The South Korean Defense Ministry recently pointed to North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau as the most likely suspect of the March 26 attack on the Cheonan.
“The North merged secret intelligence departments formerly under the Workers’ Party into a new Reconnaissance General Bureau early last year,” said Hwang Won-dong, chief of intelligence at the Defense Ministry here.
“We have not reached a clear conclusion that the bureau led the attack, but it is highly possible, considering its (Cold War era) bombing attack” against the South Korean presidential delegation at the Aung San Martyr’s Mausoleum in Myanmar and the bombing of a Korean Air flight.
Government sources also reportedly said that the “130-ton Yeono class submarines,” one of which torpedoed the South Korean warship, are mostly deployed by the Reconnaissance General Bureau instead of the North Korean navy.
The Reconnaissance General Bureau of the Korean People’s Army is known as the heart of North Korea’s international espionage activities and acts of terrorism, according to officials here.
The North Korean state media said on April 25, the founding day of the country’s army, that the country’s leader Kim Jong-il visited the commanding headquarters of “Unit 586,” another name used on official occasions for the Reconnaissance General Bureau.
It was the first reported visit by Kim, chairman of the National Defense Commission, to the spying agency, drawing attention to why he chose to visit it on the founding day of the KPA, about a month after the Cheonan’s sinking.
The Reconnaissance General Bureau is one of the KPA’s three most powerful organs. The general bureau is an integration of the reconnaissance department of the North Korean defense ministry, the “operations department” which developed infiltration routes for secret agents and “Room 35” in charge of international intelligence under the Workers’ Party.
The general bureau now consists of six bureaus for operations (Bureau 1), reconnaissance (Bureau 2), overseas intelligence (Bureau 3), inter-Korean talks (Bureau 5), technology or cyber terrorism (Bureau 6) and for support of other divisions (Bureau 7), according to sources. There is no Bureau 4 due to a traditional Korean taboo on the number four, which is pronounced the same as “death” in Korean.
Bureau 1, in charge of training and infiltration of secret agents, reportedly has liaison offices in the coastal towns of Haeju, Nampo, Wonsan, Chongjin for naval infiltration. O Kuk-ryol, vice chairman of the NDC, has led the operations bureau for the past 20 years.
Bureau 2, known for having led the North’s attempted raid of Cheong Wa Dae in 1968 and the submarine infiltration in Gangneung in 1996, is in charge of terrorist activities.
Most recently, the reconnaissance bureau allegedly ordered the assassination of former Workers’ Party secretary Hwang Jang-yop who defected to South Korea in 1997.
Bureau 3 (overseas intelligence) is a reorganized version of what was formerly called “Room 35” under the Workers’ Party. Room 35 is known for having kidnapped a South Korean actress-director couple in 1978 and bombing a Korean Air passenger flight in 1987.
Bureaus 5 through 7 are the lesser known in Seoul.
Kim Young-chol, head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, is an exemplary hardliner within the North Korean military who said the Northern Limit Line was “drawn by a thief” at the general-level talks between the Koreas in 2006 and 2007. He also led the North’s decision to restrict South Koreans’ border crossing in December 2008.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com