- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A South Korean man who met with Sen. John Kerry’s fund-raisers to discuss creating a new political group for Korean-Americans was an intelligence agent for his country, raising concerns among some U.S. officials that either he or his government may have tried to influence this fall’s election.

South Korean officials and U.S. officials said that Chung Byung-man, a consular officer in Los Angeles, actually worked for South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

A spokesman for the South Korean Consulate said Mr. Chung was sent home in May amid “speculation” he became involved with the Kerry campaign and Democratic Party through contacts with fund-raiser Rick Yi and that his identity couldn’t be discussed further.

“According to international tradition, we cannot identify, we cannot say who he is, because he is intelligence people,” spokesman Min Ryu said.

The State Department said it has discussed Mr. Chung’s reported activities with the South Korean government and has no reason to doubt Seoul’s representations that he was an intelligence agent.

The department says Mr. Chung’s contacts with donors and fund-raisers, if accurately described in reports, were “inconsistent” with the 1963 Vienna Convention that prohibits visiting foreign officials from interfering in the internal politics and affairs of host countries, a spokesman for its legal-affairs office said.

Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said the Massachusetts senator’s campaign did not know Mr. Chung was an intelligence agent or that Mr. Yi, one of the campaign’s key fund-raisers in the Asian-American community, was meeting with him until it was brought to light.

A South Korean government official in Seoul and two longtime U.S. officials in Washington, both speaking on the condition of anonymity because Mr. Chung’s intelligence work is classified, told the Associated Press that Mr. Chung worked for South Korea’s NIS, the country’s CIA equivalent.

The U.S. officials said Mr. Chung had registered with the Justice Department as a friendly foreign intelligence agent on U.S. soil, and that his activities had raised concern he or his government had tried to influence the fall presidential election through “extracurricular activities.”

The FBI has not begun a formal counterintelligence investigation because Mr. Chung left the United States in May, the officials said.

The NIS dismissed any suggestion the South Korean government tried to influence American politics as a “totally groundless rumor and all fiction.”

South Korea has been frustrated over the deadlock in talks on North Korea’s nuclear activities, while at the same facing the Bush administration’s planned withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from the tense region. One expert said Mr. Chung’s actions were consistent with Seoul’s concerns with the Bush administration, even if he didn’t get a direct order.

“It is certainly possible that these actions would not reflect an order from the top, but rather point to the unaccountability of a rather high-ranking officer to pursue their own agenda or what they perceive to be the agenda of their superiors,” said Nicholas Eberstadt, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

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