The Wilson Center’s North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP) has published another manuscript in the Critical Oral History Conference Series: Crisis and Confrontation on the Korean Peninsula: 1968-1969
Armed North Korean spies caught while trying to storm South Korea’s presidential office to assassinate then President Park Chung-hee on Jan. 21, 1968, are known to have also planned to attack the U.S. Embassy.
When the North seized the American intelligence ship USS Pueblo in waters off the North Korean port of Wonsan two days later, the U.S. planned to immediately mobilize F-4 Phantom fighters to bomb the North. This plan was shelved, however, because the U.S. Air Force lacked devices for loading conventional weapons required for an air strike.
This information was derived from a compilation of declassified documents from 1968-69 titled, “Crisis on the Korean Peninsula and Standoff” obtained exclusively by The Dong-A Ilbo from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington Monday.
The documents were compiled after the center held in September 2008 a closed forum with 15 experts and seven former U.S. officials who worked in both Koreas and China in the late 1960s.
Through the forum, the U.S. think tank comprehensively analyzed classified documents 1,285 pages in volume, including those from the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc like the former East Germany and Romania.
Those who attended the forum included Horst Brie, former East German Ambassador to North Korea; Walter Cutler, former political adviser to the U.S. ambassador to South Korea; Thomas Hughes, former director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. State Department; James Leonard, former chief of the Korea Desk at the State Department; and David Reuter, analyst for Northeast Asia at the U.S. National Security Agency.
Also at the event were Kang In-duk, former South Korean unification minister, and Yoon Ha-jeong, former South Korean vice foreign minister.
Leonard said, “According to multiple documents considered classified at the time, North Korea’s seizure of the USS Pueblo constituted an emergency situation. After the incident was reported to the U.S. Air Force, F-4 Phantoms were to be mobilized within several minutes but did not take off because they only were equipped with devices for loading nuclear weapons but none for loading conventional weapons.”
“The USS Pueblo incident was apparently a disgrace to the U.S.,” he said, adding, “With security concerns heightened at the time and Seoul’s presidential office under attack, the U.S. Defense Department should have been prepared to protect the Pueblo by mobilizing the Air Force when necessary.”
Ultimately, Washington merely mobilized the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise and two Aegis destroyers from the U.S. Navy`s 7th Fleet.
Kang, who served as the first chief of the North Korea intelligence bureau at the (South) Korean Central Intelligence Agency, said, “Armed North Korean spies, including Kim Shin-jo, originally had five targets including the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, (South Korean) Army headquarters, Seoul Prison and Seobinggo North Korean Spy Detention Camp.”
“But judging that the targets were too scattered, the North reduced the group of armed spies to 31 from the originally planned 35, and only targeted the presidential office.”
Through interrogation of Kim, Seoul secured intelligence that the spies originally had the U.S. Embassy as a target but it did not inform Washington of this finding.
Cutler, who was stationed in Seoul at the time, said, “We had no prior intelligence that the embassy was a target and thus took no special security measures in this regard.”