Detainees: Kim Guk-gi and Choe Chun-gil



Detentions of foreigners play multiple roles in North Korea’s political system, not only addressing real threats but reminding the public of the anti-system dangers that lurk. Korean speakers are clearly more dangerous than the cast of other not-so-innocents abroad that run afoul of North Korean law (see below for a running tally) and they generally have been treated more harshly. Kenneth Bae had a harder time than his non-Korean speaking American counterparts and we have the under-appreciated case of South Korean Kim Jong-uk, who is serving a life sentence at hard labor.

Last week, two more South Koreans made the list but on harsher terms still: as outright spies. Choe Sang-hun provides the basics at the New York Times. But this one involved the theatre of the press conference that we discussed last week in connection with re-defectors. In an unusual text—reproduced below in its entirety—the state security apparatus goes into great detail on the heinous crimes committed by the two, who are accused not only of proselytizing but being in league with the South’s intelligence service, with the wire strings ultimately pulled from the US.

The statement is a virtual catalogue of the regime’s current state of mind; for those seeking a thorough consideration of the Korean text—which is more expansive than the English KCNA version--Adam Cathcart has done his usually masterful job at exegesis. In addition to luring refugees, the statement by the Ministry of State Security outlines a massive intelligence-gathering and subversion apparatus run out of Dandong, even providing detail on the front shops and restaurants out of which it operates. The effort involves not only the gathering of information—from markets, to munitions factories, to information on the top leadership—but a sophisticated information strategy. This strategy involves the distribution of a wide variety of subversive materials, including in cartoon book form: from religious writings, to human rights materials, to DVDs smearing the leadership. Of particular note: North Korea charges that the detainees were monitoring the physical movements of the top leadership, including trips taken by Kim Jong Il to China in 2007 and 2009. The statement also notes efforts to purchase uniforms that would be used in the case of an invasion or probe. Just coming from the East-West Center, I was also struck by mention of a trip from “a University in Hawaii” group that was portrayed as participating in such plots, showing—as Cathcart suggests—that nominally academic researchers are seen as part of the plotting against the regime.

I wish I could say that I see this one ending with the usual drama of a staged release. But after investing so heavily, this case could drag on, particularly given the lack of channels; South Korea will need to work through China given lack of clarity about where one of the detainees was even taken (both lived in Dandong, and one was seized while in the country, but North Korean agents are certainly not above abduction as the case of the Reverend Kim Dong-shik established). But what is more important is the insight this case provides on the leadership’s current fears. And honestly, are they wrong to be worried?

Previous Posts on the Detainees

  • Detainees and Envoys (April 2013; on the possible North Korean motive of securing visits by high level envoys)


Spies of S. Korean IS Confess to Truth behind Their Espionage against DPRK

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) -- There took place at the People's Palace of Culture on Thursday a press conference with spies of the puppet Intelligence Service of south Korea who were unmasked and arrested while perpetrating espionage against the DPRK under the manipulation of the U.S. and the south Korean puppet group.Present there were reporters at home and those of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan and foreign correspondents. Foreign diplomatic envoys and staff members of embassies of different countries here attended the press conference as observers. Prior to the conference an official of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK spoke. He said that Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil, spies of the puppet Intelligence Service, who were unmasked and arrested while committing espionage are the heinous terrorists who worked hard to do harm to the supreme leadership of the DPRK.He went on:

They zealously took part in the anti-DPRK smear campaign of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet group of traitors to isolate and blockade the DPRK in international arena by labeling it "a country printing counterfeit notes" and "sponsor of terrorism" while pulling it up over its "human rights issue."

They gathered information about the DPRK's party, state and military secrets by leaving no means untried under the manipulation and with the backing of the U.S. and the IS and made desperate efforts to spread bourgeois lifestyle and culture in the DPRK.

Kim Kuk Gi, who worked as an ambush spy in Dandong, China for over decade, stated his case at the conference.

According to his statement, born in Ryongun-dong, Tonggu, Taejon City of south Korea on July 23, 1954, he operated an underground church in Dandong City from Sept. 1, 2003. Since then, he moved his residence several times and lived in Dandong from 2011 to 2014.

In the underground church, he conducted a religious propaganda against the DPRK before dozens of Koreans in China and private travelers. He was bribed by Hwang Jae Yong, department director of the IS who was in charge of anti-DPRK espionage in the DPRK-China border area in Sept. 2005 before providing information to him.

He was registered in the IS with such spy name as "Sin Song Guk" and such number as "No. 101" from July 20, 2006 and acted as a professional spy.

He among other things systematically gathered important state secrets related to the supreme leadership of the DPRK and provided them to the IS. He thus zealously joined in state-sponsored political terrorism of the U.S. and the south Korean authorities against the DPRK.

For example, in Nov. 2009, he gathered and provided important secret information about a railway station which the top leader of the DPRK passed to visit China, photos of its vicinity and his health condition. After receiving an instruction that the top leader might visit China by train in August, 2010, he went to a border area and photographed the process of railway project being undertaken by the Chinese side and the area near railways of the north side. He gathered and offered such information as the date of China visit, time of train and departure and arrival stations and received tens of thousands of U.S. dollars as a reward for it.

He also committed grave crimes by building up a spy network in Dandong, systematically gathered and provided the north's party, state and military secrets and information about happenings there, thereby zealously joining the U.S. and the south Korean authorities in their hostile acts against the DPRK.

He enlisted local persons, private travelers of the north and Chinese residents in the DPRK, more than ten in all, as his agents and built up a spy network. He assigned agents the tasks for gathering information and gave them spy apparatuses, gathered important secrets by way of paying rewards for every piece of information. In this way he systematically provided it to the IS.

The information included tendencies of important cadres of the DPRK and their careers, heads of institutions at all levels and their organizational system, military tendencies, change of military cadres, military bases, information about nuclear weapons, winning over members of the north side's missions in China and those on business tour, price fluctuation, undesirable video clips and photos.

He also committed serious crimes by manufacturing and distributing copies of literature against the DPRK and conducted religious propaganda for the purpose of destabilizing and bringing down the DPRK. Copies of literature included dozens of cartoon books, amusement CD and SD cards defaming the authority of the supreme leadership of the DPRK, leaflets giving impressions that there were taking place anti-government riots in the DPRK and video clips recording testimonies made by "defectors from the north". Cartoon books insulting the supreme leadership of the DPRK were either directly produced by the IS or made by Kim Kuk Gi with the help of computer. He kept many video clips dealing with human rights issues in the north which he obtained from Hwang Jae Yong, and gave them to agents frequently for their distribution in the north.

While guiding the tour of Dandong by the media group, a professional plot-breeding organization against the human rights of the DPRK operating at a university in Hawaii in June-July, 2007, he made religious literature together with them, received hundreds of MP4s containing false data made by them and spread them in the DPRK.

He was involved in the operation of the anti-DPRK underground religious organization which was formed for the purpose of setting up a "religious state" in the DPRK between April 2005 and July 2006.

Many religious organizations are involved in the false propaganda against the DPRK at present.

Crimes of Kim Kuk Gi were manifested in producing counterfeit notes of the north to weaken its economy and bring people's mindset into confusion.

Spy apparatuses and equipment and undesirable e-media used and spread by him against the DPRK with the help of the IS over the past 10-odd years numbered more than 500 of 25 kinds. He also received a colossal amount of money for gathering information and purchasing spy apparatuses and equipment and used them for espionage.

Then questions were put by reporters.

Kim Kuk Gi said that he was hired by the U.S. and the IS to be a spy and committed espionage against the DPRK by premeditated and organized orders and exposed the anti-DPRK espionage bases in Dandong and those related to them.

According to him, there are nearly 30 bases of the IS in Dandong alone.

There are 12 shops, namely "Tongbang Shop", "Kkoma Foodstuff", "Myongsong Foodstuff", "Hyesong Foodstuff", "Ryongchon Shop", "Song-un Shop", "Myongga Foodstuff", "Uri Foodstuff Shop", "Aenicol", "Yethae Goods Shop", "Kanaan Foodstuff Shop", "LG Pyokji Shop". Among restaurants are "Hyonghwawon", "Folk Village", "Tonghae Restaurant", "Kini Restaurant", "Rakwon Rice Cake Restaurant", "Kimbap Chonguk", "Mama Samgyethang", "Jongwabok", "Bean Curd Restaurant", "Kimgane Restaurant", "Changbai Restaurant" and "Vision Restaurant".

Trading enterprises are Taehwa Trade and Tongbang Trade, hospitals are Dandong Saem Hospital (Christian hospital) and hotels are Prima Hotel and Kangbyon Hotel.

He said in detail about names, ages, nationalities, jobs, residences and others of those who are residing in Dandong or frequently visiting it to commit espionage against the DPRK.

By order of the IS in May 2010, he built a secret printing base and printed 100 pieces of counterfeit notes ranging from 5 won to 500 won each in September that year and put them into three bags. He infiltrated them by way of handing them over to other agent through personal belongings box in Shenyang.

Afterwards, he printed and handed over thousands of pieces of counterfeit notes several times by the same method.

In conclusion, he said that his crimes were organized, systematic, conspiratorial state politically-motivated terrorism and acts to overthrow the state. He urged the U.S. and the south Korean authorities to stop at once espionage against the DPRK and the unbiased media of the world to positively respond to it.

Next, Choe Chun Gil, a spy of the IS who committed espionage against the DPRK while residing in Dandong, China, made a statement.

According to him, he was born in Hyoja-dong, Chunchon City, south Korean Kangwon Province on September 19, 1959.

He left south Korea in 2003 and lived in China. Since July, 2011 he was hired by the "section chief surnamed Kim", an agent of the IS, in Shenyang to be his agent going by the name of "Mr. Ko" and committed espionage against the DPRK.

Between August, 2011 and October, 2012 he received instructions from the "section chief surnamed Kim" that he should not miss even the slightest information about the north and should channel all efforts into gathering information about the movements of the top leader of the DPRK, in particular.

By the order for gathering military secrets of the DPRK, he sent radium sample through a resident of the DPRK surnamed Ri in March 2012 and let Kim, a Chinese resident in the DPRK, photograph a double glass bottle carrying major element particles used in the defence field and send it to the IS.

After receiving an order for digging out and obtaining earth around Nyongbyon area between October, 2012 and April 2013, he gave the task to three inhabitants of the north. He dispatched Yun, a Chinese resident in the DPRK, to Nyongbyon several times, let him gather data on munitions factories of the DPRK and leading officials of the factories and photograph aircraft bunkers, airfields and new type tanks.

He disclosed the "Kkotdoeji operation" he learned from an agent of the IS. It is aimed to purchase all things used in the People's Army including military uniforms so that they can be used when airborne and paratroop units of the south infiltrate into the DPRK. He handed over military uniforms of officer and non-commissioned officer of the People's Army and a soldier identification card to an agent through two inhabitants of the DPRK and one Chinese resident in the DPRK.

He also gathered information about tendencies of inhabitants to the DPRK government, market situation and living conditions and reported them to the "section chief surnamed Kim". He fabricated and sent information needed for cooking up "Choe Myong Hak spy case" at the end of October, 2012 in a bid to conduct a smear campaign to do harm to the DPRK and bribed one citizen of the DPRK and one Chinese resident in the DPRK for gathering information which could be used for false propaganda about "human rights" situation in the DPRK.

His crimes included acts of destabilizing the DPRK and luring north's inhabitants to south Korea.

When Yun, Chinese resident in the DPRK, was going back to the DPRK in March, 2012, he gave Yun more than 50 CDs and 2 USBs containing sex films and south Korean movies in a bid to copy and spread them inside the DPRK.

He sent two inhabitants of the north and three Chinese residents in the DPRK who privately toured Dandong to Prof. Kim, priest of south Korea, and a housemaid of Korean nationality in Longjing, China, in a bid to give them religious education. Then, he assigned them task to build an "underground church" in the DPRK.

He lured a woman from the north working in Shenyang in June, 2011 and nine men, 13 women and six children of the inhabitants of the north to south Korea. He did such work five times until 2013 after receiving the order from the IS.

Answering the questions by reporters, Choe Chun Gil disclosed the U.S. and the south Korean authorities' burlesque to label north Korea "a country producing narcotics" and "a country printing counterfeit notes" and their fabrication of "Choe Myong Hak spy case" and "written loyalty of Ri Man Jun."

During the press conference, its attendants watched videos showing photos and statements of witnesses proving the anti-DPRK espionage of the IS spies.

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