North Korea’s Sponsorship of Terrorist Acts, 1996-2007

As I noted here, at the end of  Update  4/24 to my North Korea Freedom Week post, the State Department is now  rumored to be seriously considering removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.  This conflicts with signals  State had sent earlier, and as I noted here,  would probably trigger a rebellion by  conservatives  in Congress.

With Japan’s Prime Minister set to visit Washington next week, unverified gossip holds that the Bush Administration will put pressure on Japan to  soften its objections to removing from that list until North Korea accounts for all suspected Japanese abductees.  Fresh raids on North Korean-linked Chongyron headquarters in Tokyo suggest that Japan is likely to resist American pressure (ht:  The Marmot).  Those raids could reveal new evidence of significance to this question.

Key House staffer Dennis Halpin, the former U.S. Consul General in Pusan and a Korea expert,  works for Ileana Ros Lehtinen, the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Yesterday, Halpin brought up the possibility of State de-listing North Korea, and said  that his boss, anticipating such a move,  had asked the Congressional Research service to freshen its research on this issue in light of that possibility.  That report was released yesterday. 

Here is the entire document.

The CRS report adds much valuable evidence to this discussion.  However, I also found the new CRS report to be both overinclusive and underinclusive.  The majority of the incidents in the CRS report, though useful for providing context,  do not fit my definition of “terrorism,” so I did not quote CRS’s descriptions of  them.  I have quoted only those passages that I believe fit the definition of “terrorism,” at 18 U.S.C. sec. 2331, or acts that fairly contribute to it. 

[A]ctivities that involve violent “¦ or life-threatening acts “¦ that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State and “¦ appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping ….

Since State’s argument, at least as I understood Mr. Halpin to characterize it,  is that “bygones should be bygones,” I included only  incidents occurring since 1996.  For example, I did not consider ordinary border violations to be acts of terrorism, nor did I consider espionage or other non-violent clandestine  means to gather information or spread influence.  I did not include many mentions of WMD programs, except in cases where WMD were proliferated to other known sponsors of terrorism.  Here is what I did include:

  • Assassinations and kidnappings, whenever the original act or the “continuing offense” of abducting or holding the  victim was linked to a political demand;
  • Harboring of terrorists, as  a “continuing offense;” 
  • The provision of WMD technology to  listed sponsors of terrorism or terrorist groups, with the exception of ballistic missiles, which clearly aren’t suitable for terrorist use;
  • Sponsorship or encouragement of others, including South Korean citizens, to commit acts of violence;
  • Penetration of the territory of other nations by armed military personnel under circumstances suggesting that their mission may have included carrying out acts of violence or intimidation;
  • North Korea’s direct terrorist threats through its state media, such as those threatening specific newspapers, political parties, or the people of other countries, when those threats were linked to a particular political motive or goal.  That includes its regular “sea of fire” bellicosity.
  • North Korea’s denial of its previous documented involvement in terrorism, though not in itself a terrorist act,  is a significant factor in the credibility of its decision to renounce terrorism, so I included it in the chronology. 

I note that the CRS missed numerous incidents that merit mention, and I’m going to add updates and links to this post later.  You’ll recognize what I added because those portions will not be blockquoted, and I’ll mark them as “OFK Updates.”  The blockquoted portions that follow are taken directly from the CRS report.

09/1996 — A disabled North Korean submarine was spotted bobbing off the shore near the city of Kangnung. Twenty-six North Korean military personnel landed on the east coast from the submarine that was found to be on an espionage/reconnaissance mission. According to South Korea, eleven of the infiltrators were shot to death by North Korean commandos who were on the submarine; 13 others refused to surrender and were killed in battle with South Korean troops; one was captured and one escaped. During the South Korean hunt for the infiltrators, North Koreans killed 11 South Korean military personnel and civilians and wounded five others.

02/1997 — In Seoul, Lee Han-yong was shot by two hit men believed to be North Korean agents. Nephew of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s former wife, Song Hye-rim, Lee had defected to the South in 1982. The shooting took place three days after Hwang Jang-yop, a high ranking North Korean party official, walked into the South Korean consulate in Beijing for defection to the South. After being in a coma, Lee died 10 days later in a Seoul hospital. The shooting was believed to be a warning to Hwang and other would-be defectors to the South.

02/1997 — North Korea threatened unspecified “retribution” against the South Korean newspaper Chung’ang Ilbo for publishing an account of Kim Il Sung’s death occurring in the course of a heated verbal exchange between Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in July 1994 — a story attributed to Hwang Jang-yop, a North Korean defector via Beijing in February 1997.

10/1996 — Choi Duk Keun, a South Korean diplomat, was murdered in Vladivostok, Russia, following a North Korean threat to “retaliate” for the submarine incident. Circumstantial evidence initially pointed to North Korean complicity in the murder, and later autopsy results showed that poison found in Choi’s body was the same type of poison carried by North Korean infiltrators from the grounded submarine in September.

03/1997 — Japan’s daily newspaper Sankei Shimbun, based on an interview with a former North Korean agent An Myong-chin (who defected to South Korea in September 1993), reported that in November 1977, Megumi Yokota, a 13-year-old Japanese school girl was abducted in Niigata City and taken to North Korea for use as a teaching aide at a North Korean school for spy training. Japanese authorities disclosed that An’s description of the girl matched the profile of a girl reported missing in Niigata, Japan, at that time. Japanese authorities suspect that North Korea may have kidnaped at least nine other Japanese nationals since the mid-1970s.

06/1997 — North Korea’s ruling party organ, Nodong Sinmun, continued to incite “pro-democratic” South Koreans to “overthrow” South Korea’s Kim Young Sam government as “an urgent requirement” in a patriotic, anti-fascist struggle for “independence, democracy, and reunification.

06/1998 — On June 22, a North Korean midget submarine was seized after it was spotted entangled in South Korean fishing nets off the South Korean town of Sokcho, south of the DMZ. When brought to shore three days later, the nine crew aboard were found dead from an apparent group suicide.

07/1998 — A body of a North Korean frogman was found on a beach south of the DMZ, along with paraphernalia suggesting an apparent infiltration/espionage mission.

11/1998 — A North Korean high-speed spy boat got away from pursuers in South Korean waters near the west coast island of Kanghwa, aborting an apparent operation to infiltrate agents into or ferry agents back from the South.

11/1997 — North Korea threatened to “demolish” South Korea’s state-run Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) alleged to be “a mouthpiece of fascist dictatorship. It vowed to “kill everyone involved” in the production of a KBS TV mini-series depicting the life of repression and corruption in North Korean society “without so much as waking up a mouse or a bird” unless the KBS dropped the production forthwith.

12/1998 — In a firefight, the South Korean navy sank a North Korean semisubmersible high-speed boat some 150 kilometers southwest of Pusan. The body of a North Korean frogman was recovered near the site. The vessel was first spotted two kilometers off the port city of You.

03/1999 — Two suspected spy ships of North Korea entered Japanese territorial waters off Noto Peninsula facing the Sea of Japan (a.k.a. the East Sea), disguised as Japanese fishing trawlers (without fishing nets but bristling with an array of antennas)35. They led a small armada of Japanese coast guard and naval ships and aircraft on a high-speed chase before fleeing into the North Korean port of Ch’ongjin, known to be frequented by North Korean spy operations vessels. North Korea denied its involvement in the reported incident.

09/1999 — On September 9, 1999, the South Korean National Intelligence Service announced the arrest of five South Koreans, alleged to be members of a pro-North group called the “Revolutionary Party for People and Democracy. It was reported that the group had been formed in March 1992 to radicalize South Korean college campuses for revolutionary and anti-American activities, getting instructions from Pyongyang through the “Hotmail” web-based e-mail service39 — this despite Pyongyang’s solemn pledge in 1992 to the South not to attempt to sabotage or undermine it. On October 7, 1999, South Korean security authorities identified nearly 20 more members as alleged members of the “Revolutionary Party for People and Democracy.

01/2000 — South Korean Rev. Dong-Shik Kim, a legal resident of Lynchburg, Virginia, was reported missing in Yanji, northeastern China, since January 16, 2000.  Rev. Kim is said to have told his coworkers on that day that he would go out for lunch with two North Korean defectors. Citing the report in Dong-A Ibo, a Seoul daily (February 3, 2000), Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported that those defectors were actually North Korean agents disguised as defectors and that ten people were involved in Rev. Kim’s kidnaping. In October 2000, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reportedly confirmed that Rev. Kim was kidnaped by North Koreans in Yanbian, China, on February 1, 2000. In October 2000, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reportedly confirmed that Rev. Kim was kidnaped by North Koreans in Yanbian, China, on February 1, 2000

03/2000 — On March 9, North Korea rejected a U.S. request that it stop providing shelter to members of the now-defunct Japanese Communist League-Red Army faction, who had hijacked a Japanese airliner to Pyongyang in 1970 (see 03/1970 above), and expel or deport those members still in the North. In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea claimed, “It is the sovereign state’s legitimate right recognized by international law to protect members of the Japanese “˜Red Army’ who sought political asylum in the DPRK, and nobody can put his nose into this issue.46 A State Department counter-terrorism expert was reported as saying that sheltering hijackers remained a serious offence, even if they had not carried out acts of violence for years.

07/2000 — Through its Radio Pyongyang broadcast beamed to South Korea, North Korea threatened to “blow up” (p’okp’a) the conservative mass-circulation daily Choson Ilbo for “slandering our Republic” by claiming that the Korean War was started by a southward invasion of North Korea. North Korea argued that the newspaper’s action, harmful to national unity and reunification, “is not a matter of freedom of the press but of high treason.49

10/2000 — On October 19, North Korea claimed that any South Korean attempt to link the North with the 1983 terrorist bombing in Rangoon, Myanmar, would amount to a provocation against North Korea, “a criminal attempt to brand the North as a “˜sponsor of terrorism.'” Stating that it will never tolerate such an “anti-North diatribe,” at a time when inter-Korean relations are evolving favorably since the North-South summit in June 2000, North Korea repeated its “unequivocal” position that it had nothing to do with the bombing incident52

9/17/01 — During Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi’s summit in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-Il, the North Korea leader admitted that his country had kidnaped 11 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. He said the actions were “unfortunate,” and he apologized. Four abductees were still alive, and six were confirmed dead.

8/8/04 — North Korean agents operating along the Chinese border reportedly kidnapped Ms. Jin Kyung-sook also spelled out Gyeong-suk), a former North Korean refugee and current South Korean passport holder, while retrieving her camcorder along the Tumen River. Ms. Jin’s husband, Mun Joung-hun, was not captured by the North Koreans and disputes the allegation that the couple was spying.

12/8/04 — Japanese officials announce that the results of DNA tests on a box of bones and ashes that North Korea had said contained the remains of Megumi Yokota, a Japanese woman kidnaped by North Korea, proved that the remains belong to a number of other people. “It would be difficult under such circumstances to provide further assistance to North Korea,” says chief cabinet secretary, Hiroyuki Hosoda.

3/2005 — Sometime in March 2005 (exact date unknown) in Longjing City in Jilin Province, Kang Gun (male, age 36) was reportedly seized by North Korean agents in China and taken to Pyongyang. Kang was a defector from North Korea who had become a South Korean citizen. He was responsible for the footage of the Yoduk political prison camp that aired on Japanese television. Because of his involvement in getting information out about North Korea’s political prison camps, it is not known if he is alive or dead.

4/21/05 — An ethnic Korean from China, Yoo Young-hwa, who is an alleged North Korean agent, was sentenced by the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) to 10 years in prison for his role in the abduction of Kim Dong Shik, a missionary who worked with North Korean refugees in China.