recent sinking of the Cheonan seems to have perplexed a few people who question why North Korea would commit such a brazenly provocative act, while some analysts suggest Kim Jong-il himself ordered the mission. But it isn’t by any means the first time North Korea has acted this way. So here is Part One of a review of a book that describes another fairly recent occasion.The
I first heard about Kim Hyun-Hee from a student who told me two things about the North Korean spy that didn’t quite gel. First, that she had placed a deadly bomb aboard a South Korean airliner and second that she now lived in Seoul. “But why was she not in prison?” I asked incredulously. My student said he didn’t know but ventured it may have been because she was very beautiful.
The official story of how Kim Hyun-Hee became transformed from a mass murdering terrorist who stowed a liquid bomb aboard KAL858 killing 115 people to a victim evoking sympathy brainwashed by the evil North Korean state is partly told in her memoir The Tears of My Soul. The book is apparently intended as an act of contrition with the proceeds going to the families of the bombing victims.
Kim’s story is an insight into the rise of the daughter of a North Korean diplomat which tells of her early life first living in Cuba and then in Pyongyang – making her one of the privileged elite – also shedding light onto her school and university years and her induction into Foreign Intelligence. She explains that her and other school children would be told to redact the names of those who had become “unpeople” in purges from the textbooks and of certain chores such as having to collect maggots from the excrement of public outhouses and then the excrement itself which was to be used as fertilizer in the countryside (this practice still apparently continues in North Korea but due to food shortages, it has diminishing returns).
In the Youth Corps she is made a leader with the responsibility of reprimanding others who don’t show enough zeal:
“You claim to have not met your quotas because you didn’t have enough time. And yet yesterday I myself saw you playing with other children. I find it hard to believe that you had time to play but not to work. Such an excuse shows you have violated the lesson of Our Great Leader [Kim Il-sung], who teaches us to be faithful to a group life.”
She says that others would often eagerly make stronger denunciations:
“Comrade student, you don’t deserve to study in the bosom of Father President. You should be expelled from school at once.”
She does well at school and gets herself accepted to the Pyongyang Foreign Language Center in which she majors in Japanese. Her language abilities and dedication fatefully attract the eye of Party Agents and she is inducted in to a military college to be trained as a spy with the codename Kim Ok Hwa. Her Japanese teacher there is named Eun Hae.
Kim Hyun-Hee explains that Eun Hae was a Japanese citizen from Tokyo who was abducted by North Korean agents while playing with her children at the beach and forced to become a Japanese tutor for North Korea’s spies. Although Eun Hae’s life is miserable, in which she spends a lot of time drinking and pining for her children in Japan, Kim rationalizes Eun Hae’s abduction by saying that Japan’s crimes in World War Two were far worse. There’s a remarkable account of both of them sneaking out of the military college to arrive at a nearby village in which the people live in far worse poverty than is seen in Pyongyang.
Eun Hae insisted, on Sunday evening, that we visit the village, because she had never seen ordinary North Koreans before. We found a decrepit cluster of houses and filthy children running around the streets, some naked. I was ashamed at this and tried to pull Eun Hae away. But she stared at the children with tears in her eyes…
“So this is your brave new world, Ok Hwa,” she said with unmitigated scorn. “I pity you”.
Eun Hae is, in fact, Yaeko Taguchi who the North Korean government insist is now dead.
The chapters involving some of her ninja-style training are actually quite grippingly told. She has to infiltrate a mock-embassy, break a safe and memorize a message. In order to add to the realism of the exercise she is allowed to beat the guards unconscious. She is also trained in the three Korean martial arts, taekwondo, tangsoodo and hapkido, which she later puts to good effect when she is accosted by a madman in the lingerie section of a Belgrade department store (!)
Finally, she is summoned to meet the Director of Foreign Intelligence and learns of a top secret and important mission that she is to fulfill:
“Comrades,” he said “I will start with the conclusion first. Your mission will be to destroy a South Korean airplane.” He paused, allowing the words to sink in. I felt butterflies in my stomach and stared at him.
“The order, you may be interested to know, was written by Our Dear Leader himself, Kim Jung Il [sic]. Handwritten, that is…This whole mission is in fact Our Dear Leader’s own idea…Our entire national destiny will depend on it.”
The Director goes on to explain that the destruction of the plane would prevent South Korea from being able to hold the Olympic Games as other countries will stay away in fear and that the change in the constitution of South Korea from a dictatorship to a democracy will be sent into turmoil with the country eventually falling apart and having to unify with North Korea under the leadership of the Kim family.
Well, if that doesn’t sound quixotic enough of a plan Foreign Intelligence went even further in compromising the mission by partnering Kim - who would go by the Japanese name Mayumi Hachiro - with an almost infirm and aging chain-smoker Kim Seung-il who would pose as her father, Shinichi, and having them fly from Belgrade to Baghdad and then to Abu Dhabi (where they would alight) allowing them to escape as the plane continued on to Seoul with a bomb in the overhead luggage compartment. Fortunately, if anything went wrong they each had a packet of Marlboro cigarettes to console themselves with. Each contained one with a slight ink smudge on it indicating it was laced with cyanide.
Kim Seung-il has some reservations about this strangely incompetent plan which increases his anxiety and illness. Future Axis-of Evil North Korea's agents were to fly in to Saddam International Airport to pick up this bomb while the two other future Axis-of-Evil nations Iraq and Iran were locked in a war. Unsurprisingly security is very tight and yet the two men who deliver them the bomb arrive at the airport disguised as…well secret agents…dressed in identical suits with identical sunglasses and both named Choi!
To be continued...