South Korea, China, urge caution over rumors of North Korean leader’s death

Korean DMZOfficials in South Korea and China have cast doubt on rumors circulating in recent days that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un may be dead or close to dying. The rumors about Kim’s demise began to circulate on April 15, when the North Korean leader failed to participate at an official ceremony held to mark the birthday of his grandfather. Known as the Day of the Sun —a public holiday in North Korea— the annual event commemorates the birth of the country’s founder, Kim il-Sung.

Kim’s absence sparked intense discussion in South Korea. On the same day, April 15, Daily NK and NK News, two South Korean websites that are critical of the North Korean government, claimed that Kim had been taken to hospital on April 11 and had not been seen since. The website, which regularly carries articles by North Korean defectors to the South, claimed that the 36-year-old supreme leader had undergone an emergency procedure to stabilize his cardiovascular system, and was recovering from the surgery.

On Monday the American news network CNN quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the sources of the reports about Kim’s health were “credible”. The official added that Washington was closely assessing reports that Kim’s life was “in grave danger”. But on Tuesday officials in South Korea said the reports about Kim’s imminent demise could not be corroborated. A spokesman at the Office of the President told reporters in Seoul that Kim was probably traveling in the countryside with an entourage of senior North Korean officials. The spokesman added that South Korean intelligence services had detected “no unusual signs” in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Also on Tuesday, a spokesman with the Department of International Liaisons of the ruling Communist Party of China, said “there was no reason to believe Kim was critically ill” or dead. There was speculation on Monday that Kim may be alive but staying indoors to avoid getting infected by the novel coronavirus. The United States government has not commented officially on the rumors about the state of Kim’s health.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 April 2020 | Permalink

Militaries around the world scramble to contain impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 ChinaMilitary forces around the world are scrambling to contain the impact of COVID-19 on military readiness, as the virus continues to infect troops and commanders at an alarming rate. On Tuesday, the Polish government announced that General Jaroslaw Mika, who serves as general commander of Branches of the Armed Forces, had tested positive for the coronavirus. General Mika is believed to have contracted the virus during a military conference that took place in the German city of Wiesbaden, where North Atlantic Treaty Organization commanders gathered to plan an American-led military exercise.

Also on Tuesday, the United States Department of Defense said that the commander of the US Army in Europe, Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli, participated at the Wiesbaden conference, along with several other US Army staff members. They are currently being tested for exposure to COVID-19. Meanwhile the Reuters news agency reported that the US Pentagon acknowledged that “the US military’s official tally of servicemembers and related personnel who have been infected by the coronavirus likely undercounts the actual total”. Sources told the news agency that the low age and good health of American troops was “a mixed blessing of sorts”, since it allows US servicemembers to survive the virus but at the same time reduces their symptoms that would normally trigger testing for COVID-19.

The government of Taiwan said on Tuesday that over 400 members of its armed forces had entered self-imposed quarantine in order to prevent a possible COVID-19 outbreak among military personnel. This brings the total number of Taiwanese servicemembers who are currently in quarantine to over 2,000, which includes two generals. The country’s Minister of Defense, Yen De-fa, insisted on Tuesday that the virus had not impacted Taiwan’s military readiness.

Chinese officials have not provided information about the effect of the coronavirus on the country’s military. The Chinese-language website of The Epoch Times said last week that, according to unnamed insiders, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had “forcibly isolated” tens of thousands of servicemembers this month. There are no reports of specific numbers in the Chinese media or non-Chinese news outlets.

Finally, according to Daily NK, a South Korean website that specializes on news from North Korea, approximately 180 North Korean soldiers have died as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the past month. The website cited “a source inside the North Korean military”, who said that Pyongyang had forcibly quarantined at around 3,700 soldiers of all ranks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s military.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2020 | Permalink

Czech intelligence foiled North Korean plan to smuggle arms through Africa

Czech Security Information ServiceThe Czech intelligence services foiled a secret plan by North Korea to smuggle weapons parts and surveillance drones, leading to the expulsion of a North Korean diplomat from the country, according to a report. The report, published this week by the Czech daily Deník N, claims that the alleged plot was foiled by the Czech Security Information Service, known as BIS.

According to Deník N, the alleged plot took place in 2012 and 2013. It was initiated by a North Korean diplomat who was serving at the DPRK’s embassy in Berlin as an economic attaché. However, claims Deník N, the diplomat was in fact operating on behalf of the North Korean intelligence services. The unnamed diplomat allegedly traveled to Prague and contacted a local businessman, seeking to purchase spare parts for use in Soviet-built T-54 and T-55 tanks, as well as spare parts for armored vehicles and jet airplanes. The diplomat also sought to purchase surveillance drones, according to the newspaper.

The buyers reportedly planned to smuggle the acquired weapons parts and drones to North Korea through ports in Africa and China, said Deník N. Such an act would have violated the international embargo that has been in place against the DPRK since 2006. However, the plot was foiled by the BIS, which informed the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Czech government eventually detained the diplomat and expelled him from the country, said Deník N.

Following the newspaper article, BIS spokesperson Ladislav Šticha said that he “could not comment on the details” of the case, but could confirm that “in the past BIS has indeed managed to prevent trade in weapons from the Czech Republic to the DPRK”. Hours later, the BIS posted on its Twitter account that it could not comment “on the details of this case”, but added that “its outcome was very successful”.

IntelNews regulars will remember a similar report in the German media in 2018, according to which North Korea used its embassy in Berlin to acquire technologies that were almost certainly used to advance its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 January 2020 | Permalink

South Korea rejects US pressure to maintain intelligence agreement with Japan

South Korea JapanSouth Korea appears determined to reject calls from the United States to maintain an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, as relations between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington continue to experience tensions. The South Korean government has been issuing warnings since August that it will not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which is scheduled to lapse on Saturday. The agreement dates to 2016; it facilitates the sharing of intelligence between South Korea and Japan about North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

The agreement has fallen victim to an escalating tit-for-tat row between the two Asian countries, which is rooted in the use of forced Korean labor by Japan in World War II. South Korea is demanding financial compensation for the use of slave labor, including sex slaves, by Japanese occupation troops during Korea’s annexation by Japan from 1910 until 1945. In July, Tokyo responded to a mass boycott of Japanese goods by South Korean consumers by limiting the export of electronics to be used in South Korea’s ship-building industry. It also removed South Korea from the list of countries with the ability to fast-track their exports to Japan. South Korea responded last summer by threatening to effectively abandon GSOMIA.

Since that time, Washington has been pressuring Seoul to remain in the treaty. The United States is widely seen as the architect of GSOMIA, as it worked closely with Japan and South Korea for over 6 years to convince them to agree to exchange intelligence, despite their deep-rooted mutual animosity. The White House has traditionally viewed GSOMIA as a significant parameter in security cooperation between its allies in the Far East. Back in August, American officials warned that terminating GSOMIA would threaten its ability to monitor North Korean nuclear activity.

But Seoul is not willing to back down. On Thursday, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kang Kyung-wha, said that unless there was “a change in Japan’s attitude, our position is we won’t reconsider”. Kang Gi-jung, Political Affairs Secretary to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, added that Seoul would “not wave a white flag”. Japan’s Minister of Defense, Taro Kono, urged South Korea to “make a sensible decision” and warned that Seoul, not Tokyo, would be the biggest victim of the termination of GSOMIA. Most observers expect that GSOMIA will simply expire come Saturday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 November 2019 | Permalink

South Korea ends intelligence pact with Japan as bilateral relations enter crisis mode

Japan South KoreaSouth Korea has formally terminated an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, as relations between the two countries have reached their lowest point since they formally recognized each other in 1965. Seoul’s decision is the latest move in a tit-for-tad row sparked by the use of forced Korean labor by Japan in World War II. South Korea is demanding financial compensation for the use of slave labor, including sex slaves, by Japanese occupation troops during Korea’s annexation by Japan from 1910 until 1945. Last month, Tokyo responded to a mass boycott of Japanese goods by South Korean consumers by limiting the export of electronics to be used in South Korea’s ship-building industry. A few days ago, Tokyo also removed South Korea from the list of countries with the ability to fast-track their exports to Japan.

Earlier this week, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan met in China in an attempt to bridge the differences between the two countries. But the negotiations failed. This morning South Korea responded to Japan’s latest move by refusing to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). This treaty between Japan and South Korea, which was due to be renewed today, facilitates the sharing of intelligence about North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. But the South Korean government announced it would not renew the agreement, following a decision taken by the country’ National Security Council. The country’s President, Moon Jae-in, has agreed with the decision. A South Korean government spokesman said South Korea had determined that maintaining “an agreement we signed with the aim of exchanging military information which is sensitive to security […] would not serve our national interest”.

Japan called South Korea’s decision to scrap GSOMIA “extremely regrettable” and said that it “completely misreads the security situation” in the region. It added that it would continue to cooperate with South Korea “where cooperation is necessary”. Late last night, Tokyo summoned the South Korean ambassador to Japan to voice its disapproval of Seoul’s decision. Meanwhile there has been no response from the United States government, which was the architect of GSOMIA in 2016. Washington worked closely with the two countries for over 6 years to convince them to agree to exchange intelligence, despite their mutual animosity. American observers have warned that the termination of GSOMIA “threatens real-time information sharing between the United States, Japan and South Korea to monitor North Korean nuclear activity”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2019 | Permalink

South Korean spy agency says North Korean nuclear negotiators were not executed

Kim Jong-unThe spy agency of South Korea has dismissed media reports that North Korea had several of its top nuclear negotiators executed or sent to labor camps, but has not rejected rumors of a major reshuffle in Pyongyang. In early June, media reports in Seoul claimed that North Korea had executed at least five of its senior nuclear negotiators and imprisoned several others. Prior to these reports, rumors of executions of North Korean nuclear negotiators had circulated in international diplomatic circles since February, but no specific allegations had surfaced in the news media. That changed when Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s highest-circulation newspaper, alleged that at least five executions of nuclear negotiators had taken place in Pyongyang in March.

The paper claimed that the most senior North Korean official to be executed was Kim Hyok-chol, who led the nuclear negotiations with Washington prior to the Vietnam summit. The summit culminated with a —seemingly fruitless— face-to-face meeting between the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. Citing an “anonymous source” Chosun Ilbo said that Kim had been executed by a firing squad at the Pyongyang East Airfield in Mirim, a suburb of the North Korean capital. Four other Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were executed at the same time, allegedly for having been “swayed by American imperialists to betray the Supreme Leader”, said the newspaper. Two more senior North Korean nuclear negotiators, Kim Yong-chol and Kim Song-hye, were allegedly stripped of their government posts and sent to labor camps, according to the report.

On Tuesday, however, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) directly contradicted Chosun Ilbo’s account. The spy agency told a closed-door meeting with members of parliament in Seoul that Kim Yong-chol had made recent appearances at senior-level events of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), and that Kim Hyok-chol was still alive. But the NIS did not rule out the possibility of a major reshuffle among the ranks of Pyongyang’s nuclear negotiators and the replacement of some of the top figures with new officials from the ranks of the WPK. Most international observers agree that Kim Jong-un is displeased with the impasse in the nuclear negotiations with Washington and has criticized —in some cases publicly— the performance of his team of negotiators.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 July 2019 | Permalink

Son of South Korean foreign minister defects to North Korea

Choe In-gukThe son of a South Korean former cabinet minister has defected to North Korea, marking a rare instance of a citizen of South Korea switching his allegiance to the North. It is even rarer for such high-profile South Korean citizens to defect to North Korea. The defector is Choe In-guk, son of Choe Deok-sin, who served as South Korea’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1970s under the South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. Choe was an American-trained army officer who served under United States command in the Korean War. He then served as a member of the cabinet and as South Korea’s ambassador to West Germany.

But by 1980, Choe had fallen out with the South Korean military government and was subsequently pushed out of the ruling Democratic Republican Party of Korea. He moved to the United States with his wife, Ryu Mi-yong, from where in 1986 the couple defected to North Korea. Soon after his defection, Choe was appointed director of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland under the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Until her death in 2012, Ryu served as chairwoman of the Chondoist Chongu Party, a nationalist North Korean political party that supports the policies of the ruling WPK.

North Korean media reported that Choe and Ryu’s son, Choe In-guk, arrived at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport on July 6. The North Korean state-run news website Uriminzokkiri published several photographs of the 73-year-old Choe being greeted by a welcoming committee of North Korean government officials holding flowers and gifts. Choe is reported to have given a brief speech upon his arrival in Pyongyang, praising North Korea’s leader and lamenting not having defected earlier in his life. The defector added that he intended to devote the remainder of his life to continue the work of his parents and to push for the reunification of the two Koreas.

On Sunday, South Korean Ministry of Unification confirmed that Choe had defected to North Korea from the United States. The Ministry also said that Choe had not obtained permission to travel to North Korea, which is required of all South Korean citizens who wish to cross the border between the two countries. It appears that Choe first traveled to the United States and for there to a third country —possibly China— before entering North Korea. South Korean officials announced that an investigation into his defection has been launched.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 July 2019 | Permalink

Sister of N. Korean leader promoted to #2 position, says S. Korean spy agency

Kim Yo-jongThe younger sister of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un appears to have been promoted to the number two position in the country’s ruling apparatus, according to a South Korean intelligence assessment. Until recently, Kim Yo-jong (pictured), 30, was Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). She also served as an alternate member of the Political Bureau, which is the highest decision-making body within the WPK.

Recently, however, she was spotted attending public festivities in Pyongyang, sitting in a prominent position next to General Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the WPK’s Central Committee. The festivities, which were televised nationwide, were held on the occasion of the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea. The seating of North Korean officials in such high-profile events is carefully arranged to reflect their precise status within North Korea’s governing structure. Kim’s seating placement may signify a major government reshuffle, through which she has been elevated to one of the two or three most powerful posts in North Korea.

This assessment was delivered to South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday in a closed-door presentation by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s primary external spy agency. A summary of the presentation was shared with the media by Lee Hye-hoon, chairman of the Intelligence Committee at the South Korean National Assembly. According to Lee, the NIS’s assessment was that Kim’s authority appeared to be “enhanced due to an adjustment of roles” and that she seemed to have been promoted to the leader level”.

At the same time, the leadership status of North Korea’s other high-profile female official, Kim Song-hye, appears to have diminished. As intelNews reported earlier this month, there were rumors in Seoul that the North Korean nuclear negotiator had been stripped of her government post and sent to a labor camp. She was reportedly charged with having been “swayed by American imperialists to betray the Supreme Leader”. However, she reappeared on June 9, when she was seen attending a mass gymnastics ceremony in the North Korean capital. However, her public role appears notably muted in recent weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2019 | Permalink

Trump says US will not use spies on North Korea, then appears to retract statement

Trump CIA - JFUnited States President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he would not allow American intelligence agencies to use spies against North Korea, raising eyebrows in Washington, before appearing to backtrack a day later. The American president was speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, when he was asked about a report that appeared in The Wall Street Journal that day. According to the report, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with officers of the US Central Intelligence Agency before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia in February 2017. The Wall Street Journal’s claim was echoed by a book written by Washington Post correspondent Anna Fifield, which also came out on Tuesday. In the book, entitled The Great Successor, Fifield claims that Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA handler when he was killed.

On Tuesday, President Trump said he had seen “the information about the CIA, with respect to [North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s] half-brother. And I would tell [Kim] that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure”, said the US president, before repeating, “I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices”. Reporters interpreted Trump’s comments to mean that he would not use human assets or any other kinds of informants to collect intelligence on the regime of the North Korean leader. As can be expected, the US president’s remarks raised eyebrows among lawmakers and national security experts in Washington. It was suggested that Trump appeared to voluntarily eliminate a potentially invaluable tool of intelligence collection from America’s arsenal. The president’s comments were even more peculiar given the hermetically sealed nature of the North Korean regime, which Western spy agencies would argue necessitates the use of human assets for intelligence collection. Moreover, President Trump’s comments appeared to once again place him at odds with his own Intelligence Community, as previously in the cases of Iran’s nuclear program, the current status of the Islamic State, or Russia’s meddling in American political life.

On Wednesday, however, the US president appeared to backtrack on his comments. When asked at a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda about his earlier remarks, Trump denied that he had implied the US would not use spies to collect information on North Korea. “No, it’s not what I meant”, the president responded to the reporter who asked him the question. “It’s what I said and I think it’s different, maybe, than your interpretation”, said President Trump, but refused to elaborate on what he actually meant with his statement on Tuesday. The Reuters news agency contacted the CIA seeking an official statement on the US president’s remarks, but the agency said it had no immediate comment on the issue.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 June 2019 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother worked with CIA before his death, paper claims

Kim Jong-nam murderKim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with American intelligence officers before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia. Two women approached Kim Jong-nam as he was waiting to board a plane at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017. The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was about to travel to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. Soon after his encounter with the two women, Kim collapsed and eventually died from symptoms associated with VX nerve agent inhalation.

But a new book published on Tuesday by a Washington Post reporter, and an article that came out in The Wall Street Journal on the same day, allege that Kim Jong-nam was working with the United States Central Intelligence Agency and was in fact in Malaysia to meet with his American spy hander when he was killed. The Wall Street Journal article said that many details of Kim Jong-nam’s precise relationship with the CIA remain “unclear”. It is doubtful that the late half-brother of the North Korean leader had much of a powerbase in the land of his birth, where few people even knew who he was. So his usefulness in providing the CIA with crucial details about the inner workings of the North Korean regime would have been limited. However, the paper quoted “a person knowledgeable about the matter” as saying that “there was a nexus” between the CIA and Kim. The article also alleges that Kim met with CIA case officers “on multiple occasions”, including during his fateful trip to Malaysia in February of 2017.

In her just-published book The Great Successor, Anna Fifield, a correspondent with The Washington Post, claims that Kim spent a number of days on the island of Langkawi, a well-known resort destination in Malaysia. Security footage at his hotel showed him meeting with “an Asian-looking man [Korean-American, according to The Wall Street Journal] who was reported to be an American intelligence [officer]”. It was one of regular trips Kim took to places like Singapore and Malaysia to meet his spy handlers, according to Fifield, who cites “someone with knowledge of the intelligence”. She adds that, although meeting with this CIA handler may not have necessarily been the sole purpose of Kim’s fateful trip to Malaysia, it was certainly a major reason. Fifield alleges that the backpack Kim was carrying when he was killed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport was found to contain $120,000 in cash. The Wall Street Journal claims that, in addition to meeting with the CIA, Kim held regular meetings with spy agencies of other countries, including China.

Meanwhile, two South Korean government agencies, the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Reunification, said on Tuesday that they were unable to confirm that Kim was indeed an asset of the CIA or any other intelligence agency. They also said that they could not confirm whether Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet with a CIA case officer at the time of his assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2019 | Permalink

North Korea said to have executed senior nuclear negotiators as ‘spies’

Kim Song-hye Kim Hyok-cholNorth Korea has executed at least five of its senior nuclear negotiators and imprisoned several others, according to a report in a leading South Korean newspaper. Rumors of executions of North Korean nuclear negotiators have circulated in international diplomatic circles since February, but specific allegations have not surfaced in the news media. That changed on Friday, when Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s highest-circulation newspaper, said that at least five executions of nuclear negotiators took place in Pyongyang in March.

According to the paper, the most senior North Korean official to be executed was Kim Hyok-chol (pictured), who led the nuclear negotiations with Washington until February, when the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met US President Donald Trump in Vietnam. Citing an “anonymous source” Chosun Ilbo said on Friday that Kim was executed by a firing squad at the Pyongyang East Airfield in Mirim, a suburb of the North Korean capital. Four other Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were executed at the same time, allegedly for having been “swayed by American imperialists to betray the Supreme Leader”, said the newspaper. Two more senior North Korean nuclear negotiators, Kim Yong-chol and Kim Song-hye (also pictured), have been stripped of their government posts and sent to labor camps, according to the report. Until recently, Kim Song-hye headed the Bureau of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, Pyongyahg’s main agency for negotiations with South Korea. Kim Yong-chol was one of several vice-chairs of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. He visited Washington with Kim Song-hye for negotiations prior to last February’s high-level summit in Vietnam.

There have been no reports in North Korean media about purges of senior officials or executions of alleged spies. However, the three officials named in the Chosun Ilbo report have not been seen in public in nearly a month. Additionally, last week the official Workers’ Party of Korea newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published an editorial that condemned “counter-party and counter-revolutionary actions” of government officials who “claim to labor for the Supreme Leader […] but clandestinely harbor other machinations behind the back of the Supreme Leader”. The New York Times reached out to the South Korean and American governments about the Chosun Ilbo report, but no-one would comment on record. If the Chosun Ilbo report is accurate, it would support the view that there is exasperation in Pyongyang about the breakdown of its nuclear negotiations with Washington. It would also signify that Kim has radically reshuffled his team of negotiators, but this does not necessarily denote a change in his negotiating stance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2019 | Permalink

Malaysia releases second female assassin of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother from prison

Siti AisyahThe second of two female assassins who killed the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2017 in Kuala Lumpur has been released from prison by the Malaysian state, after a mostly secret trial. The two women, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia (pictured), approached Kim Jong-nam as he was waiting to board a plane at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was about to travel to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. Soon after his encounter with the two women, Kim collapsed and eventually died from symptoms associated with VX nerve agent inhalation. Huong was arrested on February 15, when she returned to the same airport to catch an outbound flight to Vietnam. Siti’s arrest was announced a day later.

Both women told Malaysian police that they worked as escorts and that they were under the impression that they had been hired by a Japanese YouTube show to carry out a televised prank on an unsuspecting traveler. They claimed that they did not realize that the men who had hired them several months prior to the assassination operation were agents of the North Korean government —which international authorities blamed for Kim’s murder. In March of this year, Malaysian authorities announced that all charges against the Indonesian woman, Siti, had been dropped, and that she would be released from detention. No reasoning behind the decision was provided to the media. On Thursday, it was revealed that Huong would be freed, after she agreed to plead guilty to a much lesser charge of “causing bodily injury”, as requested by government prosecutors.

What is behind the decision of the Malaysian court? British newspaper The Guardian said last month that the government of Indonesia engaged in intense “behind-the-scenes diplomacy” in order to have its citizen released. These efforts “significantly influenced how events […] unfolded in the courtroom”, said the paper. Additionally, the Malaysian government had been uncomfortable with the international attention of this incident from the very beginning, and had expressed the desire “to be done with the trial because it was diplomatically inconvenient”, according to The Guardian. The paper added that, as the international status of Kim Jong-un rose unexpectedly through his meetings with United States President Donald Trump, Malaysia sought to be “part of this conversation”. Kuala Lumpur thus decided that “the recovery of [its] relationship with Pyongyang [was] more important than justice for the assassination of Kim Jong-nam”, former South Korean intelligence officer Dr. Nam Sung-wook told The Guardian.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 May 2019 | Permalink

Spain returns stolen material to North Korean embassy in Madrid, say sources

North Korea SpainAuthorities in Spain have returned material that was stolen from the embassy of North Korea in Madrid by a group of raiders in February, according to a source that spoke to the Reuters news agency. The unprecedented attack took place in the afternoon of February 22 in a quiet neighborhood of northern Madrid, where the North Korean embassy is located. Ten assailants, all Asian-looking men, entered the three-story building from the main gate, brandishing guns, which were later found to be fake. They tied up and gagged the embassy’s staff and some visitors to the embassy. After several hours spent inside the buildings, the assailants abandoned the building in two embassy vehicles that were later found abandoned.

A few weeks following the raid, a North Korean dissident group calling itself Cheollima Civil Defense —also known as Free Joseon— claimed responsibility for the attack. Cheollima Civil Defense is North Korea’s first known active resistance group. Its members call for the overthrow of the Kim dynasty. Subsequent reports said that some of those who took part in the embassy raided fled to the United States and approached the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with an offer to hand over computer hardware and telephones captured in the attack. On Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported that the FBI “returned the material [to Spanish authorities] two weeks ago”, and that Spanish police handed it over to the North Koreans. Citing “a Spanish judicial source”, Reuters said that American authorities returned the material directly to the Spanish court that is investigating the raid.

According to the news agency, Spanish authorities returned the material to the North Korean embassy without reviewing its contents, thus complying with the norms of diplomatic protocol. Data and items belonging to foreign embassies are usually off-limits to the authorities of host nations. The report did not clarify whether the FBI returned all the material that was stolen by the raiders in February, nor did it state whether the FBI reviewed its contents prior to handing it over to the Spanish court.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 April 2019 | Permalink

Dissident group ‘approached the FBI’ after raid on North Korean embassy in Madrid

North Korea embassy SpainMembers of a self-styled dissident group that raided North Korea’s embassy in Madrid last month reportedly approached the authorities in the United States, offering to share material taken from the embassy. The attack took place in the afternoon of February 22 in a quiet neighborhood in northern Madrid, where the North Korean embassy is located. Ten assailants, all Southeast Asian-looking men, entered the three-story building from the main gate, brandishing guns, which were later found to be fake. They tied up and gagged the embassy’s staff, as well as three North Korean architects who were visiting the facility at the time. The assailants later abandoned the building in two embassy vehicles that were later found abandoned.

Initial reports alleging that Washington was involved in the raid were later found to be inaccurate, as an obscure North Korean dissident group, calling itself Cheollima Civil Defense —also known as Free Joseon— claimed responsibility for the attack. Cheollima Civil Defense is North Korea’s first known active resistance group in living memory, and has called for the overthrow of the Kim dynasty. But little is known about its members.

On Tuesday, however, Judge José de la Mata, of the Spanish High Court, told reporters that three members of the group had been identified by Spanish authorities. He named them as: Adrian Hong Chang, a Mexican national who is a resident of the United States; Sam Ryu, an American citizen; and Woo Ran Lee, a South Korean. Judge de la Mata said that all ten members of the group had managed to leave Spain in the hours following the attack on the North Korean embassy. Interestingly, however, Chang, who left Europe through Portugal, appeared in New York on February 27 and approached the local field office of the FBI. He allegedly met with FBI agents and described the raid on the North Korean embassy. He then offered to give the FBI some of the material that Cheollima Civil Defense stole from the embassy, including a mobile phone, USBs, laptops, as well as several hard drives.

It is not known whether the FBI accepted Chang’s offer. But, according to Judge de la Mata, Chang “handed over audiovisual material” to the FBI. When asked about Judge de la Mata’s statement, the FBI said it does not comment on investigations that are in progress. The US Department of State said that the American government “had nothing to do” with the attack on the North Korean embassy in February.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 March 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Who was behind the raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid?

North Korea SpainAn obscure North Korean dissident group was most likely behind a violent raid on North Korea’s embassy in Madrid on February 22, which some reports have pinned on Western spy agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The group, known as the Cheollima Civil Defense, is believed to be the first North Korean resistance organization to declare war on the government of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

THE ATTACK

The attack took place at 3:00 in the afternoon local time in Aravaca, a leafy residential district of northern Madrid, where the embassy of North Korea is located. Ten assailants, all Southeast Asian-looking men, entered the three-story building from the main gate, brandishing guns, which were later found to be fake. They tied up and gagged the embassy’s staff, as well as three North Korean architects who were visiting the facility at the time. But one staff member hid at the embassy. She eventually managed to escape from a second-floor window and reach an adjacent building that houses a nursing home. Nursing home staff called the police, who arrived at the scene but had no jurisdiction to enter the embassy grounds, since the premises are technically North Korean soil. When police officers rang the embassy’s doorbell, an Asian-looking man appeared at the door and Q Quote 1said in English that all was fine inside the embassy. But a few minutes later, two luxury cars belonging to the North Korean embassy sped away from the building with the ten assailants inside, including the man who had earlier appeared at the front door.

Once they entered the embassy, Spanish police found eight men and women tied up, with bags over their heads. Several had been severely beaten and at least two had to be hospitalized. The victims told police that the assailants were all Korean, spoke Korean fluently, and had kept them hostage for nearly four hours. But they refused to file formal police complaints. The two diplomatic cars were later found abandoned at a nearby street. No money was taken by the assailants, nor did they seem interested in valuables of any kind. But they reportedly took with them an unknown number of computer hard drives and cell phones belonging to the embassy staff. They also stole an unknown quantity of diplomatic documents, according to reports.

POSSIBLE FOREIGN CULPRITS

Within a few hours, Spanish police had reportedly ruled out the possibility that the assailants were common thieves, arguing that the attack had been meticulously planned and executed. Also, common thieves would have looked for valuables and would not have stayed inside the embassy for four hours. Within a week, several Spanish newspapers, including the highly respected Madrid daily El País and the Barcelona-based El Periodico, pinned the raid on Western intelligence services. They cited unnamed police sources who claimed that at least two of the assailants had been identified and found to have links with the CIA. The reports also cited claims by embassy employees that the attackers interrogated them extensively about Soh Yun-sok, North Korea’s former ambassador to Madrid. Soh became Pyongyang’s chief nuclear negotiator after he was expelled by the Spanish government in 2017 in protest against North Korea’s nuclear missile tests. Read more of this post