Secret document sheds light on North Korean abduction operations

Choi Eun-hee and husband Shin Sang-okBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A document allegedly acquired from the government of North Korea by Western spy agencies appears to shed light on a top-secret North Korean intelligence program to kidnap dozens of foreigners in the 1970s and 1980s. That the North Korean regime engaged in systematic abduction of foreign citizens during the Cold War is not new information. International sources estimate the total number of foreign subjects abducted by North Korean intelligence to be in the dozens. They are said to include 17 citizens of Japan, as well as Chinese, South Korean, Malaysian, Italian, French and Lebanese nationals. In September 2002, during a brief period of rapprochement with Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted that 13 Japanese citizens had been abducted and taken to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. They included Megumi Yakota, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who disappeared from Japan 1977 and is believed to have died while in captivity in North Korea. The most famous case of abduction is undoubtedly that of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband, the director Shin Sang-ok. The two were abducted by North Korean intelligence operatives in 1978 and taken to Pyongyang. They were then forced to lead the North Korean government’s efforts to develop its motion-picture industry. The two collaborated with the regime until 1986, when they managed to escape while on a visit to Vienna, Austria. On Wednesday, The Washington Times said it had seen a North Korean document “recently obtained” by Western intelligence agencies, which traces the history of the reclusive regime’s abduction unit and directly implicates its late leader, Kim Jong-il, in its creation. The paper cited “diplomatic sources familiar with the discovery”, in claiming that the document shows “how and why” Kim established the unit, called the Investigation Department, in 1977. The unit, known by its Korean acronym JOSABU, operated as part of the ruling Korean Party Central Committee. Its mission was to abduct foreigners, bring them to North Korea, and use them to train North Korean intelligence operatives in foreign languages and cultural knowledge. Some of the abductees were turned into spies and were sent abroad to conduct intelligence operations on behalf of the North Korean state. The document cited by The Times details two meetings, in September and October 1977, in which North Korean leader Kim instructed intelligence officials to establish JOSABU and explained the logic behind the proposed kidnappings. Apparently, Kim believed that if young foreigners were brought to North Korea and instructed for a period of up to seven years they could turn into “valuable intelligence agents who would be useful until the age of 60”. Not long afterwards, North Korean abduction teams were dispatched to various countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, according to the document. The paper notes that most of the abductees are believed to have been used for training purposes, propaganda activities, or dispatched abroad to conduct intelligence operations.

Spy satellites detect new nuclear weapons plant in North Korea

Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A brand new nuclear weapons production plant detected by spy satellites in North Korea would enable the recluse Asian country to double its uranium-based nuclear warheads, according to intelligence sources. South Korean daily newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said the plant was detected by spy satellites equipped with infrared cameras, which are able to sense heat emissions released by gas centrifuges. The latter are essential in separating uranium-235 isotopes from the predominant uranium-238 isotope, which constitutes over 99 percent of natural uranium and cannot be weaponized. JoongAng Ilbo quotes an unnamed South Korean intelligence official, who said the data collected by the spy satellites indicate that Pyongyang has activated a new centrifuge facility inside the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Located approximately 60 miles north of the capital Pyongyang, Yongbyon is North Korea’s major nuclear facility, which was used to produce the fissile material for North Korea’s first nuclear weapon test in 2006. Prior to the establishment of the newly detected plant on the site, the facility was believed to contain around 2,000 centrifuges. The new facility is thought to have added significantly to North Korea’s existing capacity to enrich uranium, as it appears from its architecture and size that it contains several hundred operational centrifuges. South Korean and Western officials estimate that North Korea has the capacity to produce up to five nuclear warheads, though many doubt that the country’s nuclear engineers have been able to miniaturize the warheads so as to mount them on a long-rage delivery system. In 2012, a court in Ukraine sentenced two North Korean citizens to eight years in prison on charges of trying to obtain secret technical information about missile engines. News media contacted South Korean’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which oversees surveillance operations against the North’s nuclear program, but received no answer regarding the discovery of the new production facility.

Korean spy charged with forging Chinese files attempts suicide

NIS headquarters in Seoul, South KoreaBy I. ALLEN and J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A South Korean intelligence officer, who was charged earlier this month with deliberately forging Chinese government documents, tried to kill himself inside a car on Sunday, according to local media. The officer, identified in reports only by his last name, Kwon, was fingered last week by South Korean media as the source of a set of documents used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. Government prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South while working for the Seoul city government. The prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that Yoo had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013; this was followed by allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Court documents surfaced last week identifying Kwon (named initially as ‘Kim’) as one of the sources of the forged documents. Kwon fervently denied the accusations, claiming that he too had been duped by a Chinese asset who gave him the forms. He also argued that that the asset was probably working for Chinese intelligence. On Sunday, however, Kwon apparently tried to kill himself at his home in a suburb of Seoul. Read more of this post

South Korean spy charged with forging Chinese government records

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Authorities in South Korea have charged an intelligence officer with forging Chinese government documents that were used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. IntelNews readers will remember the case of Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. In May of that year, court documents revealed that Yoo had been arrested following testimony from his own sister, also a North Korean defector. She had apparently been sent to the South by the North Korean intelligence services, and tasked with collecting information on North Korean defectors living across the border. Prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South, while he worked for the Seoul city government. Yoo maintained his innocence throughout his trial. However, his protestations appeared untenable once the South Korean prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that he had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013 amidst allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Read more of this post

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

News you may have missed #852

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Did US deny entry to German author because he criticized the NSA? Questions have arisen after the German author Ilija Trojanow was denied entry to the United States, apparently without reason. Trojanow had been invited to a German language convention in the US city of Denver. However, he was left stranded at Salvador da Bahia airport, in Brazil. A colleague of the writer claims his call for clarity about US spying activity is the answer. A spokeswoman for Trojanow’s publisher said he was on his way back to Germany on Tuesday.
►►Analysts stress ‘sophisticated tradecraft’ after Iranian spy arrested in Israel. Israeli officials over the weekend released details regarding the arrest of an Iranian-Belgian citizen accused of conducting extensive espionage against Israeli and American targets inside the Jewish state, deepening concerns regarding the scope and sophistication of Iranian intelligence tradecraft. Ali Mansouri, in his mid-50s, was arrested on September 11 at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport by the Shin Bet intelligence service. One Israeli military correspondent observed that, in the case of Mansouri, “Iran followed the playbooks of the most advanced intelligence agencies in the world”.
►►Northern spy lifts cloak on Koreas’ deadly rivalry. Kim Dong-sik is a North Korean agent captured in the South in 1995. He underwent four years of interrogations before joining the South Korean military counterintelligence command. He is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research organization affiliated with the National Intelligence Service. His tale, detailed in a new memoir, provides a rare, firsthand look at the often lethal spy war that the rival Koreas waged for decades and that many fear may persist today.

News you may have missed #846

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Cuba confirms it hid weapons on seized N. Korean ship. Cuba has admitted being behind a stash of weapons found on board a North Korean ship seized in the Panama Canal. The ship was seized by Panama last week after “undeclared military cargo” was found hidden in a shipment of sugar. United Nations sanctions prohibit the supply of arms to North Korea in the continuing dispute over its nuclear program. But the Cuban foreign ministry said the ship was carrying “obsolete arms” from Cuba “for repair” in North Korea.
►►British undercover officers stole identities of dead children. Britain’s Metropolitan Police Service, which is responsible for policing most of the city of London, has admitted that its undercover police officers expropriated the identities of at least 43 dead children. But police officials refused to inform the children’s families at the time, saying the practice was considered “essential to protect covert officers who were working inside dangerous extremist groups”.
►►Snowden has ‘thousands’ of damaging NSA documents. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who first reported on the disclosures of former CIA employee Edward Snowden, has said that the self-styled whistleblower has “literally thousands of documents” in his possession, which are essentially an “instruction manual for how the NSA is built”. The information could allow someone to evade or mimic NSA surveillance tactics, the journalist said.

News you may have missed #837

Alexander LitvinenkoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russian ex-spy ‘would testify’ in Litvinenko inquiry. The 2006 murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has never been solved and remains the subject of conflicting narratives and still-deepening intrigue over who may have killed him and why. Now a key witness, a US-based former Russian spy who worked with Litvinenko in the months leading up to his death, says he is willing to give evidence at a public inquiry. British police considered him such a vital witness that they visited the US three times to persuade him to give evidence at the inquest.
►►Assange reveals GCHQ messages discussing extradition. Authorities at GCHQ, Britain’s eavesdropping agency, face embarrassing revelations about internal correspondence in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is discussed, apparently including speculation that he is being framed by Swedish authorities seeking his extradition on rape allegations. The records were revealed by Assange himself in a Sunday night interview with Spanish television. A message from September 2012, apparently says: “They are trying to arrest him on suspicion of XYZ. It is definitely a fit-up. Their timings are too convenient right after Cablegate“.
►►North Korean defector accused of spying by his sister. Earlier this year, Yoo Woo-sung, one of the most prominent North Korean defectors living in South Korea, was arrested on charges of espionage. Now court documents have shown that Yoo was arrested after testimony from his sister, who said he had been sent on a mission by North Korea’s secret police to infiltrate the defector community and pass back information about the people he met. The Washington Post reports that defectors from the North are increasingly facing the brunt of this suspicion.
►►Iran hangs two men for spying for Israel and US. Mohammad Heydari was found guilty of passing intelligence on “security issues and national secrets” to Israeli Mossad agents in exchange for cash. Kourosh Ahmadi was convicted of providing intelligence to the CIA, Tehran’s prosecutor’s office said. It is not clear when Heydari and Ahmadi were arrested or where they were tried. Their execution was handed down by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court and confirmed by the Supreme Court, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

Ex-CIA analyst says North Korea will launch strikes against South

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst on North Korea at the United States Central Intelligence Agency believes that the communist state will launch limited strikes against the South before moving to de-escalate the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula. On March 27, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from  the Korean Armistice Agreement, which it signed along with the United Nations and China at the end of the Korean War, in 1953. Shortly afterwards, North Korea closed all border connections with the South and disconnected the direct telephone line linking it with Seoul. It subsequently declared that it would not hesitate to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang heightened its rhetoric in response to Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, a two-month-long military exercise involving US and South Koran armed forces, which includes the deployment of nuclear-armed airplanes and ships. Although some expert observers are worried, few believe that the rhetorical boxing-match between the two Koreas will result in an outbreak of hostilities. But Columbia University Professor Sue Mi Terry, who headed the CIA’s North Korea analysis unit from 2001 to 2008, believes that Pyongyang will launch military strikes against Seoul before de-escalating the tension. Speaking to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, Terry noted that the attack will not be nuclear, nor will it involve mass use of military force. Instead, it will be “a relative small attack” that “won’t leave many people dead”, she said. Read more of this post

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

US held secret meetings with North Korea after Kim Jong Il’s death

North and South KoreaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Senior United States officials traveled secretly to North Korea for talks on at least two occasions following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, according to a leading Japanese newspaper. Quoting unnamed sources from Japan, South Korea and the United States, the Tokyo-based Asahi Shimbun newspaper said last week that the American officials traveled on US military airplanes from an Air Force base on the Pacific island of Guam to North Korean capital Pyongyang. According to the paper, the visits, which took place on April 7 and August 18-20, 2012, were kept secret from both the South Korea and Japanese governments. It appears, however, that Tokyo found out about the secret flights after it was approached by amateur air traffic hobbyists, who noticed the Pyongyang-bound flights out of Guam. After analyzing air traffic patterns, officials at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign affairs contacted the US Department of State inquiring about the mystery flights. Incredibly, however, Washington refused to discuss the flights with its Japanese ally, citing national security concerns. Eventually, says Asahi, the State Department acknowledged one of the visits, but responded to persistent Japanese pressure by warning Tokyo that further inquiries on the subject “would harm bilateral relations” between Japan and the US. The Japanese daily claims that the secret flights carried a host of senior US officials, including Joseph DeTrani, then chief of the North Koran desk at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Sydney Seiler, Korea policy chief at the White House National Security Council. Read more of this post

Korea spy gave North data on 10,000 defectors living in South

North and South KoreaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An employee of the South Korean government has been detained for allegedly providing North Korea with detailed resettlement information on over 10,000 North Korean defectors living in the South. The 33-year-old man, who has been identified simply as “Mr. Yu”, was arrested on January 11 by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. The NIS, which leads South Korea’s intelligence community, described Yu’s activities as “an unusual breach of the South Korean civil service”. The detainee is accused of providing Pyongyang with a “complete list” of thousands of North Korean defectors living in South Korean capital Seoul. The list is said to include information such as the defectors’ resettlement addresses and employment information among other personal data. Interestingly, the accused spy is himself a North Korean defector, according to South Korean news outlets. A trained surgeon, he is said to have been a member of North Korea’s social elite before defecting to the South on foot via China, in 2004. Seven years later, in 2011, he joined the Seoul city municipal government, where he was tasked with providing assistance and services to the thousands of North Korean defectors living in the South Korean capital and surrounding areas. According to reports, Yu was arrested after the NIS discovered that he made frequent trips to China and came to suspect that he might have crossed into North Korea on several occasions during his trips. South Korean counterintelligence investigators are currently trying to determine whether the accused spy entered South Korea with the intention of conducting espionage on behalf of Pyongyang. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #816

Kim Jong-namBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Danish minister vows more control over spy agency. Following the uproar created by the revelations from former Danish secret service (PET) agent Morten Storm, Denmark’s Minister of Justice, Morten Bødskov, is now calling for parliament to have more control over the domestic intelligence agency. In an interview with Berlingske newspaper, Bødskov said that he is seeking increased powers for parliament’s Kontroludvalg, a committee established in 1964 to oversee PET. The move comes in response to the many questions that have arisen about PET’s actions following Storm’s decision to contribute to a series of articles in Jyllands-Posten newspaper that chronicled his time as a PET double-agent.
►►South Korea jails alleged North Korean assassin. A South Korean court has jailed an unidentified North Korean spy reportedly ordered to attack Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-nam, who is believed to have fallen out of favor with Kim Jong-il in 2001, was thought to have been living in Macau, but media reports indicate he may have moved to Singapore. South Korean media said the alleged assassin had spent a decade in China tracking down North Korean defectors before coming to the South, and that he had admitted trying to organize “a hit-and-run accident” targeting Kim Jong-nam.
►►US Pentagon to double the size of its worldwide spy network. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the US Pentagon’s military intelligence unit, is aiming to recruit 1,600 intelligence collectors —up from the several hundred overseas agents it has employed in recent years. The DIA’s new recruits would include military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But US officials say that the growth will be driven a new generation of spies who will take their orders from the Department of Defense. The project is reportedly aimed at transforming the DIA into a spy service more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units.

Ukraine jails North Koreans in missile espionage case

One of the two North Koreans being led to courtBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A court in Ukraine has jailed two North Korean citizens on charges of trying to obtain secret technical information about missile engines. A Ukrainian government official said on Monday that the North Koreans had each been sentenced to eight years in prison, and that “they will serve their sentence in Ukraine”. Speaking to Russian-language Ukrainian daily Segodnya, the official said that Ukrainian authorities had expected that Pyongyang would request extradition of its two citizens, but that the North Korean government’s reaction had been “passive”. According to the paper, the two convicted men, who have not been named, were employed by the North Korean trade mission in Belarusian capital Minsk. It was from there that, several months ago, they arrived by train to Kiev, where they tried —unsuccessfully— to recruit a number of locals as informants. One of the latter tipped off Ukrainian authorities, who placed the two North Koreans under surveillance. Eventually, the two suspects were arrested in a rented garage in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk, while photographing technical documents with a pair of handheld miniature digital cameras. The Segodnya report stated that the documents consisted of doctoral dissertations, marked ‘confidential’, which described highly technical methods of designing effective solid- and liquid-fuel supply systems for missile engines. Some of the documents concerned the technical specifications of computer software to assist in the design of missile fuel supply systems, said the paper. The confidential documents had reportedly been taken from the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, a cornerstone of the Soviet —and now the Ukrainian— space industry, which in the early 1960s developed the R-16 (known in the West as SS-7), the first inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) successfully deployed by the Soviet Union. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #755

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►MI5 chief says al-Qaeda threatens UK from Arab Spring nations. Brittan’s domestic intelligence agency chief, Jonathan Evans, has stated that al-Qaeda is continuing to gather a foothold in nations that experienced the Arab Spring. In his speech, Evans, who directs the UK’s MI5, warned that al-Qaeda is attempting to reestablish itself in countries that had revolted, and that “a small number of British would-be jihadis [sic] are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen. Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here”. With a suspected 100-200 British born Islamist militants operating in the Middle East and Africa, the MI5 Director General warned that the coming summer Olympics in London made for an attractive target.
►►Russia to conduct airborne surveillance of Canada’s infrastructure. Canada’s National Post newspaper reports that Russian surveillance aircraft will conduct a flyover of Canada’s military and industrial infrastructure in what appears to be an annual Russian air reconnaissance mission. For the past ten years and under the Open Skies treaty, Russia is allowed to conduct flyovers of key Canadian sites. This will be the first flyover since the arrest last January of Jeffrey Paul Delisle (pictured), a Royal Canadian Navy officer, for allegedly spying on Canada on behalf of the Russians.
►►Japanese official who leaked DRPK missile info found dead. A Japanese Foreign Ministry official, who was largely thought to the source of leaked information regarding a Chinese missile technology transfer to North Korea in April, has been found dead. The official, previously under investigation for publicly disclosing national security information, was found hanged in his Chiba prefecture home on June 20. Additional details, including the individual’s name, were not made available, but Japanese government officials did indicate that the death did not appear to be suspicious.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 750 other followers