A defector from the secretive nation claims that there are still a large number of spies in operation.
A high ranking defector, Kang Myong-do, claims that spies for North Korea operate around the world, including in the United States. He told CNN that there may be hundreds of spies in the U.S. at any given moment.
Recruitment in the U.S.
One of the tactics they use is to try and recruit Korean-Americans to the cause. “There are three different tactics they use,” Kang said. “First is to give them free visas to North Korea, second, to give them access to do business and make money there and third, they use women to entice them. This tactic has been widely used since the ’80s.”
Kang claims to have worked in the Unification Development Division back in 1984, tasked with sending spies to the U.S., South Korea and Japan. He says that the division still exists today.
Spies are of paramount importance to Kim Jong-un’s regime, he says. Another ex-spy named Kim Dong-shik agrees. “North Korea treats them very well. Spies are treated on the same level as generals, their education is to a similar high level. So it’s fair to say North Korea considers spies as very important,” said Kim.
Former spy speaks out
Kim Dong-shik claims that his job was to infiltrate South Korea and carry out missions on behalf of North Korea’s Kim regime. He was trained from an early age, plucked from high-school and sent to a special university for four years, where he learned how to scuba dive, shoot, rig explosives and perform martial arts.
“When I was told I was going to be a spy… I felt stunned,” Kim said. “There have been many accidents in the past with spies. A lot who were sent to South Korea were killed, so I assumed I’d die.”
Kim claimed that as well as undergoing physical training, the psychological preparation was crucial. “We were taught to be ready to die for the Kim regime and if caught, to make sure we were not taken alive,” he said.
Family executed after arrest in South Korea
He claims to have been shot by South Korean authorities in 1995, and was therefore unable to commit suicide. Kim claims that his family in North Korea were executed as punishment.
The first mission that Kim was told to carry out in South Korea involved bringing a high-ranking agent called Lee, who had been working in the South for a long time, back to the North. The second mission involved recruiting South Koreans who had anti-government sentiments, and who may have considered working for the interests of the North.
Methods of communication were fairly basic back then, involving short-wave radio. A radio program broadcast from Pyongyang featured an anchor reading a series of numbers, which Kim claims was a code that would tell him what his next mission would be. In 1987 the world realized that North Korean spies maintained an international presence when one of their number was arrested in Bahrain, accused of bombing a Korean Air flight and killing 115 people.
The eternal mystery of North Korea continues to intrigue
North Korea maintains a constant presence in world media, for a number of reasons. Recent coverage has focused on human rights abuses and the alleged executions of officials as part of a purge sanctioned by Kim Jong-un. Rumors of grisly executions involving anti-aircraft guns and flamethrowers only add to the prevailing image of Kim as a mentally unstable despot.
The international reputation of the Kim regime also suffers due to the continued publication of fake images purporting to show major advances in weapons technology. Perhaps Kim hopes to strengthen his hand in international relations by fooling the world into thinking that North Korea possesses more powerful weapons systems than it actually does, but the publication of obvious fakes does nothing to improve the reputation of the regime.
This week North Korea published a series of photos which reportedly showed a sophisticated missile being launched from a submarine. Western experts quickly identified that the images had been doctored, because the shadow of the missile was not in the right place.
More importantly, Kim stands accused of carrying out systemic human rights abuses at a series of camps for political prisoners. Defectors tell of torture and starvation of dissenting citizens.
The longevity of the Kim regime is sometimes attributed to the strict control that the family exercises over the information that enters and leaves the country. For that same reason, reports from defectors such as the aforementioned ex-spies are hard to verify, and it is hard to be sure of what exactly is happening inside one of the world’s most secretive nations.