April 04, 2019 13:43
Who is Adrian Hong Chang, the de facto leader of the shadowy North Korean dissident group Free Joseon?
Hong was identified by Spanish authorities as the ringleader of the group’s daredevil raid on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, walking in ahead of his posse under the pretext of a meeting with an embassy official.
Only bits and pieces of information are available about the man, who appears to have ties to the FBI and CIA.
Like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Hong is believed to be 35 years old. According to sources in human rights groups in Washington, he joined the fight for human rights in North Korea when he was studying history at Yale University in 2004.
At the time, a North Korean defector named Kim Hyun-sik was teaching Russian literature, and it was after taking his classes that Hong became aware of North Korea's human rights abuses.
In 2005, Hong set up an activist group called Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) and opened branches in Seoul, Paris and other countries.
The first signs of trouble came in 2006, when Hong was arrested by Chinese police while helping North Korean defectors escape. He was jailed for about a week but then released and banned from China for 10 years. Several defectors said Hong formed close ties with them during those days.
The six others who were named in the embassy raid are in their mid- to late 20s.
Hong left LiNK when he became convinced that bolder action was required in 2009. Around 2011, he signed a consulting contract with the U.S. government and went into Libya after the ouster of former leader Muammar Gaddafi to support the creation of an interim government there. His consulting work often involved the CIA.
There he became convinced that North Korea would need a government-in-exile if the fight against the regime was to succeed. In an op-ed for the San Diego Union-Tribune in January 2016, he wrote, "We must avoid a repeat of Libya post-Gaddafi, where outsiders backed competing factions, benefiting the Islamic State and harming a populace long deserving of peace and liberty."
"We should not presume that South Korea would automatically inherit sovereignty over the North," he added, "While no one in North Korea voted for the Kim family, no Northerner voted for Seoul's [president] either."
Hong's ties to intelligence agencies became apparent in Free Joseon's role in rescuing Kim Jong-nam's son, Han-sol, after his father's assassination in February 2017.
CIA agents reportedly spirited Han-sol to the U.S. as he was transferring from an airport in Taipei to a third country. Hong also handed over material from the Madrid embassy to the FBI, though a statement on the group's website later accused the agency of "betrayal."
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