Senior North Korean counterintelligence official believed to have defected

Chilbosan HotelOne of North Korea’s most senior intelligence officials, who played a major role in building Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, has disappeared and is believed to have defected to France or Britain, according to sources. South Korean media identified the missing official as “Mr. Kang”, and said he is a colonel in North Korea’s State Security Department (SSD), also known as Ministry of State Security. Mr. Kang, who is in his mid-50s, enjoyed a life of privilege in North Korea, because he is related to Kang Pan-sok (1892-1932), a leading North Korean communist activist and mother to the country’s late founder, Kim Il-sung.

According to South Korean reports, Kang was in charge of North Korea’s counter-espionage operations in Russia and Southeast Asia, including China. He is also believed to have facilitated secret visits to Pyongyang by foreign nuclear scientists, who helped build North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In recent years, Kang was reportedly based in Shenyang, the largest Chinese city near the North Korean border, which is home to a sizeable ethnic Korean population. According to reports, Kang led Unit 121, an elite North Korean hacker group based in Shenyang, with the aim of carrying out cyber-attacks without implicating North Korea. The South Korean-based DailyNK website said on Wednesday that Kang had been based at the Zhongpu International Hotel in Shenyang (until recently named Chilbosan Hotel), which has historically been operated through a joint Chinese-North Korean business venture and is known to host numerous North Korean government officials.

But according to DailyNK, Kang disappeared from Shenyang in February and is now believed to have defected, possibly “to France or Great Britain”. The Seoul-based website said Kang took “a lot of foreign currency with him” as well as “a machine capable of printing American dollars”. Following Kang’s disappearance, the government in Pyongyang launched a worldwide manhunt for him, sending at least 10 agents to assassinate him before he is given political asylum in the West, said DailyNK. Pang’s family, including his wife and children, are believed to still be in Pyongyang.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 May 2018 | Permalink

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North Korean hackers operating secretly in China, says defector

Shenyang railway stationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An underground network of North Korean hackers are conducting complex cyberattacks against worldwide targets from Chinese cities without the knowledge of Beijing, according to a former professor who trained them. Kim Heung-Kwang was a professor of computer science in North Korean capital Pyongyang, until his defection in 2004. He told CNN on Tuesday that part of his job was training members of North Korea’s elite cyberintelligence corps, whose task was to compromise computer systems around the world. Kim alleged that some of the hackers joined a specialized outfit called Bureau 121. It was established in complete secrecy in 1995 and ten years later it began sending its operatives abroad, especially in northern China. According to Kim, Bureau 121 set up a complex network of hackers in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in northern China’s Liaoning Province. Shenyang is the largest Chinese city near North Korea, and Bureau 121 operatives were allegedly able to effortlessly blend in the sizeable Korean community there. The former professor told CNN that the hackers “entered China separately” over time, “in smaller groups […], under different titles” such as officer workers, trade company officials, or even diplomatic personnel. They operated like typical spies, working regular jobs by day and “acting on orders from Pyongyang” by night, said Kim. They gradually set up an underground “North Korean hacker hub”, operating secretly in Shenyang for several years, relocating from place to place in order to shield their activities from computer security experts. Kim told CNN that Shenyang’s bustling, money-driven life and its good Internet facilities made it easy for Bureau 121 members to work secretly on several projects that required sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. North Korea lacks China’s telecommunications network capabilities, said Kim, which is why Pyongyang decided in the early days of the Internet to transport its hackers to Shenyang. He added that Bureau 121 has rolled back considerably its overseas operations in recent years, due to the advancement of high-speed telecommunications networks in North Korea; but some North Korean hackers are still active in northern China, he said.

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