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