean agents with telephone devices, as well as cash and ATM cards, which they used to withdraw cash from banks in South Asia. Police sources in Seoul say Pak was recruited by North Korean spies over 15 years ago and regularly traveled to China to meet North Korean agents there. The former professor is now facing fraud charges, while South Korean authorities are considering the possibility of charging him with espionage, even though he was not caught in the act of spying against South Korea.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 February 2016 | Permalink

Intelligence agencies doubt North Korea bomb test was hydrogen

PyongyangIntelligence agencies outside North Korea, including those of South Korea and the United States, are skeptical of Pyongyang’s claims that it conducted a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. On the surface, North Korea’s announcement on Wednesday that it tested a hydrogen bomb is consistent with the policies of the Kim Jong-un administration. The North Korean leader, who succeeded his father as the nation’s supreme leader in 2012, has repeatedly said that he intends to strengthen and modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal. In December, North Korea issued several warnings that it would soon test a hydrogen bomb, nearly a decade after the regime announced its first successful test of an atomic weapon. Unlike atom bombs, which rely on nuclear fission to release energy, hydrogen bombs are based on nuclear fusion; they are far more powerful than atom bombs, which they use as a trigger to reach even more massive levels of energy release.

There was initial shock on Wednesday when Pyongyang announced it had successfully detonated a “miniaturized hydrogen bomb”. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was registered at a site that had been used in the past by North Korea to test nuclear weapons. A few hours later, however, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington that “initial analysis” conducted by US intelligence agencies was “not consistent” with North Korea’s claims. The explosion had been measured “in the single digit kilotons”, he said, whereas a thermonuclear device, which uses the energy from an initial nuclear device to ignite a secondary, much larger nuclear reaction, is typically measured in megatons. South Korean intelligence observers agreed that some kind of test occurred on Wednesday, but it did not display signs of a hydrogen bomb. Some South Korean officials cautioned that it could have been a failed test of a hydrogen device, or that the North Koreans could have tested only the initial trigger of a hydrogen bomb, which would be a much smaller explosion caused by fission. But Earnest insisted on Wednesday that “nothing [had] caused the US government to change our assessment of North Korea’s technical and military capabilities”.

Some media reports indicated that US intelligence agencies had expected a nuclear test by Pyongyang in 2015 or 2016, but had no specific information on a precise timeframe. It is also worth noting that assessments by US and South Korean intelligence agencies indicate that China was not informed by North Korea about an impending nuclear test and that Beijing was caught by surprise by Wednesday’s developments. China issued a statement condemning the alleged nuclear test soon after it was announced by North Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 January 2016 | Permalink

South Korean lawmakers accuse North of helping Islamic State

Syria North KoreaA powerful South Korean parliamentary committee has accused the North Korean government of ties to the Islamic State, an allegation that is vehemently denied by Pyongyang. On November 18, members of the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly of Korea stated in a press conference that they believed North Korea had “possible ties to ISIS”. They were referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which calls itself Islamic State. On Monday, North Korea’s state-run media blasted the South Korean allegations as “slander and fabrications”, and said they threatened to derail collaboration efforts between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The North Korean website Uriminzokkiri, which provides content from the Korean Central News Agency, accused Seoul of “carelessly tossing around claims of connections to terrorist groups”, in order to bring the two neighboring countries “closer to war”. Tensions remain high in the Korean Peninsula, despite an agreement that was struck in August between the two sides. In the preceding months, Pyongyang had threatened to carry out all-out invasion of South Korea, accusing Seoul of harboring aggressive intentions against it. A report in Uriminzokkiri warned that the August agreement “would be undone” if the South persisted in alleging that North Korea provided assistance to ISIS.

It should be noted that the Intelligence Committee of South Korea’s National Assembly has not given evidence of its claims that Pyongyang is supporting ISIS. Additionally, the North Korean regime is believed to be a strong international ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a primary adversary of ISIS. The two countries have longstanding military and commercial ties. It is believed that North Korean technicians aided in the construction of Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear facility, which was bombed by Israeli jets in Operation ORCHARD in 2007. Today, North Korea is among a small number of countries that maintain fully staffed embassies in Syrian capital Damascus. In September of this year, the government of Syria dedicated a park in the capital to Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s late leader.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 November 2015 | Permalink

Defectors provide rare glimpses of North Korean spy operations

Kim Dong-sikTwo high-profile North Korean defectors, who used to work for the country’s spy agencies, have spoken publicly about the use of espionage by one of the world’s most impenetrable intelligence communities. Kim Dong-sik and Kang Myong-do told American television network CNN last Friday that human intelligence officers —the technical term for spy recruiters— are highly sought after in North Korea. Kim said he was selected for special-operations training while he was still in high school, and in 1981 he was admitted to an elite intelligence academy in Pyongyang. While there, he was trained in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as in martial arts and underwater diving, among other skills. CNN did not elaborate on the identity of the North Korean agency that trained Kim, but it was almost certainly the Special Operation Force of the Korean People’s Army, which is believed to be among the largest such outfits in the world.

It was only after years of training, said Kim, that he was told he was going to be a spy. Most likely, that meant he was detailed to the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military-intelligence agency that resembles the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. He told CNN that he was not permitted to be captured alive by adversary agencies, and that his loyalty to the North Korean regime would be questioned if he failed to commit suicide at the conclusion of an aborted mission. Kim said his first mission abroad took him to South Korea, where he helped exfiltrate a North Korean intelligence officer named Lee Sun-sil, who had been working in the South as a non-official-cover operative for over a decade. His second mission involved trying to recruit South Koreans who were believed to be sympathetic toward Pyongyang. In 1995, however, he was captured alive during his third mission to South Korea, after failing to commit suicide as per his operational instructions. For that, he said, his entire family was executed back in North Korea, though his claim is admittedly difficult to verify.

CNN spoke to another high-profile North Korean defector, Kang Myong-do, son-in-law of the country’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song-san, who died in 2007. Kang, who was once described by The New York Times as “the most damaging defector ever to escape from North Korea”, used to work for the United Front Department, a civilian intelligence outfit that is subordinate to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. He told CNN that there are probably “hundreds” of North Korean intelligence officers operating in the United States at any given point, and that their main goal is to “recruit Korean-Americans who lean towards supporting North Korea”. He added that Pyongyang sees intelligence officers as crucial assets in its confrontation with its adversaries, and that it treats them exceedingly well when they are loyal. In North Korea, “spies are treated on the same level as generals”, he said.

N. Korean dictator had army chief publicly executed, say intel sources

Hyon Yong CholBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The head of the North Korean Armed Forces was publicly executed by a firing squad using antiaircraft fire, according to a briefing by South Korean intelligence officials. Representatives from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told reporters in Seoul last week that the execution took place on April 30 in the courtyard of a military academy in North Korean capital Pyongyang.

If the report is accurate, it would mean that Hyon Yong Chol, who led the country’s People’s Armed Forces, is no more. Hyon was considered a trusted advisor to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, who appointed him Minister of the People’s Armed Forces in the summer of 2014. Despite his impressive title, Hyon’s power was limited, as the head of the North Korean Armed Forces is largely a figurehead. True military power rests with the all-powerful Central Military Commission of the Korean Workers Party, and with the National Defense Commission, whose chairman, Kim Jong-Un, controls the military. Still, if the report of Hyon’s execution turns out to be accurate, it will point to the continuation of the power-struggle among different factions within the North Korean political and military hierarchy.

According to South Korean intelligence, Hyon was executed because he “dozed off” during a high-level meeting chaired by Kim, an act that was interpreted as proof of “disrespect and disloyalty”. However, there are suspicions that Hyon had directly challenged Kim on several occasions, and that the North Korean dictator suspected him of organizing an insurrection by members of the military. The NIS said during last week’s briefing that the execution was watched by “hundreds of senior North Korean officials” and that the firing squad made use of high-caliber artillery to kill Hyon, in order to make an example of his brutal killing.

It is worth noting that South Korean intelligence briefings on the North are not always accurate. Seoul claims that North Korean authorities have executed at least 15 senior officials in the past 12 months, among them Jang Song Thaek, uncle to the country’s leader, who was thought to be the second most powerful man in the country until his purported death in December 2013.

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

North Korean hackers operating secretly in China, says defector

Shenyang railway stationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An underground network of North Korean hackers are conducting complex cyberattacks against worldwide targets from Chinese cities without the knowledge of Beijing, according to a former professor who trained them. Kim Heung-Kwang was a professor of computer science in North Korean capital Pyongyang, until his defection in 2004. He told CNN on Tuesday that part of his job was training members of North Korea’s elite cyberintelligence corps, whose task was to compromise computer systems around the world. Kim alleged that some of the hackers joined a specialized outfit called Bureau 121. It was established in complete secrecy in 1995 and ten years later it began sending its operatives abroad, especially in northern China. According to Kim, Bureau 121 set up a complex network of hackers in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in northern China’s Liaoning Province. Shenyang is the largest Chinese city near North Korea, and Bureau 121 operatives were allegedly able to effortlessly blend in the sizeable Korean community there. The former professor told CNN that the hackers “entered China separately” over time, “in smaller groups […], under different titles” such as officer workers, trade company officials, or even diplomatic personnel. They operated like typical spies, working regular jobs by day and “acting on orders from Pyongyang” by night, said Kim. They gradually set up an underground “North Korean hacker hub”, operating secretly in Shenyang for several years, relocating from place to place in order to shield their activities from computer security experts. Kim told CNN that Shenyang’s bustling, money-driven life and its good Internet facilities made it easy for Bureau 121 members to work secretly on several projects that required sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. North Korea lacks China’s telecommunications network capabilities, said Kim, which is why Pyongyang decided in the early days of the Internet to transport its hackers to Shenyang. He added that Bureau 121 has rolled back considerably its overseas operations in recent years, due to the advancement of high-speed telecommunications networks in North Korea; but some North Korean hackers are still active in northern China, he said.

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