Revealed: South Korean intel officers caught spying on Australia

Embassy of South Korea in AustraliaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A court in Australia has released information about “inappropriate activities” allegedly conducted by South Korean intelligence officers targeting trade negotiations between Seoul and Canberra. The 2011 case involved operatives of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who purportedly tried “to obtain sensitive information” from Australian civil servants. The documents, released Tuesday by Australia’s Federal Court, reveal that an Australian government official, Dr. Yeon Kim, was sacked and had his security clearance revoked, for allegedly holding clandestine meetings with South Korean NIS officers. The Australian government accused Kim, who worked for the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, of meeting repeatedly with Hoo-Young Park, an employee of the South Korean embassy in Canberra, who had been declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. According to the court documents, three other NIS officers serving under diplomatic cover in Australia, Bum-Yeon Lee, Sa-Yong Hong, and a man named Kim, were involved in collecting intelligence on Australian trade secrets. According to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which detained Kim, he willingly participated in the “foreign interference” operation by the NIS. It is worth noting, however, that there were no expulsions of South Korean intelligence officers or diplomats following Kim’s detention. On the contrary, ASIO appears to have gone to great lengths to prevent disclosure of the spy affair and even protect the identities of the NIS officers involved. In a move interpreted by some as an attempt by Canberra to safeguard its good relations with Seoul, the Australian government warned in a memo that any disclosure of the South Korean intelligence operation would have “a detrimental impact” on bilateral relations between the two nations. In 2011, ASIO was assured by the Koreans that they had terminated all “inappropriate” activities on Australian soil; in return, it promised the NIS that it would “do all in its power” to prevent public disclosure of the incident and even protect the identities of NIS officers stationed in Australia. Kim, who told ASIO that his meetings with South Korean intelligence officers were purely social in nature, denied comment on the case. The Canberra Times, which published the story about the NIS operation, said it contacted the South Korean embassy in Australia, but received no response. A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the paper that it would abide by “the long-standing practice of Australian governments not to comment on intelligence matters”.

2 Responses to Revealed: South Korean intel officers caught spying on Australia

  1. Pete says:

    Yes it can be a fine line of what to do when friends spy on friends – especially when at least one of them might be officially accredited (as an Intelligence or Security Officer) to the host government.

  2. TFH says:

    Strange as capitalist S-Korea seems to be that industrial espionage should not be performed by (deniable) private contractors/companies rather than the same government agency who handles (nuclear) national security.

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