North Korea And Counter Intelligence By Rotimi Fabiyi
North Korea, called officially called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK (Strong: 1956) is a country in Asia that has a total land area of 120,540km2 (Wikipedia: 2016 A) and an estimated population of 25 million people in 2014 from 11.4 million people in 1960 (Trading Economics: 2015). The country North Korea with another present-day country named South Korea were once a single unified country known as Korean Empire since the 14th Century AD but its problem started in 1910 when Japan invaded and occupied it by force of arms and remained on its soil till 1945 when Soviet Union and United States of America flushed out the last of the Japanese occupiers as part of the military operations of World War II (Strong: 1956). The northern part of the Korean Empire was then occupied by Soviet Union while the southern part of the empire was occupied by USA (Kohl and Kim: 2006).
By May 1948, the USA- supported, anti-communist Dr. Syngman Rhee-led South Korea declared itself a sovereign country while the Soviet Union-supported, staunch communist Kim Sung Il-led North Korea followed suit by declaring itself a sovereign country in September 1948 (Armstrong: 2013). Differences in political, economic and social ideologies between the 2 countries (North Korea is communist while South Korea is capitalist) and the suspicion that the USA-backed Dr. Syngman Rhee was planning to use South Korean Army to invade North Korea (and establish a unified country under the USA-type of capitalism) would later make North Korea invade South Korea in 1950 with the aim of turning the whole of the Korean Peninsula into a unified country under the Soviet Union-type of communism (Cummings: 1997). When this Korean Civil War ended in 1953 (with over 1 million soldiers and civilians dead), neither of the 2 countries (North Korea and South Korea) was able to decisively defeat the other and the initial land boundaries between the 2 countries remained approximately the same after the internecine war and the situation remains the same till date with North Korea continuing its practice of communism as a form of government while South Korea continues its practice of capitalism as a form of government (Jager: 2013).
Before discussing the topic ‘North Korea And Counterintelligence”, it is of utmost importance to explain the term “counterintelligence”. One source defines counterintelligence as the organized activity of an intelligence service designed to block an enemy’s sources of information, to deceive the enemy, to prevent sabotage, and to gather political and military information (Merriam-Webster: 2015) while another source defines it as the information gathered and activities conducted to protect an entity (organization, country, etc) against espionage, sabotage, assassinations or other intelligence activities conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations or persons (Wikipedia: 2016 B).
Categories of counterintelligence include
(a) Collective counterintelligence which means the gaining of information about an opponent’s intelligence collection capabilities
(b) Defensive counterintelligence which means the thwarting of efforts by hostile intelligence services to penetrate an entity
(c) Offensive counterintelligence which is the attempt to manipulate one’s intelligence opponents’ agents (after identifying the efforts of the opponents against one’s intelligence system) into double agents or by feeding them false information
(Lowenthal:2003, Olson: 2007, Copeland: 1978).
Present day intelligence and counterintelligence in North Korea are targeted primarily at South Korea, USA, and Japan (Federation of American Scientists: 2015, Carlisle: 2004).The 3 counterintelligence agencies in North Korea are
(a)The Ministry of State Security, MSS which is an autonomous agency of the country’s government reporting directly to the country’s ruler and which has as part of its functions the investigation of cases of domestic espionage, the repatriation of defectors, the conduction of counter-espionage activities, and the operation of North Korean prison camps (Kang: 2016, Federation of American Scientists: 2015).
(b) The United Front Department, UFD which uses offensive counterintelligence to spread revolutionary indoctrination throughout South Korea, provoke and promote anti-American sentiments among South Koreans, launch disguised and bogus peace offensives against South Korea, induce internal discord within South Korean society so as to disintegrate its capitalist system, and lastly to create favourable international environment to incite revolution in South Korea (Rouse and Friedman: 2016, Federation of American Scientists: 2015)
(c) The 225th Bureau which is a special North Korean counterintelligence agency responsible for the establishment of underground political activities focused on fomenting unrest and revolution in South Korea and also for launching (as a form of both collective counterintelligence and offensive counterintelligence) cyber attacks on countries and international organizations it suspects of gathering (or supporting others to gather) intelligence on North Korea (Fox-Brewster: 2014, Federation of American Scientists: 2015).
Specific counterintelligence efforts of North Korea that were successful to large extents are numerous. One was the misinformation deliberately spread by North Korean counterintelligence around South Korea on the eve of the 1950 Korean War, suggesting that North Korea is militarily under-equipped, ill-trained and therefore incapable of militarily invading South Korea which thought itself comparably militarily stronger mainly because of the USA soldiers present on its territory. This deliberate misinformation, as a form of extensive North Korean offensive counterintelligence, was so strong in South Korea that General W.L. Roberts (the head of the US Korean Military Advisory Group, KMAG which was the body of American soldiers stationed in South Korea to train South Korean soldiers) openly stated that North Korean soldiers dared not attack South Korea and even if they tried, they will be “… target practice …” for South Korean soldiers (Cummings: 2005).
When the 100,000 North Korean soldiers (secretly trained by World War II-toughened Soviet Union soldiers and secretly but heavily armed with 274 armoured tanks, 200 artillery pieces, 110 bomber planes, 150 fighters planes, etc) eventually invaded South Korea on 25th June, 1950, it took just 5 days for South Korea’s 98,000 soldiers (that had no tanks and no fighter planes) to be reduced to 22,000 soldiers by the heavily-armed and well-trained invading North Korean soldiers (Wikipedia: 2016 C) and the whole South Korea would have been overrun in a matter of days had it not been for the United Nations Peace Keeping Force (led by USA) that promptly came to its (South Korea’s) rescue (Stokesbury: 1990).
In other words, North Korea was able to successfully feed South Korea a lot of false information (as a form of offensive counterintelligence) about its (North Korea’s) military preparedness in 1950, an act which led the South Koreans down the road to complacency and gave them a false sense of security that nearly ended in total disaster for the country (i.e South Korea).
Another counterintelligence effort of North Korea is the way its uses its nuclear programme to blackmail its neighbours and even world powers to get free aid especially in food, fuel and other materials it needs but could not produce because of its retrogressive economy. The economy of North Korea started to stagnate in the 1980s, began its long decline in 1987 and almost completely collapsed after the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991 (the dissolution of Soviet Union directly led to the sudden cessation of Soviet Union aid to North Korea) (Wikipedia: 2016 A).
Unable to create an agricultural or industrial system that could stabilize the economy in so short a period of time, then North Korea ruler Kim Il-Sung embarked on a hurried nuclear weapons development programme which he knew would bring the attention of world powers on him (Kihl and Kim: 2005). When the world powers tried to dissuade him from continuing the nuclear weapons programme (which he knew they would do), he then promptly negotiated an agreement of abstention with them in exchange for badly needed aid of food, fuels etc (Dyer: 2007). Even when he died in 1994 and was replaced as North Korean ruler by his son Kim Jong-Il (who himself died in 2011 and was likewise succeeded by his son Kim Jong-Un as North Korean ruler), the same nuclear brinkmanship was continually utilized by the country as the main way of getting food and fuel aid and even diplomatic and political leverage from world powers.
In other words, North Korea uses counterintelligence to instill fear and apprehension into its neighbours and particularly Western world powers (either by testing some of its low-level nuclear bombs or even the highly-explosive hydrogen bomb) to get the aid it desperately needs though a source (Evans: 2007) insists that North Korea sold its nuclear technologies and missile technologies to Iran to enable it (Iran) develop its own domestic missile technologies but this clearly is another form of deliberate misinformation by North Korean counterintelligence to give the impression of being a strong country because factual evidence has proved that Iran’s nuclear know-how was sold to it by the notorious Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan (Wikipedia: 2016 D, Evans: 2007), not by North Korea.
A third example of specific counterintelligence effort of North Korea is the way the country gives the world the impression that China is not important to it and the way China likewise gives the impression that North Korea is not really an important country to it. Immediately after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in 2013, China started giving the international community the impression that it is tired of its hitherto-close relationship with North Korea and even started getting closer (both diplomatically and in terms of trade) to South Korea so much that China promptly became South Korea’s biggest trading partner while South Korea became China’s third largest trading partner even though North Korea sees South Korea till today as its arch-enemy (Ottens: 2014). This development has made many watchers of China-North Korea diplomatic relationship wrongly jump to conclusions that China is on the path to totally cut off ties with North Korea (Feng: 2014) but a source (Volodzko: 2015) has made it clear that China and North Korea are too important to each other to end their relationship anytime soon.
Contrary to what many watchers of China-North Korea relationship think, the relationship between the 2 countries is actually a matter of “security calculations”, not a matter of ideology, because North Korea is important to China as a buffer state against Western influence (the same way Soviet Union used Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe as buffer states against Western influence). Also to be noted is the fact that North Korea gets most of its oil and gas from China, 57 percent of North Korean imports are from China, 42 percent of North Korea exports go to China, half of China’s foreign aid go to North Korea, and the 1961 Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid And Cooperation Friendship Treaty (which promises Chinese military aid to North Korea in the event of an attack) was again re-signed in 2001 and is now valid till 2021 (Volodzko: 2015). North Korea itself is smart enough to know that China will never cut off the aid it gives it (North Korea) because doing this will lead to precipitate economic and societal collapse of North Korea which will in turn lead to a flood of North Korean refugees into China’s Manchuria District, and also the expected stationing of USA soldiers along China’s borders with a Korea that would be unified under South Korea’s present capitalist system (Person: 2016).
In other words, China and particularly North Korea have been playing and are still playing a game of superior deception as a form of counterintelligence in which China pretends to get annoyed with North Korea in order to trade its annoyance with North Korea for political and even economic concessions elsewhere (Volodzko: 2015, Ottens: 2014) while still simultaneously protecting the interest and ensuring the survival of North Korea because its (North Korea’s) collapse will lead to humanitarian refugee problem in China and an even a more dangerous security problem along its borders with North Korea; North Korea’s periodic pretenses that it does not give a damn about China or any of its policies are all falsities and play-acting to deceive the world into thinking otherwise.
In conclusion, North Korean counterintelligence system is effective, efficient and well-organized and it is worthy of being studied. Though a country with a tottering economy (and therefore having low funds for running the country), North Korea has been able to remain afloat in the sea of economic and diplomatic survival because of its extensive use of superlative counterintelligence (which involves brinkmanship, deception, bluffing, propaganda, etc) to get what it wants from world powers