N.Korean Spymaster Tells of 30 Years in the Dark Arts

  • By Jung Chul-hwan, Lee Beul-chan

    October 12, 2021 13:15

    A North Korean spy worked at Cheong Wa Dae for years before returning to Pyongyang in the early 1990s, a high-profile defector told BBC in an interview broadcast Monday.

    "There was a case where a North Korean agent was dispatched and worked at the presidential office in South Korea and returned to North Korea safely. That was in the early 1990s," said Kim Kuk-song, a former colonel in North Korea's General Bureau of Reconnaissance.

    If the story is true, the spy would have worked under president Roh Tae-woo (1988-1993) or the first democratically elected president, Kim Young-sam (1993-1998). After working there "for five to six years, he came back safely," Kim added.

    Kim Kuk-song

    The National Intelligence Service here has denied the story. The BBC said it "cannot independently verify his claims, but we have managed to verify his identity and, where possible, found corroborating evidence for his allegations."

    Kim worked for North Korean intelligence agencies for 30 years, including five years in the GBR, an agency North Korean leader Kim Jong-un launched in February 2009 to reinforce his power base. "I can tell you that North Korean operatives are playing an active role in various civil society organizations as well as important institutions in South Korea," he said.

    He added spies were dispatched for operations like contacting and recruiting South Korean officials, though it was unusual for an agent to get all the way to the presidential office without being exposed.

    Kim Kuk-song fled North Korea in 2014 and worked for an agency affiliated with the NIS after settling here. He retired a few years ago. "There are many cases where I directed spies to go to South Korea and performed operative missions through them," he insisted. "Many cases."

    He also reveals that current leader Kim Jong-un was already engaged in the regime's terrorist activities at the highest level long before his father Kim Jong-il suddenly died in 2011. The sinking of the South Korean navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of the South Korean island Yeonpyeong in the West Sea in 2010 "would not have happened without orders" from Kim Jong-un.

    Kim junior was "not directly involved in the operations on the Cheonan or Yeonpyeong Island," Kim Kuk-song said, but "this kind of military work is designed and implemented by Kim Jong-un's special orders. It's an achievement."

    Kim Kuk-song was also active in raising slush funds for the ruling family at the Operational Department of the Workers Party and an overseas intelligence agency called Room 35.

    "The production of drugs in Kim Jong-il's North Korea peaked during the 'arduous march,'" he said referring to the deadly famine of the 1990s. "At that time, the Operational Department ran out of revolutionary funds for the supreme leader." But he "brought three foreigners from abroad into North Korea, built a production base in the training center of the 715 Liaison office of the Workers Party, and produced drugs."

    Arms exports also were an important source of funding for the regime. "There were special midget-submarines, semi-submersibles. North Korea was very good at building cutting-edge equipment like this," he said. "Deals were so successful that North Korea's deputy director in Iran would boast about summoning the Iranians to his swimming pool to do business." Weapons and technology were often sold to countries fighting long civil wars.

    Kim Kuk-song decided to flee North Korea in 2014, apparently because of his close relationship with Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un's uncle who was brutally purged the previous year.

    While still in favor he "was given use of a Mercedes-Benz car" by Jang's wife, who was Kim Jong-il's sister, "and allowed to travel abroad freely to raise money for the North Korean leader," he claimed.

    But when he found out about Jang's brutal execution, "I was more than surprised, it was a fatal blow and I was appalled," he said. "I immediately felt a danger to my life. I knew I could no longer exist in North Korea."

    A reformed man, the old spymaster now claims to be fighting for the cause of democracy. "I'll be more active from now on to free my Northern brethren from the grasps of dictatorship and for them to enjoy true freedom," he said. "It's been years since I came here, but North Korea hasn't changed at all. What you need to know is that North Korea hasn't changed 0.01 percent."

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