SEOUL | The arrest of a North Korean spy disguised as a refugee in South Korea this week highlights Pyongyang’s never-ending espionage activities, despite Seoul’s decade-long reconciliation efforts.
The discovery of a spy ring also reveals the existence of deep-cover or sleeper agents from the communist neighbor even when the two Koreas were engaged in cross-border exchanges backed by two rounds of summits between their leaders, South Korean officials said Thursday.
“There had been suspicion that spies may mingle with North Korean defectors,” Kim Kyung-soo, a senior prosecutor, told reporters. “The suspicions have turned into reality for the first time with this case.”
Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee called on the intelligence agency to step up operations.
“This case shows that North Korea has never changed and is still stepping up its policy of trying to communize the South and spreading deep into our society,” Mr. Lee said.
Authorities said they apprehended a female North Korean spy posing as a defector, who had been handing over sensitive military information from the South to her communist homeland.
Won Jong Hwa, 35, is suspected of collecting information including photographs and locations of key military installations and weapons systems, partly by offering sexual favors to military officers.
One of her lovers, identified as a 26-year-old army captain, was detained for offering classified information to Mrs. Won even after he found out she was a North Korean spy.
Mrs. Won handed over the information to North Korean agents in China. She delivered to North Korean intelligence agents there the name cards of more than 100 South Korean officers, whose e-mail accounts are said to have been hacked into from China.
Mrs. Won was first dispatched to China, where she was commissioned to kidnap North Korean refugee-seekers in China for repatriation, and South Korean businessmen to the North.
In a bid to reach Seoul, Mrs. Won married a South Korean worker in China, disguising herself as a Korean resident. She divorced her husband immediately after entering the South in October 2001 and falsely reported to Seoul’s authorities that she was a defector from the North, according to investigators.
In the South, Mrs. Won was allowed to give anti-communist lectures to the military, and she used the occasions to make contact with army officers. She engaged in romantic relationships with several South Korean officers to get military information.
Her mission also included locating Hwang Jang Yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to take asylum in Seoul, and other anti-communist activists in the South, and possibly assassinate them.
Mr. Hwang, who had served as secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party in charge of foreign policy, has led a campaign against the communist regime in Pyongyang since his defection to Seoul in 1997.
South Korean officials suspect other spies are mixed with North Korean defectors. Some 14,000 North Koreans have resettled in the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, with the number growing rapidly in recent years.