NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
A secret North Korean document obtained by Western intelligence states that dictator Kim Jong-il conceived and directed a program to kidnap foreigners and bring them to his communist country to force them to become spies against their homelands, The Washington Times has learned.
Diplomatic sources familiar with the discovery, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said the recently obtained document for the first time provides details on how and why Kim, who died in 2012, directed a covert spy unit in the 1970s called the Investigation Department that kidnapped foreign nationals and brought them to North Korea.
The Investigative Department, part of the ruling communist Korean Workers Party Central Committee, carried out several dozen selective kidnappings and used the abducted foreigners for training its intelligence operatives, and to be dispatched overseas in foreign spy operations and propaganda activities, including film production, the document indicates.
The document, believed to have been produced within the past several years as part of a historical archive, is regarded by authorities as a classified North Korean government report, the sources said.
It is considered authoritative because of its origin and the importance within the North Korean system of precisely recording the words of supreme leaders, they added.
One source familiar with the document said there are no indications the report is a forgery.
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According to translated portions obtained by Inside the Ring, Kim met with the chief of the investigation department, which is known by its Korean acronym “Josabu,” on Sept. 29, 1977, and Oct. 7, 1977. During the meeting, he spelled out plans to use people from overseas in intelligence work.
Kim, who was succeeded in power by his son Kim Jong-un, told the intelligence chief and a group of party officials that forcibly training foreign nationals in their 20s for five to seven years in North Korea would produce valuable intelligence agents who would be useful until the age of 60, the document stated.
He then ordered spy teams dispatched to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe to secretly lure young men and women into supporting the regime. A special focus was placed on attractive women.
Kim stated that targets of those brought to North Korea should include people who were loners or orphans. The abductions were to be carried out secretly using methods that could not be traced to Pyongyang’s agents, according to the document.
Among those kidnapped by the North Koreans after the 1977 orders was 13-year-old Japanese schoolgirl Megumi Yakota, who disappeared from Japan in 1977. She was taken to North Korea, where she spent the rest of her life in captivity and, according to the North Korean government, eventually died in the communist state.
On Aug. 25, 1977, Kim ordered the investigation department to set up a covert Hong Kong unit devoted to inviting South Korean film actresses and the offspring of high-ranking South Korean officials to visit Hong Kong, the document states.
The objective of the covert group was to befriend selected people as targets and use them to obtain invitations to South Korea, where North Korean agents could produce films under cover.
That appears to be the motive behind the kidnappings in 1978 of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her director husband, Shin Sang-ok. The couple were taken to North Korea, where it was hoped they would help the regime produce propaganda films. They escaped in 1986 during a visit to Vienna.
In October 1978, according to the document, Kim ordered his intelligence operatives to persuade the abducted foreign nationals to settle in North Korea. The investigative department arranged for the abductees to live in special guest houses. It was hoped they would reside comfortably, in contrast to the harsh living conditions for most North Koreans.
The kidnappings have long been known, but Kim’s role in the program has been unclear.
On Sept. 17, 2002, after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with Kim in Pyongyang, the North Korean leader admitted that his intelligence services carried out the abductions of 11 Japanese. The admission and apology were part of a bid to obtain Japanese aid.
According to North Korea’s official statement at the time, Pyongyang asserted that the kidnappings were carried out without Kim’s knowledge or approval.
The recently obtained document contradicts that statement.
Ambassador Jang Il-hun, deputy chief of North Korea’s mission to the United Nations, denied that Kim was involved in the kidnapping operations.
“The abduction of Japanese nationals in 1970s was an act of individual heroism conducted by some people in the intelligence community who sought fame and reputation by such acts,” Mr. Jang told Inside the Ring.
Mr. Jang said the rogue operatives were motivated by “indignation” over Japan’s refusal to apologize for abuses during Tokyo’s rule over the Korean Peninsula in the early 1900s.
“In no way was the government of the DPRK involved in the abduction case, to say nothing of our respected Supreme Leader Chairman Kim Jong-il,” he said in a statement, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “This is the truth.”
Mr. Jang added that “we had so many Koreans who were repatriated from Japan, there was no need for our government to use the Japanese nationals for any government purpose.”
The total number of foreigners abducted during the intelligence operations of the 1970s and 1980s is not known but has been estimated to be several dozen. They included nationals from China, Malaysia, Lebanon, France and Italy, in addition to those from Japan and South Korea.
In Japan, the government has elevated the issue of resolving cases of at least 17 missing Japanese to a national priority.
Japanese and North Korean officials held talks on the issue in October. Japan earlier agreed to lift some sanctions on Pyongyang if the regime fully investigates outstanding cases of the missing nationals.
Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said the North Korean leadership has been involved in abductions since 1950.
“The abduction of South Korean nationals began with the order issued by Kim Il-sung on June 28, 1950,” Mr. Scarlatoiu said. “While this practice was initiated by the founder of the Kim dynasty, we also knew that his son, Kim Jong-il, was at the top of the chain of command carrying out the abduction of South Korean and foreign nationals.”
Mr. Scarlatoiu said current leader Kim Jong-un’s claim power is “based entirely on his father’s and grandfather’s legacy. We now have further proof that criminal practices are at the heart of that legacy.”
Bruce Bechtol, a North Korea analyst formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he doubts the North will investigate the cases of the missing.
“The whole idea of an ‘investigation’ is a sham,” Mr. Bechtol, a professor at Angelo State University, said in an email.
“The North Koreans obviously kidnapped several Japanese nationals,” he said. “Now I believe the debate in the North Korean ruling infrastructure will be whether or not to execute them and send the remains back, or to simply send those who are still alive back. Of course, all of this will depend on how much money the Japanese government offers to the government of the DPRK.”
Disclosures in the document bolster the findings of a United Nations human rights report based on testimony of defectors and issued in February. The U.N. report found widespread “crimes against humanity” committed by the North Korean regime, including abductions linked to the country’s supreme leader.
North Korea “used its land, naval and intelligence forces to conduct abductions and arrests,” the report said. “Operations were approved at the level of the supreme leader. The vast majority of victims were forcibly disappeared to gain labor and other skills for the state.”
The issue of North Korea’s human rights abuses was discussed in a letter signed by 10 nations’ representatives on the 15-member U.N. Security Council last week. The letter urged the council to include the issue on its agenda. China and Russia in the past have vetoed measures for council meetings that were opposed by North Korea.
The U.N. General Assembly will vote later this month on a resolution that calls for referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court over the rights abuses.
Further evidence of North Korean interest in Western films also has surfaced. Hackers using techniques linked to North Korean cyberattacks on South Korea hacked Sony Pictures networks and stole large amounts of data, Reuters reported last week.
The cyberattack was carried out Nov. 24, one month before the release of Sony’s film “The Interview,” a comedy that has two American journalists tasked by the CIA to kill current leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea has said release of the film would be an “act of war.”