North Korea: Brainwashing in reverse

Asia Times
Sunny Lee

BEIJING – This was certainly not one of your normal press briefings. The venue was unusual – Pyongyang. Last week, North Korea’s National Security Agency invited its propaganda news arm and a handful of foreign media there to announce a botched espionage plot against its “major military facilities and places of vital strategic importance”.

“The state security organ of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] arrested moles working for a foreign intelligence service, a [foreign] agent, and seized their spying equipment,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. 
The foreign intelligence service had approached some North Korean citizens traveling abroad with “money, sexual gratification and blackmail” and turned them into its spies, National Security Agency spokesman Li Su-gil said at the briefing, held at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang on Wednesday.

According to Lee, the foreign intelligence body had these recruits undergo an anti-communist brainwashing session and taught them how to collect intelligence data as well as how to use electronic equipment for spying.

“Their duty was also to collect information on the ideological tendencies of the [North Korean] people and, at the same time, to create an illusion about the ‘free world’ among some key officials and lure them out to third countries,” the KCNA said.

Pyongyang said the foreign intelligence service had sent its agent to North Korea posing as a businessman and commanded the spy activities. But “the counterespionage officers of the DPRK who had watched every movement of the enemy arrested them on the spot while they were exchanging the data”, the KCNA said.

“This is the first time North Korea has announced such news publicly,” said Li Dunqiu, a well-known Chinese government analyst on North Korea. Li, however, politely declined to discuss the issue further, citing its sensitivity.

Yoo Ho-yeol, professor of Korean politics and foreign policy at Korea University, said, “Not only did they announce it publicly, but the press briefing also included very concrete details. Further, the spokesman of the secretive National Security Service made the announcement himself. That’s unusual.”

At the security agency’s press conference, spokesman Lee went into details about the case, including that the spies had used the Global Positioning System and Sony transmission equipment, and then took questions from reporters. The whole scene was staged very much like a press conference.

China’s Xinhua news agency aired the news first. There are a handful of foreign reporters in North Korea, including from China and Russia. Pyongyang also has a bureau for the television arm of the Associated Press, where locally hired employees transmit television footage to the that media agency. Reporters with Japan’s Kyoto news agency are also allowed to visit Pyongyang roughly once every two months.

At the press briefing, neither the identity of the spy nor his nationality was disclosed. The fact that North Korea didn’t name the country was meant “to warn any country that attempts to overthrow the regime”, said Koh Yoo-hwan, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

“As North Korea is slowly opening up to the outside world, more and more foreign humanitarian-aid organizations and businessmen are visiting North Korea these days. That means more North Koreans are meeting foreigners,” Koh said. “That, however, poses a threat to the North. So the announcement has two purposes. On one hand, it was meant to overhaul its internal system, and on the other hand, it was an expression of will to let the world know that it won’t allow any outside attempt to overthrow the regime.”

Yoo concurred with Koh: “North Korea is already on a track to open up to the outside world. In the process, there will be increased contact between North Koreans and foreigners. In this transitional period, Pyongyang feels the need to strengthen its internal supervision.”

Li Su-gil warned that although on the surface there has been an improvement of relations between North Korea and other countries, “There is also an intensifying foreign intelligence effort to oppose our system and our people. That is happening even when there are dialogue and negotiation under way. Especially, the dark tentacles of the foreign intelligence agencies are focusing on our military facilities and gathering information necessary for preemptive strikes.”

Yoo, who visited North Korea early last month, said the country appears somewhat edgy during this “opening-up” period. “In my previous visits, they had allowed me to take pictures freely, but this time they wouldn’t. They only allowed me to take pictures at tourist spots and at certain angles.

“North Korea knows that when foreigners take pictures, the pictures can be circulated in the outside world. So they carefully choose what to show and what not to show to the outside world. I got the feeling that they have become much more sensitive on that lately,” Yoo said.

Nonetheless, Yoo believes that the fact that North Korea went public about the case is a departure from its past secretive practices. “Spy activities in any country are subject to legal punishment, including in the US. Although North Korea is a somewhat peculiar country, it also has relevant laws. In a sense, it is using the tools used by the international community.”

Yoo added that North Korea is expected to do a follow-up announcement and disclose the identity of the spy and the prison term he will receive.

While Pyongyang keeps the identity of the spy in the dark, Professor Yoo believes he is very likely Japanese. “Only certain nationalities in the world can enter North Korea relatively easily and frequently. There are Chinese and Russians. If the spy were from one of these countries, given that they are ideological allies to North Korea, Pyongyang would have resolved it quietly.”

According to Yoo, using the media is a strategy publicly to pressure the country from which the spy came. And the timing of Pyongyang’s announcement is the key: it came on the same day North Korea started normalization negotiations with Japan in Ulan Bator.

At the negotiation, North Korea demanded Japanese compensation for its past occupation of the Korean Peninsula and the lifting of economic sanctions, while Japan demanded a full account of 17 of its nationals allegedly kidnapped by North Korea some three decades ago.

The talks, however, ended without a breakthrough. Over the weekend, Japan announced that it would extend economic sanctions on North Korea for another six months.

Professor Yoo did not raise the possibility of the spy being a South Korean. Many South Korean business people travel to the North via China. North Korea is scheduled to hold a summit with the South early next month.

North Korea’s past nabbing of foreign spies includes citizens from the US and Japan, and Chinese of Korean descent.

Koh of Dongguk University said the very fact that the leaders of the two Koreas meet is an achievement in its own right, adding that the meeting will yield some “meaningful results”.

“It’s a meeting that the top leader of North Korea himself attends. If it doesn’t bear any fruit, then it will also become a burden for Kim Jong-il,” Koh said.

Koh reasons that if Kim doesn’t score major achievements at the summit, it will corner the Dear Leader politically, because it will give more political leverage to the hardline military faction that opposes engagement with South Korea.

Yoo disagreed. “The timing [of the summit] is very bad. It comes right before the presidential election in South Korea. It will be a gamble if the Seoul government tries to use the summit to influence the election outcome. For that to happen, North Korea has to make some surprising decisions, including those related to the six-party talks [on nuclear disarmament]. Seoul, in response, will pledge massive economic aid.

“But North Korea knows well that whatever promises the current South Korean government makes, it is up to the next administration to decide whether to carry them out. So there is this uncertainty. I think the two sides approach the summit with a relatively low expectation.”

Joong Ang Daily


North Korea said yesterday it had arrested spies working for an unspecified foreign country who were collecting intelligence on the communist state’s military and state secrets.

It said a foreign spy agency had trapped “some corrupt” North Koreans traveling abroad by using money, sex and blackmail and turned them into moles, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

“Recently, the National Security Service of the DPRK has arrested spies who were recruited by a foreign spy agency and the agent who was directing them,” it said.

The agent posed as a businessman, it said, adding the spies’ missions included taking pictures and drawing maps of key military facilities.

They were also asked to collect documents on military and state secrets and spread the ideas of freedom and democracy to key figures so that they would flee the authoritarian North, the KCNA said.

“Anti-espionage agents of the DPRK, who had been watching them closely, arrested on the spot those spies and the agent who had been giving the spies espionage equipment including global positioning systems,” it said.

Neither their identities nor the foreign country involved were revealed.

Earlier, a spokesman for North Korea’s National Security Service told reporters in Pyongyang that an unspecified number of foreigners were caught as they were conducting espionage activities, according to Xinhua.

Several North Korean nationals were also arrested for helping the alleged spies, Xinhua cited the spokesman, Li Su-Gil, as saying.

“We arrested those spies when they were busy transmitting information, and they will be brought to justice under DPRK law,” said the spokesman.

Li said the arrests of the spies showed espionage activities against communist North Korea were on the rise, despite a recent improvement in its relations with other nations.

“The situation on the Korean Peninsula seems to be easing up on the surface, but in fact hostile forces are intensifying their espionage against the DPRK,” Li said.

“The goal of hostile forces is to start a psychological war against the DPRK and overthrow socialism and the regime in our country. The people and security service will remain on high alert for this.”

The talk of an improving situation on the peninsula was apparently a reference to progress in multilateral talks aimed at disarming North Korea.

Those talks have led to North Korea and the United States beginning discussions that could eventually see them establish normal diplomatic relations.

Li said the spies had used a wide range of equipment including digital and pinhole cameras.

At the press conference, footage was shown of apparently captured spy equipment, including a fake rock containing a satellite communications gadget and a listening bug in a flower pot, according to Xinhua.

China is North Korea’s closest political and military ally, and one of the few nations allowed to have journalists based in Pyongyang.

North Korean NSA Arrested Foreign Spies
Daily NK

Yang Jung A

The Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, reported on the 5th that the National Security Agency (NSA) of North Korea arrested a number foreign spies and North Korean citizens on suspicion of espionage.

The NSA held a press conference and announced that it had arrested foreign alleged spies and native citizens working for a foreign intelligence service, according to the Xinhua.

It is unprecedented that the North Korean authorities revealed the espionage issue publicly; even more surprising is the fact that authorities released this information to the foreign media. Therefore, the underlying reasons for these actions are under speculation.

The spokesperson, Li Su Gil claimed that the foreign spies had collected North Korean official documents and information on important military facilities and had spread the idea of democracy and freedom to the people. Additionally, Li proclaimed they would be brought to justice under North Korean law.

However, the NSA did not reveal further details on the alleged spies such as the number of suspects, their nationalities, when, where or how they were arrested.

According to Xinhua, Li said they had performed their tasks using advanced technology such as digital cameras, pinhole cameras, GPS, even a fake rock containing a satellite communications device, a bug in a flowerpot and other devices of espionage. The NSA showed footage which captured the rigging of these devices at the press conference.

Spokesperson Li stated that the situation of the Korean Peninsula seems to be easing up on the surface, but in fact hostile forces are intensifying their espionage against North Korea.

He added that “The goal of hostile forces is to instigate psychological warfare against North Korea and overthrow socialism and the regime in our country. The people and the security service will remain on high alert.”

So far, the North Korean authorities have been communicating the “espionage issue by the American imperialists” to the people through public lectures, but have yet to release information regarding the NSA’s formal announcement to Rodong Shinmun, North Korea’s state-controlled newspaper.

Therefore, there is much speculation as to the nature of the NSA’s sudden announcement to the foreign media regarding this espionage issue.


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