Did North Korean leader’s brother meet with a US spy before he was assassinated?

Kim Jong-nam murderThe exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader, who was assassinated in Malaysia in February, is thought to have met with a man believed to be an American intelligence officer shortly before he was killed, according to reports. Kim Jong-nam the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison on February 13 of this year. Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile with his family since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

According to Malaysian investigators, who have been probing Kim’s murder, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean dictator arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Macau on February 6, a week before he was killed there. Two days later, on February 8, he traveled to Langkawi, a resort island in the Andaman Sea, located 20 miles from Malaysia’s mainland coast, near the Thai border. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, a day after his arrival at Langkawi, Kim met with a man believed by Malaysian authorities to be in the employment of American intelligence. The man, who has not been named, is reportedly middle-aged, Korean-American with United States citizenship, and lives in Bangkok. The Osaka-based paper said that Malaysian police have accessed footage from the Langkawi hotel’s security cameras, which show Kim and the American man enter a hotel suite and staying there for nearly two hours before departing.

The newspaper further claims that Malaysian counterintelligence has been tracking the American man each time he has entered Malaysia from Thailand for quite some time, believing him to be a case officer. It is also thought that Kim had met the same man in Malaysia “several times in the past”, said Asahi Shimbun. The paper further states that Malaysian investigators believe the meeting between Kim and the American man was the reason behind North Korea’s decision to kill him. The American man reportedly left Malaysia on February 13, the same day Kim was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2017 | Permalink

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Malaysia assassination highlights North Korea’s network of front companies

North KoreaThe sensational assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, on February 13, revealed much about the current operational mindset of Pyongyang. But it also brought to light the shady network of front companies set up by the North Korean regime to facilitate the country’s illicit financial activities around the world. This extensive network permits Pyongyang to evade international sanctions against it, and to coordinate the activities of hundreds of clandestine operatives around the world. Through these activities, the reclusive country has been able to develop its weapons of mass destruction program unabated, despite concerted efforts by the United Nations to prevent it from doing so.

Writing for Forbes, Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies and director of the program on US-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that the UN has for many years employed sanctions to “block international financial and material support for North Korean nuclear and missile development efforts”. But now the UN’s own experts have concluded that Pyongyang has been able to evade these sanctions so skillfully that it has “largely eviscerated the intent and impact of UN sanctions resolutions”. How has it done so? Mostly through a network of countries that routinely turn a blind eye to North Korea’s illicit activities. These include several countries in the Middle East, as well as Singapore, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Pyongyang maintains an extensive network of front companies in these countries, says Snyder, with the main purpose of enabling it to evade international sanctions against it.

Malaysia has been a primary hub of North Korean illicit activity. In that, Pyongyang has been crucially assisted by the fact that —until last week— North Korean citizens could travel to Malaysia without entry visas. Malaysia thus provides a useful base for dozens of North Korean front companies, such as Glocom, which ostensibly markets radio communications equipment, or Pan Systems Pyongyang, which just happens to trade in exactly the kind of commercial items that could be described as “dual-use goods” in UN sanctions resolutions. Pan Systems is connected to several Malaysian-based subsidiaries, including International Global Systems and International Golden Services, which, according to investigators, are operated by North Korean intelligence.

Many of these companies also serve as exporting and importing hubs for Pyongyang. In the last five years, several ships have been intercepted while carrying illicit cargo dispatched from North Korea or destined for the reclusive state. In one such instance in 2013, the Jie Shun, a Cambodian-registered ship with a North Korean crew, was found to be carrying over 30,000 rocket propelled grenades hidden under thousands of tons of iron ore. The shipment was intended for an “undisclosed Middle Eastern destination”, says Snyder and was traced to a firm called “Dalian Haoda Petroleum Chemical Company Ltd.”. Many of these mysterious firms are headquartered in China, registered in Hong Kong, but actually work on behalf of North Korea, often using banking facilities in Europe and the United States to conduct financial transactions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 March 2017 | Permalink

Indonesia to investigate North Korean restaurant reportedly used as spy base

Pyongyang Restaurant in Jakarta, IndonesiaIndonesian authorities said on Sunday that they will investigate a North Korean restaurant in the country, after a Singaporean news agency claimed it was being used as a center for espionage. The announcement comes amidst heightened tensions between North Korean and its neighbors, following the murder last week in Malaysia of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Sources in South Korea and the United States have pointed at Pyongyang as the culprit of the assassination.

On Friday of last week, the Singapore-based news agency Asia One published a lengthy report into alleged North Korean espionage operations in Southeast Asia. The report claimed that North Korean intelligence agencies have operated extensive networks of operatives in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and that these networks have operated unimpeded for over two decades. The news agency cited an unnamed “intelligence source” as saying that the spy networks are operated by North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB). The RGB is in charge of special activities abroad, which include covert operations and intelligence collection involving espionage. It operates under the Ministry of State Security and answers directly to North Korea’s supreme leader.

According to Asia One, the RGB maintains some of its largest spy networks abroad in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, where Kim Jong-nam met a gruesome death last week. RGB personnel operating in these countries are North Korean citizens who are employed in the construction sector, as well as the tourism industry. Some operate North Korean restaurants, which are popular tourist attractions across Southeast Asia. The unnamed intelligence source told Asia One that North Korean restaurants serve “as a main front to conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance [against] Japanese and South Korean politicians, diplomats, top corporate figures and businessmen”. The RGB’s network in Indonesia is based in textile factories located in several Indonesian cities, said Asia One. There is also “an apartment located above a North Korean restaurant in [the Indonesian capital] Jakarta that is part of the RGB Indonesia office”, according to the report.

Following the news agency’s allegations, Argo Yuwono, senior commander for the Indonesian National Police, said that an investigation would take place into Asia One’s allegations. He said that his detectives would coordinate their activities with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry before moving ahead with the probe.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 February 2017 | Permalink

Two women arrested for assassinating North Korean leader’s half-brother

Kim Jong-namTwo women have been arrested in the past 48 hours in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s supreme leader, who died in Malaysia on Monday. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Some reports suggest that he was injected with a poisoned needle. According to Malaysian media, Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities announced the arrest of a woman carrying a Vietnamese travel document, which identified her as Doan Thi Huong (also reported as Doan Thin Hoang). No elaboration was offered on whether the travel document is genuine or forged. The 28-year-old woman is believed to have been arrested at the same airport where Kim’s assassination took place. Apparently she returned there by herself on Wednesday to catch an outbound flight to Vietnam, but was recognized by security personnel through the airport’s closed-circuit television monitoring system. Another woman, carrying an Indonesian passport, was arrested on Thursday in connection with the assassination, but no information was released about her. Some reports in the Malaysian media suggested that the second woman had been observed wandering around the Kuala Lumpur International Airport immediately following Kim’s assassination. It is believed that her co-conspirators inadvertently left her behind as they escaped the scene of the crime. Malaysian police said they also arrested a taxi driver who transported the women to the airport on the morning of the assassination. Four males, who are also believed to have helped organize the attack, remain at large.

Meanwhile South Korean and American government sources told news agencies that the assassins are thought to be agents of the North Korean government. Malaysian media said that senior North Korean diplomats were dispatched to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and held lengthy meetings with Malaysian government officials. Reports suggest that Pyongyang exercised pressure on Malaysian officials to cancel a planned post mortem examination of Kim’s body. But the request was allegedly denied. Malaysian officials did not respond to queries about whether Kim’s body will be handed to North Korea or flown to China for burial.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 February 2017 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother killed by female assassins in Malaysia

DPRK assassinThe half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has been killed in an audacious attack in Malaysia, reportedly by two female assassins who used a poisonous substance to murder him. Kim Jong-nam, was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, and grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948. However, he left the country in 2007, reportedly after it became clear that his younger half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was the regime’s preferred successor to his father, Kim Jong-il.

Since that time, it is believed that the self-exiled Kim split his time between Singapore and China, and that he had a residence in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. It is also believed that he employed a variety of passports, including South Korean, Portuguese and Swiss, some of which were reputed to be forgeries. Even though Kim kept a relatively low profile in the past decade, relations between him and the North Korean regime were adversarial. He made occasional comments to the press that were critical of the government in Pyongyang, and at times criticized his half-brother’s character and actions. Intelligence sources in South Korea claimed that the DPRK tried to kill him at least once in the past.

It appears that Pyongyang may have finally managed to kill Kim on Monday morning, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia’s main international flight hub and one of Southeast Asia’s largest. The attack is believed to have taken place at 9:00 a.m. at the airport’s economy class terminal, where Kim was waiting to board a 10:00 a.m. flight to Macau. According to Malaysian news media, Kim was approached by two women, one of whom attacked him from behind. The female suspect reportedly covered Kim’s face with a “cloth laced with a poisonous liquid” that burned his eyes. A frantic Kim managed to run away and alert an airport employee, who called an ambulance. According to police, the victim told paramedics that someone had grabbed him from behind and “splashed a burning liquid on his face”. Some reports claimed that Kim was attacked with a poisonous needle or acid spray. According to Malaysian police spokesman Fadzil Ahmat, the grandson of North Korea’s founder expired on the way to a nearby hospital.

It was later confirmed that, at the time of his death, Kim was using a North Korean passport issued under the name “Kim Chol” and giving his date of birth as June 10, 1970. However, the travel document is believed to have been forged. Malaysian authorities said on Tuesday they had been unable to identify the suspects, but that an investigation was ongoing. Early on Wednesday, Malaysian authorities released CCTV footage of one of the suspects (pictured). Meanwhile, Kim’s body has been subjected to an autopsy, but the results remain unavailable. South Korean authorities told the Reuters news agency that Kim had been killed by assassins working for the North Korean government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2017 | Permalink

Malaysia immigration probe reveals growing insider threat to passport security

Datuk Seri Sakib KusmiAs many as 100 Malaysian immigration officers are implicated in a widening investigation involving the deliberate sabotage of the country’s electronic passport control system. The investigation, which began over three months ago, focuses on a criminal ring of immigration personnel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), one of Southeast Asia’s major travel hubs. Reports suggest that 15 members of the alleged ring are in prison awaiting trial. Another 14 immigration officers have been suspended without pay, while 20 more staff members are under investigation by the intelligence subdivision of the Immigration Department of Malysia (IDM). On Wednesday, IDM Director-General Datuk Seri Sakib Kusmi said that the scope of the investigation had widened, and that 63 immigration officers would be transferred from the IDM’s headquarters in Putrajaya to KLIA, to replace members or suspected members of the criminal ring.

The officers implicated in the investigation are accused of deliberately sabotaging the automated passport control system used at KLIA. Known as myIMMs, the system allows passport control officers to validate the authenticity of international travelers’ passports, and to confirm that the latter have not been reported lost or stolen. It is believed that the myIMMs system was deliberately made to crash at least once a day, in order to allow human traffickers and other organized criminals to smuggle individuals in and out of Malaysia. With the system going offline, KLIA passport control officers were forced to screen passengers manually, which is now believed to have permitted countless individuals using forged and stolen passports to go through security undetected. The deliberate sabotage of myIMMs is believed to have been going on since 2010, and investigators are at a loss in trying to estimate the numbers of people who have been able to bypass computerized passport checks.

One investigator said Australia’s ABC news network that the criminal ring’s handlers were located overseas and would send immigration officers instructions via coded messages. The primary ring members had recruited IDM administrative staff, technology staff, and even software vendors, who were involved in sabotaging the system. The practice of organized criminal and terrorist groups using forged passports is both long and documented. But news of a criminal group that is able to set up an extensive ring of immigration officers, who then sabotage an electronic passport verification system at a major international transport hub, is rare and extremely alarming. It reveals a new form of insider threat, namely compromised immigration and passport control officers, who are bribed to facilitate the work of criminal groups and terrorist organizations.

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

Malaysia foiled Islamic State plan to kidnap prime minister, senior officials

Ahmad Zahid HamidAuthorities in Malaysia said they managed to foil a plan by the Islamic State to kidnap the country’s prime minister and two other senior cabinet officials, in exchange for ransom. According to the government of Malaysia, the Islamic State also planned to stage armed attacks throughout the country, including in major urban centers, such as Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. News of the alleged plot was revealed in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of the Malaysian parliament, by Ahmad Zahid Hamid, the country’s deputy prime minister. He told members of parliament that Malaysian intelligence had managed to detect the plot, which had been planned for January 30, 2015, but that the government did not believe it was prudent to alarm the country until the investigation of the alleged plot had been finalized.

According to Hamid, 13 individuals with direct ties to the Islamic State were behind the plot to kidnap three senior members of the Malaysian government on the same day. The targets were the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, and Hamid himself, who informed the parliament on Tuesday. He said that the Islamic State members were planning to ask for a large amount of money in return for delivering the three politicians to the authorities unharmed. Along with the kidnappings, the Islamic State members had planned to raid military facilities and steal weapons, then plant explosions throughout the country. They also wanted to conduct a series of armed robberies in order to acquire funds for the militant organization.

Hamid told the parliament that intelligence agencies had not been able to establish proof of the existence of an independent network belonging to the Islamic State in Malaysia. Instead, Islamic State members and sympathizers in the country are being handled from abroad, primarily from Syria, he said. Speaking on Tuesday about the alleged plot, Defense Minister Hussein said that security had been increased at all military bases and that the personal protection detail of senior cabinet officials had been augmented as a result of the plot.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 March 2016 | Permalink