This Is How North Korea Inserts Its Spies into Seoul

December 6, 2021 Topic: North Korea Region: East Asia Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: EspionageNorth KoreaSouth KoreaDefectorsSpies

This Is How North Korea Inserts Its Spies into Seoul

The country has a long history of spying on its southern neighbor.


Here's What You Need To Know: South Korea has caught North Korean agents trying to enter the South by posing as defectors.

North Korea and South Korea recently restored their bilateral hotline, a move that was made after an exchange of letters between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea.


“The top leaders of the North and the South agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters,” the Korean Central News Agency said in late July.

However, that doesn't mean that there isn’t still spying going on. NK News recently looked at how North Korea conducts its modern-day spying operations on South Korea.

“It is reasonable to suspect that South Korea’s nearly 15,000 km of coastline continues to represent a likely entry point for North Korean spies,” the NK News report said. “However, an analysis of historical precedent and expert insights suggest the past two decades have seen dramatic changes in the way Pyongyang conducts espionage in the South. Last week’s charges against a handful of South Korean activists accused of staging protests on behalf of Pyongyang are the latest evidence of changing trendlines in DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) espionage.”

There have also been reports, NK News said, that South Korea has caught North Korean agents trying to enter the South by posing as defectors.

Citing South Korea’s National Assembly, NK News also ran a chart listing the number of arrests each year on espionage charges. There have been four this year, after one each in 2019 and 2020, and none in 2017 or 2018. However, eleven spies were arrested in 2010, eight in 2011 and nine in 2012.

There were even more back in the 1990s.

“One of the most well-known and spectacular instances of North Korean espionage occurred in 1996 when a DPRK submarine carrying twenty-six DPRK soldiers ran aground near South Korea’s northeast coastal city of Gangneung,” NK News said. "They killed sixteen South Koreans in their efforts to make it back to North Korea before ROK (Republic of Korea) forces eliminated twenty-four of the twenty-six infiltrators. (One was apprehended and the other was never found.)”

That led up to 2000 when an inter-Korean summit was held and more than sixty “unconverted” former spies and guerrilla fighters were sent back to North Korea. There was also reportedly an agreement for the two sides to stop spying on each other.

“It would be completely stupid if North Korea would not take advantage of this (defector) situation,”  Stephan Blancke, a specialist on DPRK intelligence gathering, told NK News. “Just as Islamist terrorists are smuggled into Europe with the refugees—and there is plenty evidence of this—North Korean intelligence services naturally also try to smuggle their agents among these people.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

This article was originally published earlier this year and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.