North Korean leaders used fraudulent Brazilian passports to travel abroad

Josef PwagThe late Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, and his son and current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, used forged Brazilian passports to secure visas for overseas trips and to travel abroad undetected, according to reports. The Reuters news agency cited five anonymous “senior Western European security sources” in claiming that the two North Korean leaders’ images appear on Brazilian passports issued in the 1990s. The news agency posted images of the passports, which appear to display photographs of Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. It said that the two leaders’ faces had been verified through the use of facial recognition software.

The passports were issued in the name of Josef Pwag and Ijong Tchoi. Both bear fake dates of birth and list Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the passport holders’ birthplace. Both passports bear the issuance stamp of the “Embassy of Brazil in Prague”, Czech Republic, and are dated February 26, 1996. Reuters cited an anonymous source from Brazil, who said that the fake passports were not forged from scratch. They were in fact genuine travel documents that had been sent out in blank form for use by the Brazilian embassy’s passport issuance office. The Reuters report quotes an unnamed Western security official who said that the forged passports were mostly likely used by their holders to secure travel visas from foreign embassies in Southeast Asia, mostly in Japan and Hong Kong. They could also have been used as back-ups, in case the two Kims needed to be evacuated from North Korea in an emergency —for instance an adversarial military coup or a foreign military invasion. At the very least, the passports indicate a desire to secure and safeguard the Kims’ ability to travel internationally.

North Korea’s intelligence services are known for making extensive use of fraudulent passports. Readers of this blog will recall that the two female North Korean agents who killed Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, in February of 2017, had been supplied with forged passports. The two women, who are now in prison in Malaysia, were using Indonesian and Vietnamese passports.

Reuters said it contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, which said it was still investigating the whether the two passports were indeed issued to members of North Korea’s ruling family, and how they came to be issued. The news agency also contacted the embassy of North Korea in Brazil, but officials there declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2018 | Permalink

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.

Did Outside Spy Agencies Know About Kim Jong Il’s Death?

Kim Jong Il lies in state in PyongyangBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
According to KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, Premier Kim Jong Il died at 8:30 am on Saturday, December 17. However, government media did not announce the startling news until early Monday morning, that is, nearly 50 hours after the “Dear Leader’s” sudden passing. Assuming that North Korean reports of the time and location of Kim’s death are truthful, the inevitable question for intelligence observers is: did anyone outside North Korea receive news of Kim Jong Il’s death during the 50 hours that preceded its public announcement? In times like this, most Westerners tend to look at the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, MI6, DGSE, or any of the other recognizable acronyms that dominate American and European news reports. The reality is, however, that despite their often-mythical status, Western intelligence agencies tend to be limited in their global reach, which is usually heavily concentrated on selected adversaries, like Russia, or China. These agencies therefore tend to rely on their regional allies to get timely and accurate information on smaller nations that are often difficult to penetrate. In the case of North Korea, Western spy agencies depend heavily on actionable intelligence collected by South Korean and Japanese spies. Read more of this post

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

South charges North Korean agents with assassination plot

Hwang Jang-yop

Hwang Jang-yop

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two North Koreans who defected to South Korea last November have allegedly admitted to being intelligence officers on a mission to assassinate a North Korean former senior official. The official, Hwang Jang-yop, caused a sensation on both sides of the border when he defected to the South in 1997. A former secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, Hwang was the North’s primary theorist and the ideological architect of juche, the philosophy of self-reliance, which is North Korea’s officially sanctioned state dogma. Since his defection, the 87-year-old Hwang, who is believed to have ideologically mentored North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has been living in the South with around-the-clock security protection. The two self-confessed spies, Tong Myong Kwan and Kim Myung Ho, both 36, have allegedly admitted posing as defectors, while in reality being on an assassination mission on behalf of the intelligence unit of the North Korean Ministry of Defense. Read more of this post

North Korean defector emerges in Austria after 15 years

Kim Jong Ryul

Kim Jong Ryul

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A defector, who was once a member of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s political protection team, has suddenly emerged in Austria, 15 years after faking his own death. Kim Jong Ryul is an East German-trained engineer who returned to North Korea in 1970 to work for Kim Il Sung, whose government tasked him with translating nuclear documents and making secret trips to the West. However, on October 18, 1994, while on a government-sponsored trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, he disappeared without trace. The North Korean government presumed he had been killed. But Kim had actually entered Austria, where he lived for 15 years as a defector. On Thursday, he gave a press conference in Vienna to promote a book about his life, written by journalists Ingrid Steiner-Gashi and Dardan Gashi, who based it on over 80 hours of interviews with Kim. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0229

  • Russians claim outing ‘100 spies’ in Novosibirsk in 2009. Siberian scientific centers in Novosibirsk, and especially in its suburb of Akademgorodok, nicknamed “science city” by the Russians, are noted for their research in the fields of oil and gas geology, nanotechnology, creation of new materials, and biochemistry, among other subjects. See here for previous intelNews reporting on this issue.
  • Obama proposes liaison exchange with North Korea. US President Barack Obama has proposed setting up a liaison office in North Korea –something like a US Interests Section– in a letter to leader Kim Jong Il. Such a move would help augment the US’ meager intelligence gathering in North Korea.
  • Estonian phone, web data tapped by Swedish intelligence? The Estonian Security Police (KaPo) has cautioned Estonian telecommunications users to avoid discussing “sensitive subjects” by phone and on the Internet, after an Estonian newspaper revealed that large chunks of Estonia’s telecommunications traffic pass through Sweden before reaching the outside world.

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News you may have missed #0203

  • N. Koreans arrested for revealing Kim Jong-Il’s whereabouts. A number of North Koreans have been arrested and could face execution for leaking to a South Korean Internet newspaper information on the movements of Kim Jong-Il’s February 24 trip to the city of Hoeryong.
  • Authority to spy on Americans unclear as PATRIOT Act expires. Controversial provisions in the Act, which grant US the government far-reaching domestic surveillance and seizure powers, are due to expire on December 31. These provisions will have to be discussed in Congress, “but only when the Senate isn’t backlogged by health care” according to insiders.

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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 #0026

  • US Attorney General considers torture probe. The Associated Press is among several news outlets reporting that Eric Holder is considering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the use of torture by US intelligence agencies after September of 2001.
  • Iran’s invisible Nicaraguan embassy. The US State Department has been raising alarm bells about the Iranians supposedly “building a huge embassy in Managua”. But nobody in Nicaragua can find any super-embassy, The Washington Post reports.
  • Kim Jonh Il likely to die soon, CIA tells S. Korean spy agency. According to South Korean sources, the CIA now believes that Kim Jong-Il’s chances of surviving the next five years are less than 30%. Last June, intelNews relayed reports that Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s third son, appears to be his father’s most likely successor.

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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.

North Korean ex-spy meets Japanese abductee’s family

Kim Hyun-Hee

Kim Hyun-Hee

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Relatives of a Japanese citizen abducted thirty years ago by North Korean agents have held a meeting with a North Korean former spy, who told them their relative is still alive. Yaeko Taguchi was among 17 Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean intelligence operatives in the 1970s and 1980s, and forced to familiarize North Koran spies with Japanese language and culture. The North Korean government, which has admitted conducting 13 of the 17 kidnappings, claims that Taguchi was killed in a car accident in 1986. But on Wednesday, Kim Hyun-Hee, a North Korean former spy who now lives in South Korea, told Taguchi’s son and brother that Taguchi was “her language tutor at a spy school in the North” and that she believes the Japanese woman is still alive. Read more of this post

North Korea accuses South of assassination plot against Kim Jong Il

The Ministry of State Security of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has issued a statement reporting the arrest of a North Korean citizen allegedly tasked with assassinating the country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il. The statement accuses the Republic of Korea (South Korea) of supplying the alleged assassin, whose last name is Ri, with sophisticated “speech and acoustic sensing and pursuit devices for tracking the movement of the top leader and even violent poison in the end”. It said that Ri was arrested while “gathering information about [Kim Jong Il’s] movements”. The government of the Republic of Korea has not commented on the allegations. The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s primary intelligence organization, has said “it [is] checking the claim”. [IA]