Former hostage in North claims he was a spyOne of the three Korean-American hostages freed by Pyongyang ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year said he worked as a spy for Seoul and Washington while in North Korea in an interview with NK News on Monday.
Kim Dong-chul, a pastor and naturalized U.S. citizen, told the outlet that the confession he gave to the North Koreans following his capture in the city of Rason in 2015 was largely true, in that he had passed on military and political secrets to U.S. and South Korean intelligence since 2009.
During his trial by North Korea’s Supreme Court, according to state media reports, Kim admitted he had “offered information on [the North’s] party, state and military affairs to the South Korean puppet regime, which are tantamount to state-subversive plots and espionage.”
The court then sentenced him to a decade of hard labor at a prison camp.
Kim added that in addition to his cooperation with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), he also served as an asset to the U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), passing on what he said was “very significant” information.
Asking him to be an “antenna” for the spy agencies in North Korea, he was reportedly told by one CIA operative that he “could do something for [his] homeland” ? the United States ? by serving it in an intelligence-gathering capacity.
Before his imprisonment by the North’s authorities, the former detainee used to operate a business in North Korea’s Rason Special Economic Zone, located in the country’s northeast, with 2.6 million dollars he had amassed in the U.S. after moving there in the 1980s. Little was known publicly of his detention in the North until authorities told a CNN news crew visiting Pyongyang in January 2016 that they were holding him in custody.
He told the news crew in an interview that he had spied on behalf of “conservative elements” in South Korea, who he claimed “injected [into him] hatred toward North Korea.”
While media reports said his confessions while in custody appeared to be forced, his conversation with NK News on Monday reveals that there may have been reason for Pyongyang to suspect his actions as espionage.
Kim said the spy agencies asked him for information on various types of intelligence on the North’s military and nuclear program, providing him with equipment like wiretaps and a watch containing a hidden camera, though he said the most important information was not obtainable with such technology.
The leaked information that likely led to his arrest, he recalled, were close-up photos of a suspicious vessel harbored at Rajin port requested by the CIA.
After his capture, officials subjected him to harsh interrogation, involving torture that he said paralyzed parts of his body permanently. The suffering forced him to surrender the names of local informants and officials who helped him, who he said were probably executed.
While languishing away under punitive conditions in a labor camp, the North eventually resolved to release him, along with two other Americans, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, who were lecturers at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology until their detention in 2017, in a sign of goodwill ahead of its engagement with Washington.
Returning to the U.S. from Pyongyang with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the trio was greeted personally by President Donald Trump, who paraded their release as a major achievement and a sign of a new beginning with North Korea.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [email@example.com]
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