In historic first, alleged North Korean spy to face trial in the United States

DPRK North Korean embassy in Malaysia

FOR THE FIRST TIME in history, an alleged intelligence officer of North Korea is going to be tried in a United States court, according to American government officials. In a surprise move last week, Malaysia extradited to the US an export-finance trader named Mun Chol-myong. Aged 55, Mun is a North Korean citizen based in Singapore, where until 2019 he worked for a company called Sinsar Trading Pte. Ltd. The Malaysians arrested him in May 2019 and charged him with using his position to defraud a number of international banks and launder money though the US financial system.

Responding to a US request to have Mun tried in a US court, Malaysia announced his extradition last week, angering Pyongyang. Shortly following Mun’s extradition to the US, North Korea shut down its embassy in Kuala Lumpur, one of only 46 embassies maintained by Pyongyang across the world. Then last Wednesday North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations sanctions designed to restrict the country’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea’s fury at Mun’s extradition can perhaps be explained by information contained in the newly unsealed indictment [pdf], which dates to 2018. The indictment accuses Mun and a number of other unnamed suspects of being North Korean “intelligence operatives”.

Specifically, the indictment accuses Mun of being an undercover employee of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s primary foreign-intelligence agency. The RGB operates under the supervision of the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army and the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. According to the indictment, Mun utilized shell companies set up by Pyongyang in order to hide his connections with the RGB. His primary mission was allegedly to gain access to international banking institutions and wire services, with the aim of laundering illicit North Korean cash and breaking sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations and the United States. The indictment accuses Mun of having personally participated in the laundering of $1.5 million in funds in recent years.

In a statement released last week, John Demers, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, described Mun as “the first North Korean intelligence operative —and the second ever foreign intelligence operative— to have been extradited to the United States”. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Joe Biden said last week it was still reviewing “in depth” the state of US-North Korean relations following the administration of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2021 | Permalink

South Korea announces most high-profile defection from North since Korean War

North and South KoreaA North Korean intelligence official who sought refuge in South Korea last year is the most high profile defector to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, according to authorities in Seoul. An announcement issued by the South Korean government last week said the defector is a colonel in the Korean People’s Army who worked for the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military-intelligence agency that resembles the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division.

The initial announcement was made by a spokesman representing South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which is the department of the government that is responsible for working towards the reunification of Korea. He said that the agency could not find any records of defectors that were of a more senior rank since the end of all-out hostilities in the Korean War. However, he declined to provide further details about the identity of the colonel and the details of his defection. Another spokesman, from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, confirmed the high-profile defection but said he had not been authorized to release further information on the case. But he said that the Reconnaissance General Bureau had defected to the South “last year”, without giving a precise timeline. He added that the North Korean colonel was providing South Korea with details about Pyongyang’s intelligence operations against the South.

Prior to this latest case, the most high-profile defection to the South of a North Korean government figure was that of Hwang Jang-yop, a senior Pyongyang official who was seen as the architect of ‘juche’, the official state ideology of North Korea. During a visit to Beijing, China, in 1997, Hwang entered the embassy of South Korea and asked for political asylum. He died in South Korea in 2010.

It is extremely rare for Seoul to acknowledge defections from North Korea; the South Korean government typically cites privacy and security concerns in response to questions about defectors. The unusual step of announcing the defection of the North Korean colonel several months after the fact led some opposition liberal figures in South Korea to accuse the conservative government of trying to use the case in order to win votes in last Wednesday’s legislative elections. The election was an upset victory for the liberal Minjoo party, which managed to deny the conservative Saenuri Party a majority in the parliament.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 April 2016 | Permalink

Defectors provide rare glimpses of North Korean spy operations

Kim Dong-sikTwo high-profile North Korean defectors, who used to work for the country’s spy agencies, have spoken publicly about the use of espionage by one of the world’s most impenetrable intelligence communities. Kim Dong-sik and Kang Myong-do told American television network CNN last Friday that human intelligence officers —the technical term for spy recruiters— are highly sought after in North Korea. Kim said he was selected for special-operations training while he was still in high school, and in 1981 he was admitted to an elite intelligence academy in Pyongyang. While there, he was trained in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as in martial arts and underwater diving, among other skills. CNN did not elaborate on the identity of the North Korean agency that trained Kim, but it was almost certainly the Special Operation Force of the Korean People’s Army, which is believed to be among the largest such outfits in the world.

It was only after years of training, said Kim, that he was told he was going to be a spy. Most likely, that meant he was detailed to the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military-intelligence agency that resembles the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. He told CNN that he was not permitted to be captured alive by adversary agencies, and that his loyalty to the North Korean regime would be questioned if he failed to commit suicide at the conclusion of an aborted mission. Kim said his first mission abroad took him to South Korea, where he helped exfiltrate a North Korean intelligence officer named Lee Sun-sil, who had been working in the South as a non-official-cover operative for over a decade. His second mission involved trying to recruit South Koreans who were believed to be sympathetic toward Pyongyang. In 1995, however, he was captured alive during his third mission to South Korea, after failing to commit suicide as per his operational instructions. For that, he said, his entire family was executed back in North Korea, though his claim is admittedly difficult to verify.

CNN spoke to another high-profile North Korean defector, Kang Myong-do, son-in-law of the country’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song-san, who died in 2007. Kang, who was once described by The New York Times as “the most damaging defector ever to escape from North Korea”, used to work for the United Front Department, a civilian intelligence outfit that is subordinate to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. He told CNN that there are probably “hundreds” of North Korean intelligence officers operating in the United States at any given point, and that their main goal is to “recruit Korean-Americans who lean towards supporting North Korea”. He added that Pyongyang sees intelligence officers as crucial assets in its confrontation with its adversaries, and that it treats them exceedingly well when they are loyal. In North Korea, “spies are treated on the same level as generals”, he said.

North Korean commando cells may have infiltrated US in 1990s

North Korean troops in trainingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
North Korean commandos, trained to attack large cities and nuclear installations, may have been secretly stationed on American soil in the 1990s, according to a declassified report from the United States Department of Defense’s intelligence wing. The report, dating from September 2004, was compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which is America’s foremost intelligence organization concerned with military secrets. The report states that the North Korean commando cells were set up by the country’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces under the command of its Reconnaissance General Bureau. Known as RGB, the Bureau is believed to have under its command an estimated 60,000 members of North Korea’s Special Forces. It is responsible for countless covert operations in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere around the world, which include assassinations and kidnappings. Its most notorious action was the so-called Blue House Raid of 1968, in which a group of North Korean commandos infiltrated the South and attacked the official residence of South Korean President Park Chung-hui in an attempt to assassinate him. In 1983, RGB forces were responsible for a bomb attack in Rangoon, aimed at killing South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during his official visit to the Burmese capital. The bomb killed 21 people, but Chun survived. According to the 2004 DIA report, the RGB established five “liaison offices” in the early 1990s, which were tasked exclusively with training a select number of operatives to infiltrate the US and remain in place until called to action by Pyongyang. They would become operational in the event of a war breaking out between America and North Korea, at which point they had been instructed to conduct raids on large US cities, sabotage nuclear power plants, etc. The DIA document states that the North Korean plan was put in place because Pyongyang had no other lethal means of reaching the US at the time. The report is significantly redacted and includes the warning that it contains raw information, meaning that it had not been cross-checked and could not be conclusively verified. Additionally, the document makes no mention of the fate of the RGB’s infiltration program and whether it continues to the present day.