Archive for The Fifth Column

Breaking: Leftist S. Korean lawmaker gets 12-year sentence for pro-N. Korean sabotage plot

Yonhap is just reporting that a court in Suwon has handed down a 12-year sentence against leftist fringe lawmaker Lee Seok-Ki. Ouch. That’s a very tough sentence for South Korea, whose judicial system compensates for its loose rules of evidence (and the error rate that implies) with light and fluffy sentencing. When I was an Army Judge Advocate serving in Korea, I saw people get less than that for murder. On the other hand, prison conditions in South Korea are, shall we say, spartan.

For background on the strange case of Lee Seok-Ki, click here and here. I’m the last one to defend the fundamental fairness of South Korea’s legal system, but based on the recordings that were played in court, and the defense’s shifting explanations for the incriminating words caught on tape, it doesn’t sound like any miscarriage of justice was done here. Given the outrageous violence of what Lee and his confederates were convicted of, twelve years is probably light by U.S. standards today, and they’d stand a good chance of serving it at Supermax.

This is not the only time in recent years that South Korean courts have convicted a cell of North Koreans spies, and individual arrests have become fairly routine.

Most people in South Korea will barely notice this because of a horrible tragedy at a resort in Gyeongju, that may have killed dozens of young South Koreans who were celebrating their acceptance into a university. Keep them, and their families, in your thoughts.

Update: Here’s a screenshot I took a few months ago from Urimijokkiri, North Korea’s analogue to Der Stürmer.

NK loves Lee Seok Ki, from Uriminzokkiri

One thing that absolutely no one will say about Lee Seok-Ki is, “Him? Really? He’s the last guy I’d have suspected of something like this!”

In South Korea, a political realignment

When President Park speaks of reunification as a “jackpot,” she is seizing an issue that the left had “owned” for at least a dozen years. Ten years ago, the left could draw crowds of candle-carrying thirty-somethings to swoon about reunification, at least in the abstract. The dream was qualified, complicated, and hopelessly unrealistic, but it intoxicated them. The DMZ would have become a “peace park,”* the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea would have become a “peace zone,” and both systems would have evolved toward some sort of neutral confederation. (What a long, strange trip!) In concrete terms, however, the Roh Administration wasn’t so eager for reunification. It certainly didn’t want North Korean people, thousands of whom had a far better grasp on the practical distinctions between the two systems. It didn’t even seem to want North Korea itself, except as a tourist or investment venue, and more generally as a money pit. Above all, it avoided challenging the North’s political system. And as I noted here, it’s all so 2003 now.

You could say that the confederation was already taking shape in some disturbing ways. Maybe the most disturbing was the Roh administration’s willingness to suppress speech that Pyongyang objected to. It muzzled the press and tried to censor reporting critical of North Korea. Activists who protested visiting North Korean officials were followed by police, stopped and frisked, confined to their homes, or had pamphlets seized from them. The political output of the subsidized South Korean entertainment industry was almost monolithically anti-American and sympathetic to North Korea. Government officials reportedly demanded changes to the script of a play, written and produced by a North Korean refugee, and set in a North Korean concentration camp. It arrested activists who attempted to launch leaflet balloons into North Korea. A 2005 survey found that “[n]ineteen percent of [North Korean] escapees who had criticized the South Korean government, the North Korean regime, or Kim Jong Il … received a warning or threat by administration officials.”

Some of the censorship was vicarious or passive. The left-wing government gave financial subsidies to pro-North Korean unions and “civic groups” that engaged in violent protests against the U.S. military presence. In 2005, shortly after Radio Free North Korea began broadcasting, repeated anonymous threats forced its landlord to evict it from its leased space. (With the election of Lee Myung Bak, the end of the subsidies, and a sexual assault scandal, the KCTU’s street power waned.) As late as 2011, leftist union goons disrupted a North Korean human rights film festival in Seoul. There must be many cases of speech that was chilled by these tactics that we’ll never know about. Certainly it had an impact in shaping South Korean perceptions about North Koreans and reunification.

The consequence of this is that South Koreans, despite their physical and cultural proximity to North Korea, are almost a decade behind the rest of the world in their understanding of how most North Koreans really live. It has been a slow awakening, but since 2008, there has been a modest shift in how South Korean society views North Koreans. Cha In-Pyo was already a big star in South Korea that year, when he starred in “Crossing,” a story about a North Korean refugee and his son. The Chosun Ilbo produced “On the Border,” a brave and ground-breaking series of documentaries about North Korean refugees and smugglers, and how they were changing their homeland. The 2012 film “48Mportrayed the wretchedness of life inside North Korea and the brutality of its regime’s measures to prevent escape. Today, “On My Way to Meet You” is a popular variety show featuring fetching North Korean women who sometimes describe their lives in the North or comment on newsworthy events there. This is a change for the better, but with the latter exception, none of these works were popular or had a great cultural impact. More South Koreans still see North Koreans as a ravenous horde of ignorant bumpkins than as human beings and fellow Koreans.

A few die-hards still hold out on ideological islands of their own creation. One of these, Daegu University law professor Yoon Jae-man, recently tweeted, “I hate these North Korea defectors more than pro-Japanese groups. North Korean defectors, who once conspired to destroy liberal democracy, should be put to death just like France killed people who engaged with the Nazis.” Last year, former North Korean propaganda star Lim Soo-Kyung, now a Democratic Party lawmaker, unloaded a drunken tirade on a North Korean refugee in Seoul, saying that “[d]efectors who have no roots should just shut their mouths and live quietly,” and “should not talk back to a Republic of Korea National Assembly lawmaker.” Referring to a fellow lawmaker and human rights activist, Lim said, “You work with that Ha Tae Kyung right, on that North Korean human rights stuff? Ha Tae Kyung that turncoat I’m going to kill him with my own bare hands.”  Lim isn’t part of any fringe party. She represents the “mainstream” Democratic Party (DP), which is now trying to present a more moderate image.

And lately, it seems that another North Korean spy is unmasked in the South every month.

~  ~  ~

It was inevitable that shifts in the information landscape and public opinion would eventually force political changes, even in South Korea’s hyper-polarized and doctrinaire environment. The DP, the successor to Roh’s left-wing Uri Party, is now shifting toward the center to avoid being tagged as soft on North Korea. A few years ago, there would have been no need to worry about that.

The immediate catalyst for the shift was the announcement by politician Ahn Cheol-Soo that he’s forming a third party to compete in elections across South Korea. This has sown panic on the left. The Hankyoreh, its flagship newspaper, recently called the DP “pathetic,” and the DP leadership admits that it is “compet[ing] with Ahn in political innovation” as Ahn targets the DP’s base in Cheolla, emphasizing local autonomy rather than old-fashioned leftist ideology. Ahn flirted with running for mayor of Seoul — a position currently held by the DP — but later denied any interest in the job. More worrisome for the DP are recent polls suggesting that it is “surrendering second place to” Ahn’s party. If that is true, it is almost certainly a short-lived novelty reaction to a new brand. The real danger for the DP is that Ahn’s party will act as a spoiler against its candidates. That is forcing the DP, whose ranks still contain some extreme pro-North Korean ideologues, to back away from extreme views that, not so long ago, were dominant within the ranks of the old Uri Party.

Within weeks of Ahn’s announcement, the DP’s leader, Kim Han-Gill, promised to help create a North Korea policy based on “national unity.” A majority of DP lawmakers polled by the Joongang Ilbo agreed that “its North Korea policy should be upgraded to reflect the times and the changes in the public’s perspective.” Next, Kim did a photo op at a monument to service members killed by the North Koreans on Yeonpyeong. (By contrast, former President Roh Moo Hyun had downplayed remembrances of the six crewmen of the Chamsuri 457, who were killed in a 2002 naval battle with North Korea, to avoid offending North Korea’s sensibilities. This so angered the widow of one officer that she emigrated to the United States.)

Kim even committed his party to supporting a North Korea human rights law. The reversal seemed to end nine years of DP obstructionism, based on a fear of offending North Korea, of a bill that “seeks to improve human rights, political rights and the right to freedom” of North Koreans, and “includes the establishment of a special envoy (for North Korean human rights), a documents archive and a North Korean Human Rights Foundation.” The bill would also provide financial support to private human rights advocacy groups and groups helping North Korean defectors.

A few days later, however, the DP’s floor leader said that his party wasn’t really committing to any of that, it was committing to “supporting South-North cooperation and providing humanitarian aid” — in other words, cash for Kim Jong Un. Evidently, the DP’s hard-left wing had pushed back. GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-Yea, who had exerted himself heroically for this bill for years, responded that a human rights bill ought to be about promoting and improving human rights:

“A bill on North Korean human rights should literally be a bill for the improvement of North Korea’s human rights situation,” Hwang said. “The specific ways of supporting (North Korea) are contained in a separate law on supporting North Korea, so they should be handled by that law.” [Yonhap]

If the DP’s concession does nothing else, it will turn the national debate toward the question of why a human rights bill is necessary at all, and it shows which side of the debate has momentum. The ruling Grand National Party hopes to put the bill to a vote this month, but the two parties show no signs of agreeing on substance. If there is a vote, it will be divided, and it will give us a clearer idea of how much the DP’s rank-and-file has evolved.

~  ~  ~

Part of the DP’s problem is that President Park projects competence. The economy is doing well, and the conservative press can make a credible case that Park has been effective in promoting Korea’s interests abroad, even if only in the largely symbolic contest against Japan. Park also showed toughness and effectiveness in negotiating with the North Koreans to reopen Kaesong (thus, successfully achieving a second dubious objective).

Another part of the left’s problem is that is has been damaged by the excesses of its extreme element. Lee Seok-Ki, a lawmaker for the far-left Unified Progressive Party, was recently stripped of his parliamentary immunity and arrested for leading a Fifth Column group called the “Revolutionary Organization” that plotted violent attacks against South Korean infrastructure, in support of a North Korean invasion — over a tapped phone line, with 130 people (including kids and drunks) in attendance.

In one of the meetings, which lasted till 2 a.m. on May 13 at a religious retreat in the South Korean capital, Seoul, Mr. Lee, 51, said war could be imminent on the divided Korean Peninsula and his followers should prepare themselves for a “revolution” against “the world’s most powerful American imperialists” and achieve “a new reunified fatherland,” according to the National Intelligence Service’s charges against him. At one point, he said the manual for making the pressure cooker bomb used in the Boston Marathon attack was available on the Internet. [....]

Another follower, Lee Sang-ho, suggested attacking South Korea’s communications, oil, train and other crucial facilities in case of war, the charges said. But Mr. Hong also called the idea of buying sniper rifles and using hacking skills to attack military radar facilities “outlandish.” [N.Y. Times]

Here is what one of Lee’s co-conspirators said in a recorded conversation that the prosecutors recently played in court:

“We have our support groups in the country. In an emergency, we must organize them in a timely manner … If we mobilize them to spark a protest just like the massive protests against mad cow disease [in 2008], it will damage the Park Geun-hye government,” he said. “Some important facilities are installed in U.S. garrisons. Not just army bases but radar installations or electric facilities. We need to amass [information about] them.” [Joongang Ilbo]

Prosecutors are now seeking a 20-year prison term for Lee. We haven’t heard the court’s verdict, but some “progressives” insist that Lee’s trial is a witch hunt to restore a right-wing dictatorship. I can believe a number of arguments that Park has an authoritarian streak, but not this one. The UPP had initially offered a dizzying range of explanations, including, “He was just joking.” Eventually, Lee settled on the minimally plausible story that he was really preparing to defend South Korea against an attack by the United States.

The UPP and the DP are two different parties, of course, but it isn’t completely unfair of voters to associate Lee’s ideology with a DP that still includes the likes of Lim Soo-Kyung. The DP’s Chairman, Kim Han-Gill, supported Lee’s arrest on charges of plotting a violent insurrection, but roughly two dozen of its members opposed it.

If the left wanted to make a more convincing argument that Park Geun-Hye is behaving like an authoritarian, it could criticize her for dissolving political parties, decertifying labor unions, or prosecuting people for praising North Korea. Park might be able to justify these actions if those groups — as opposed to certain individuals or factions within them — had conspired to commit violent acts or act as covert agents of a hostile foreign government, but that is not true of any of the cases I linked above. (Lee Seok-Ki’s pro-North Korean faction does not represent the entire UPP. One faction of the UPP holds views similar to European democratic socialists. To dissolve an entire political party because of the actions of some of its members is overbroad and authoritarian.) I was horrified when the Army shot a man for trying to defect to North Korea last September, although I appear to be the only one who felt this way.

You don’t have to sympathize with the targets of these actions to see that the government’s tactics will backfire, eventually. For now, South Korean voters care more about security and economics, and they’re weary of the left’s extreme ideology. It’s also clear that the left has lost its talent for dissent. Yes, it has offered some legitimate criticism of Park’s troubling attacks on freedom of speech and association, but it also squandered its credibility defending Lee Seok-Ki.

The point of which is, isn’t it sad that Korean governments find it so much easier to censor opposing views than to argue the issues on their merits?

(* President Park revived that proposal recently. I’m all for it, by the way. I don’t think Park Geun-Hye is interested in lowering South Korea’s defenses; I think she’s trying to triangulate for the voters, and a “peace park” would effectively become another border North Korea couldn’t seal, and a direct route for north-to-south defections. That’s why North Korea would never agree to this.)

Fifth Column Watch

The arrest of Lee Seok-Ki and his merry band of fifth column plotters is also uncovering a lot of the United Progressive Party’s publicly funded rackets:

The ministry cited the Suwon Self-Support Community Center as an example. The center’s job is to support people receiving government welfare; it received 1.7 billion won ($1.6 million) from the city government this year. But this center also urged its clients to join the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) and demanded that workers at the center make donations to the party.

The Joongang Ilbo also publishes the results of a poll, finding that most South Koreans approve of the arrest and interrogation of fifth-columnist Lee Seok-ki, and most approve of disbanding his party (which I don’t, by the way). But of course, arrest by itself by or may not be vindicated by a court’s judgment; it is simply the state’s first use of its power to gather a suspect into the legal process that passes judgment. The disbanding of a party without formal judgment is even harder to endorse. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ask people whether they favor the vote for Lee’s arrest, or his prosecution?

Besides which, what I really want to know is whether a majority of South Koreans would approve of sentencing Lee (if convicted) to be escorted across the DMZ, permanently.

National Assembly approves arrest of Lee Seok-Gi

South Korea’s National Assembly has voted to revoke leftist fringe party lawmaker Lee Seok-Gi’s parliamentary immunity and allow his arrest for sedition and “praising North Korea.” This makes it all sound like something a banana republic would charge an opponent with, but in fact, Lee really stands accused of leading something called the Revolutionary Organization and “conspir[ing] to storm firearms depots to secure weapons, destroy oil-storage and communication facilities and assassinate unspecified figures.” The leadership of the main left-opposition Democratic Party, which contains some figures whose rhetoric (if not their concrete plans) can sound just as extreme as Lee’s, has announced its support for the arrest.

[Update: Lee is now under arrest.]

Lee denies the charges, calls them a fabrication, and insists that “democracy” will only grow stronger after the NIS fails to suppress sympathizers of that eerie-emerald-green-shining beacon of democracy known as the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. The beacon itself is also accusing South Korea of suppressing dissent. (Dissent flows freely from the left-side faucet of Pyongyang’s many convenient corner fountains. Don’t turn the right-hand faucet, whatever you do. All you’ll get is kalbittang.) This is my cue to remind you that the Korean language has a word for “chutzpah.” Say it with me: mak-moo-KA-nae.

As they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so I’m reserving final judgment until the NIS plays the recordings and people familiar with Lee’s voice identify it. Whatever the truth is, however, it must involve breathtaking incompetence by someone.

One possibility is that the National Intelligence Service, which is already in the middle of one political scandal, made this whole thing up, because what every spy agency really needs at a time like this is to trump up a red-scare plot, assume that everyone will just take their word for it, fail to back their charge up with solid evidence, and ultimately elevate the alleged plotters from fringe loonies to hallowed dissidents and martyrs. For democracy. This is an extraordinary claim.

The other possibility is that Lee Seok-Gi was the most reckless, sloppy, careless would-be terrorist-slash-politician-slash-spy in human history. By day, he used his position in the National Assembly to obtain documents ”primarily related to the armed forces in South Korea and their military facilities and strategies,” including U.S. and South Korean plans to respond to North Korean attacks. By night, he plotted a hopelessly quixotic (but potentially destructive) fifth-column sabotage campaign. On a conference call. Alger Hiss, this is not.

Of the two claims, I find the latter alternative to be less extraordinary than the former. For one thing, it’s not as if anyone is saying, “Lee Seok-Gi? Really? Last guy I’d have suspected!” For another, Lee’s rhetoric isn’t really an outlier when you compare it to other pro-North Korean or anti-American rhetoric we’ve heard from figures on Korea’s political left. Nor is this the first time that members of the Korean political left, including political party officials and union leaders, have organized into cells working in concert with North Korean intelligence officers. It shouldn’t surprise us that all of this implicitly violent rhetoric would eventually produce at least one explicit plan for violent action.

Also, a spokeswoman for Lee’s party certainly is talking like someone who knows the NIS has it all on tape (“It was just a big joke!”). But these people aren’t usually known for their levity.

If there’s a weakness in the NIS’s case, it’s the lack of evidence that Lee and his co-plotters had any imminent intention to act on their plans. Because Lee is alleged to have plotted to aid a North Korean attack, revealing this part of the plot might also reveal evidence of imminent hostile intent by North Korea. Which would also be extraordinary.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions also gets an honorable mention here. The KCTU is justly infamous for its anti-Americanism, pro-North sycophancy, and frequent use of premeditated street violence. This time, a KCTU official allegedly was recorded saying that the movements of U.S. civilians should be watched, in the context of plotting a terror-and-sabotage campaign in collaboration with a North Korean invasion. Assuming the recordings corroborate the transcript, I wonder if an investigation will eventually reveal whether these were the words of a rogue local leader, or whether the KCTU has made a corporate decision to get into the business of orchestrating terrorist attacks against U.S. civilian targets.

[Update: See Robert's comment here. He thinks a different interpretation is more likely, although neither of us is really sure.]

The point being: South Korea’s far left (and its far right) are much more extreme than their American counterparts. It’s something to keep in mind the next time you hear someone associated with South Korea’s far left hold up the term “McCarthyism” like some sort of amulet.

Leftist South Korean lawmaker sought for pro-North insurgency plot

No, as a matter of fact, it would not surprise me in the least if leftist fringe National Assemblyman and alleged Chosun Workers’ Party member Lee Seok-Gi was actively plotting to support a North Korean invasion by organizing violent fifth-column attacks in South Korea. Duh, he’s already been featured in a “fifth column watch” post.

The UPP members allegedly had a plan to blow up infrastructure in the country, including communication networks, a district court official said, quoting court-issued warrants for the three officials.

“They are facing multiple charges, such as plotting to blow up national infrastructure, forming an organization that threatens national security, praising North Korea and conspiracy to stage a rebellion,” the Suwon District Court official said. [Yonhap]

Just for fun, give the Hanky about four days to hyperventilate about the restoration of the Park dictatorship, Yushin Constitution, et cetera and then play the tapes on national television. Because it’s not like doing that would prejudice potential jurors, right?

Shortly after becoming a lawmaker in the April 2012 general election, Lee attended a meeting of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance in early May in Seoul, the sources said.

“When the decisive time comes, we should initiate a nationwide general strike and armed rebellion at the same time,” Lee was quoted as saying at the meeting. “We must gain control of the broadcasting and public facilities and disable communications and fuel facilities.”

He was also accused of telling members of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance to prepare by securing firearms.

“We should gain control of a progressive political party in the South and make aggressive efforts to enter the National Assembly to prepare for a decisive moment,” the code of conduct of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance was quoted as saying by the sources. “When the time comes, we will support [the North] through armed rebellions.”

The Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance is a regional chapter of the Association for Democracy and Reunification of Korea, established in 1991 by members of the National Liberalization Group, the largest faction inside the UPP. They are mostly former left-wing student activists who support North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) ideology. [Joongang Ilbo]

Surely they have wiretaps in Korea. Surely it occurred to them to get one and record the conversations. Surely the NIS, which is already embroiled in political controversy, will not expect transcripts to overcome the inevitable conspiracy theories. Surely the NIS knows better than to take on a sitting lawmaker without having him dead-to-rights, stone-cold, knackered.

So … roll tape.

If this is true, it would be another example of North Korea’s characteristic tactical genius and strategic idiocy.  Assuming they could pull off an invasion of the South, they could never digest it politically, socially, or economically. Really, how could North Korea possibly improve on what it had going in 2005–a prosperous, Finlandized, left-wing government subsidizing its nukes, its high living, and its power structure, and effectively blocking any possible U.S.-led sanctions or military action?

This would not be the first time Lee’s party, the UPP,* has come under suspicion (including from its own members) for the pro-North Korean sympathies and allegiances of some of its members. Nor would it the first time that a pro-North conspiracy was found to have reached into left-wing parties and unions in South Korea.

* I’m including the UPP’s predecessor, the Democratic Labor Party, which is mostly the same people, the same supporters, and the same factions under a different name.

Fifth Column Watch

I haven’t really had time to follow the story of the United Progressive Party as carefully as I’d have liked; South Koreans who are avowedly pro-North are a constant source of fascination to me. In South Korea, political parties break up, re-form, and re-brand every election season. During the most recent National Assembly election, the far left was represented by the UPP, which occupies approximately the same position as the former Democratic Labor Party.

The largest UPP faction is openly sympathetic to North Korea, and perhaps not surprisingly, that faction has a thuggish streak. For example, UPP Representative Kim Sun-dong, “who detonated a tear gas canister inside the National Assembly’s main chamber to protest the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement last November,” is a member of the pro-Pyongyang faction and wants to be his party’s Floor Leader. South Korea’s pro-North faction is numerically small, but has gained disproportionate influence within South Korea’s classrooms, labor unions, and society. Read more

Being a Fascist Still Shouldn’t Be a Crime

Next time you see press coverage that characterizes the “Reverend” Han Song Ryol as a “liberal” or “peace activist,” his own words will add to your insight about just how tortured the words “liberal” and “peace” have been at the meaty hands of some correspondents. How does one apply such words to an avowed supporter of the world’s most belligerent and least liberal regime?

“Our land and people in the North are armed with weaponry far more powerful than nuclear weapons – solid unity, self-containment, and revolutionary optimism fuelled by the Juche ideology,” Han said.

Cozying up to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, he said, “I genuinely respect, love and desire to obey you. He also attacked the findings of a multinational investigation on the sinking of the Cheonan, calling it the “pinnacle of Lee Myung-bak’s pack of lies. He blamed President Lee for sending the sailors to their deaths. [Joongang Ilbo]

Han Song Ryol is a fascist, not a liberal. Aijalon Gomes is a liberal. Even “Reverend” is difficult to allow. Han worships Kim Jong Il, but if that qualifies Han as a cleric, then you must allow that Juche is a religion, in the same sense that the Peoples’ Temple and Al Qaeda’s brand of Wahhabism are religions. The evidence that Han worships a higher God is far less clear.

Han Song Ryol is a charlatan, a traitor, and a fool. But this does not justify the South Korean government’s ham-handed decision to arrest and make a martyr of him. Indeed, I take issue with the Joongang Ilbo’s editorialists mixing these two issues:

What’s more disheartening is that there are people who applaud Han’s stunt. Some 150 members of a local branch of the progressive Democratic Labor Party held a ceremony to welcome the pastor back home. Some civilian activist groups based in North Jeolla Province also protested against his arrest. These groups should declare what side they’re on. What part of Han’s actions do they approve of? Are they followers of the North Korean regime, too?

If you hold a ceremony to welcome Han Song Ryol back home, you’re either a paid-up member of the Fifth Column or willfully ignorant of facts that would make any reasonable thinker want to dissociate himself from Han. Not that this should surprise us in the case of the Democratic Labor Party, whose North Korean influence was so brazen that it resulted in criminal convictions during the Roh Administration and split the party itself.

I’m also cynical enough to suspect that in practice, the same probably also applies to those who bothered to protest Han’s arrest publicly, though I also protest the fact of Han’s arrest for his words, and I can’t remember the first or last time anyone accused me of being a follower of the North Korean regime. The South Korean government’s prosecution of repellent ideas has only glorified those ideas (and in due course, we’ll also learn that North Korea’s suppression of dissent was less successful than we tend to estimate).

Far better for South Korea to have simply denied Han reentry into South Korea. It would more than suffice as Han’s punishment to let him live by what he preaches, and he could hardly complain about spending the rest of his life in a place he mischaracterizes as a paradise. Wouldn’t life in North Korea be punishment enough for any fool? Certainly it would be a fascinating thought experiment. I suspect it would be just a matter of time before Han would misspeak, be reported by a neighbor, and vanish into a Peace Forest one night. When that time comes, who in the Democratic Labor Party do you suppose will stand up for his right to free speech then?

Sit Down for This One: 9/11/05 Riot at MacArthur Statue Was a North Korean Job

I know this probably stuns you as much as it stuns me:

Seoul police arrested two pro-Pyongyang activists on charges of starting a campaign to remove a statue of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur from a park in Incheon under orders from North Korea.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, two leaders of the Korean Confederation Unification Promotion Council were arrested on charges of receiving directives from a North Korean agent from 2004 to 2005 to stage a series of violent, illegal rallies from May to September 2005, demanding the removal of the MacArthur statue. The North also told them to organize an alliance of progressive civic groups to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.

Police said 12 additional members of the council are to be investigated in the case. [Joongang Ilbo]

Readers will recall that the demonstrators, many from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union, marched to the statue 4,000-strong with bamboo poles and “fucking USA” signs in hand. Naturally, they proceeded to attack the police, resulting in some unknown number of injuries (photos here). Hate and violence notwithstanding, Chang Young-Dal, a member of the standing committee of the then-ruling Uri Party praised the fifth columnists who led the rally for their “deep ethnic purity,” which is true in the same sense it might have been for Ernst Rohm in the 1920′s.

Inspired, no doubt, by the class, tact, and sensitivity they displayed on September 11, 2005, other leftist South Korean groups with a history of bleating out North Korea propaganda have followed the on-the-spot guidance of the Star of Mount Paektu and the Lodestar of the Nation.

The Korean Confederation Unification Promotion Council, formed in 2004, promotes North Korea’s philosophy of unifying the two Koreas in a confederation. In 2005, it staged a 69-day protest inside the park to demand the statue’s removal, which turned violent on September 11, 2005, when 4,000 protesters clashed with police.

Yup. No real surprise there.

Police now say that the rallies began on orders from North Korea. (Since the first protest in 2005, North Korea has publicly lauded the rallies in statements through its state-run media.) [....]

Police said the two arrested activists traveled to China in 2004 to meet a North Korean agent, who gave them orders to organize the rallies against the statue and U.S. troops in the South. “North Korea normally gives a direction in a larger framework, and pro-Pyongyang activists in the South come up with specific implementation plans,” said a security official.

Police and prosecutors said nine pro-Pyongyang groups held a meeting in 2005 to discuss how to implement the orders and formed a special committee to demand the withdrawal of U.S. Forces Korea. A team was also formed under the committee to campaign for the removal of the statue.

Another security official said the MacArthur statue was targeted because of the North’s loathing of the American general, who stopped North Korea from taking over the entire peninsula.

A consultation with the OFK archives confirms that, this news isn’t entirely new. In November of 2006, the Chosun Ilbo reported that one Kang Soon-jeong, the former vice chairman of the South Korean chapter of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification, was arrested for providing “national secrets” to North Korea. At the time of the 2006 arrest, Kang was on parole after serving a 4 1/2 year term for … yes, that’s right, spying for North Korea. Kang also played a role in organizing violent protests against the Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement and the expansion of Camp Humphreys. There is other evidence that the anti-MacArthur movement took its philosophical inspiration from Pyongyang as well.

“The campaign to remove the statue is the symbol of the anti-American movement,” said another security official. “There is no actual gain for the North even if the statute is removed, but it will send a strong message to its people and solidify the network of pro-Pyongyang activists in the South.

Lim Soon-hee, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of National Unification, agreed. “The campaign will fuel ideological conflicts within the South and taint the image of South Korea for Americans.

Well, then, consider that operation a success. Were this wave of anti-Americanism (a) peaceful and (b) confined to the fringes of society, we’d have dismissed it. But in fact, it was neither of those things. Both the beef idiocy and the Cheonan conspiracy idiocy show us that it’s far from over.

Sage Advice from Michael Breen: Ignore These Fools

This made me want to stand up and cheer:

The political activist who last weekend violated a travel ban to go to North Korea claimed that he “risked his life” for the sake of peace and unification. If the government applies the full force of the law against him on his return, he may be right. And that would be unfortunate because people who try to upstage the democratic South by embracing the Nazi North need to be seen for the ideological nincompoops that they are, not turned into nationalist heroes. [Michael Breen, Korea Times]

Now, by some reports, a prosecution is rather unlikely, as it should be. But what Breen is saying is substantially similar to a conversation I had last night with a professor from Seoul National U., who also asked a similarly sensible question: why do South Korean conservatives insist on giving these buffoons so much free press coverage? Do you see the 9-11 truthers hitting page one of the New York Times here? Of course not. We ignore them because they’re neurotic imbeciles. The same applies to PSPD’s conspiracy allegations about the Cheonan — what technical, scientific, or political qualification justifies giving so much media attention to a zany band of Peace Studies drop-outs?

The only qualification I offer to this is that the South Korean authorities ought to be looking into who is funding these groups, exposing them publicly, and using the legal tools available to freeze those assets and prosecute anyone involved in funneling foreign money to them.

Psyops Updates

Kim Jung-Wook, the Joongang Ilbo’s Washington Correspondent, thinks that the Cheonan Incident has revived the U.S.-Korea alliance, but frankly, the end result may well be the exact opposite. No, the incident didn’t raise tensions in a way that makes obvious the many conflicts in the two states’ interests, and yes, President Obama has shown more backbone than the North Koreans probably expected. The problem with this theory is that so far, there has been no significant response to the attack from either South Korea or the United States, which means that the military deterrence of North Korea has reached a critical point of failure. If the two governments fail to implement an effective response to the attack that deters the next one, you’ll begin to see a lot of Koreans ask exactly what security benefit the alliance confers on South Korea anyway.

But then, the alliance is about creating the illusion that we might use conventional military force, and the best that the threat of conventional military force can hope to accomplish is to preserve a degrading stasis. It is political and psychological warfare that are the keys to the initiative in Korea, and which will determine the outcome of the Korean War. South Korea is flunking its opportunity to win through psychological warfare because it doesn’t get this, and because it has already lost the loyalty of so much of its own population. North Korea has the ability to mobilize millions of South Korean voters, activists, and union members — directly and otherwise, with their knowledge and otherwise — because it does get this.

And yet South Korea seems lacking in the will to do anything that would reach ordinary North Koreans:

“We completed the first round of loudspeaker installment June 9, but haven’t decided on when to resume the propaganda broadcasts,” said a South Korean military official who asked for anonymity. “We’ll make that decision after seeing what progress is made at the UN Security Council.

The official said that setting up the loudspeakers is just the first step toward putting pressure on the North’s military, which has threatened to shoot down the loudspeakers if the broadcasts are resumed. [Joongang Ilbo]

Let’s hope the South Koreans give more thought to message and media alike, because I suspect that because of North Koreans’ puritanical programming about sex, messages like this, however much appeal they have for sweaty middle-aged white guys, will backfire on the small North Korean audiences they actually reach.

Frankly, if you want to know what messages will persuade North Koreans, I suggest asking a North Korean. Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, talks about Radio Free North Korea, the potential of psyops, and the opposition it has attracted from “unification activists”:

It is a risky, lonely task. Defectors are living reminders of heroic, dangerous struggles that prosperous, comfortable South Koreans would sometimes prefer to ignore. “Korean socialist groups,” says Kim, “held demonstrations, forcing us to move from location to location. In the mail, we got axes covered in blood. North Korea sent spies. Hackers attacked our Web site. At some point, all of us started carrying Tasers for self-protection. Even now there are two policemen waiting downstairs who protect me.”

One day, the files of the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Chosun Workers’ Party will make for very interesting reading for some, and very embarrassing reading for plenty of South Koreans.