U.S. Special Unit to Spy on N.Korea

  • By Lee Yong-soo, Cho Yi-jun

    May 08, 2017 10:58

    The U.S. Forces Korea will set up a unit later this year that specializes in gathering human intelligence information from the North.

    Work is also in progress to create an organization within the U.S. government that will handle only North Korean intelligence. The Central Intelligence Agency has already picked staff from the Director of National Intelligence and National Security Council for a separate department to handle the data.

    According to the U.S. Eighth Army newsletter, the 524th Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion will be set up in October, when the 2018 fiscal year begins.

    Its mission will be to gather human intelligence and engage in counter-espionage operations against North Korea with the support of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.

    It will gather intelligence by infiltrating operatives across the heavily armed inter-Korean border or using informants in the North.

    USFK soldiers take part in a tactical communication drill in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province in September last year. /Courtesy of the Eighth U.S. Army

    Currently the 532nd MI Battalion is in charge of human intelligence, but it rarely involves clandestine activities.

    A government official here said, "The USFK operates a huge arsenal of weapons and equipment to monitor and spy on North Korea, but its human intelligence capability has been relatively weak, which makes it difficult to gather and analyze accurate information about the North. It looks like there was a realization of the importance of bolstering it."

    The U.S. government has had some trouble making accurate assessments of North Korea's nuclear and missile strengths since leader Kim Jong-un came power. It only has a vague estimate of the North's progress in miniaturizing nuclear weapons and how far it has advanced toward building a warhead that can re-enter the atmosphere on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

    One military source said, "Gathering intelligence through wiretapping and satellite imagery has its limitations, so the missing pieces of the puzzle must be solved through human intelligence."

    Meanwhile, Voice of America reported Saturday that U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy tabled a bill last month to authorize the integration of bodies handling North Korean intelligence.

    The bill authorizes the U.S. Director of National Intelligence to create an "integrated cell" to monitor illicit North Korean activities and gather information on how effectively the North is adhering to UN Security Council resolutions.

    It will be capable of sounding the alarm on looming North Korean nuclear and missile provocations and other activities that violate UN sanctions.

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