Bodies and feathers of fabricated spy cases

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <CBS NocutNews, "Reporter Note" by Sang-Wook Byeon> under the title ‘간첩조작 사건의 몸통과 깃털’ on Feb. 18, 2014, retracing history of fabricated spy cases in Korean modern history. One story that rattles the whole Korean political sphere is the so-called ‘Seoul city employee spy case’ where a Seoul city employee turned former North Korea defector is accused of working for North Korea while the accused and his attorneys claim evidences the prosecution and NIA produced are all fakes. The whole issue turned into an international mega-scandal since Chinese Consulate notified Korean Court who requested Chinese Governments assessment of those evidences that those evidences the prosecution had produced were fakes while those the accused had produced were authentic. One thing to note is that Korea has dazzling history of fabricated spy cases in the past as this reporter note by great Korean reporter Sang-Wook Byeon recalls. All rights regarding this post stay with the author(s) of the original article or with <CBS NocutNews> and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institution(s) / position(s) to authentic one(s) as much as possible but, unfortunately, some of them still can be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link above.

CBS NocutNews Sang-Wook Byeon CBS노컷뉴스 변상욱 대기자

Senior Reporter Sang-Wook Byeon’s ‘Reporter Note’ delivers sharp criticisms to things unjust.

So-called ‘Seoul city employee spy case’ fabricated evidence suspicion reignites heated political bickering among parties. Opposition parties including Democratic Party claims that ‘The reply from Chinese Embassy clearly exposed that the evidence had been fabricated. National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is the main body of the evidence fabrication. The prosecution is also gravely responsible for the whole thing.’ Naturally, they say whole matter deserves investigation by National Assembly. To the contrary, Saenuri Party confronts it saying that “Fact finding is first. Don’t make fuss of things that have not been cleared yet. You made big fuss against Yong-Pan Kim, former Chief of Seoul Police Agency, but all turned out to be groundless after all, didn’t it."

The prosecution’s claim that Mr. Woo-Seong Yoo entered North Korea voluntarily and was assigned an agent mission from the North Korea State Political Security Department is at the heart of controversy. The prosecution presented Mr. Yoo’s border crossing records between China and North Korea as evidence of their claim but their authenticity is the issue. They presented records and explanations from Helong City (Yanbian, China) Public Security Department and Sanhe Customs Office as evidence. They also produced an official document Helong City Public Security Department had sent to Korean Consulate General in Shenyang, China.

But Chinese Consulate’s notification that all three documents were tampered drove the whole matter into a quagmire. On top of that, Chinese Consulate expressed its standpoint that tampering Chinese Government Office’s documents and seals is a crime requiring their own investigation and expressed their expectation of Korean Government’s cooperation on the investigation. The whole issue obviously deserves much more careful examination but the controversy itself is embarrassing enough.

Do you know which age you live now? … Now? It’s such an age

In the past, there have been so many espionage cases that had shocked the whole country at first but turned out to be innocent later. Let’s see some of them.

<Minjok Ilbo (newspaper) case> broke out in 1961, just after the May 16 coup, where the military regime arraigned progressive journalists under the charge that they received funds from North Korea and worked for it. The journalists were sentenced to death or imprisonment. Then editor Jong-ryool Lee cleared his name of the false charge last year, after 52 long years.

<East Berlin case> was a case Korean CIA announced in 1967 that 203 Koreans including students and intellectuals that had been studying in East Berlin or visiting it were involved in the act of espionage according to North Korean order or in the movement of establishing Socialist Government in South Korea. 23 people were charged with the crime of espionage. It was really shocking because renowned Koreans abroad like composer Isang Yun and painter Ung-no Lee were also among those charged. But the NIS Development Committee for clarifying the past later concluded that it had been a case that Chung-Hee Park’s regime had distorted the whole fact to suppress national resistance to corruptions in the regime like protests to denounce rigged general election in June 8. It turned out that the accused were put through water boarding and electricity torture. When the Supreme Court rejected parts of the case for lack of evidence, Korean CIA planned to buy the prosecutors and judges with its own budget of 1 million won but it was also exposed through a document.

There also was the <Writer Spy Ring> case. In Jan. 1974, when writers supported the revision of the ‘Yushin Constitution’ (or ‘Restoration Constitution’), the Defence Security Command (DSC) announced that 5 writers including Ho-Cheol Lee, Heon-Young Lim, Byeong-Hee Jang, Ul-Byeong Jeong, professor Woo-Jong Kim were members of a spy ring. At that time, professor Kim wrote something on a journal ‘Hanyang’ that was published in Japan and got some fee for it. DSC claimed that the journal was a fake mouthpiece of North Korea and professor Kim knew it but wrote on the journal. Professor Kim was investigated and so became a spy. In 2009, after long 35 years, Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that “Chung-Hee Park’s regime released a fabricated investigation result to press and branded those writers as ‘spies’ for their own political purposes” and decided to recommend truth clarification. It was a case where writers were arrested and locked up for a long time without warrant and put through sleep deprivation, kicking and fisting to get fake confession.

Those beaten died but those beat were lulled and promoted …

Those adversities were not limited to those anti-government dignitaries only. Ordinary people were also harmed by them.

<Jeju island Hee-Cheol Kang case> Mr. Kang, in 1975 at age 15, stowed away to Osaka, Japan, to see his parents. He graduated from Josun High School, a pro-Pyongyang school, and was working in a factory when he was arrested by the police as an illegal immigrant and forced into deportation. He was tortured and investigated by army police in Pusan but exonerated soon. He was just a stowaway.

He finished his military service, got a job and lived his life. But, in 1986, he was dragged to the anticommunist interrogation room by police. For whopping 85 days, he was beaten, threatened and tortured. Eventually, he succumbed to the ruthless police violence and made a fake confession. He had to be imprisoned for 13 years. It took 22 years until his name was cleared of all false accusations. During that time, his family fell apart and his then 4-year old son was sent to his grand parents. After his prison term, he could not get a decent job since he was a subject of security surveillance. He had to live by menial labors. Those who beat him and made him a spy was rewarded and promoted.

Mr. Ki-Sam Kim was dragged to National Security Agency Gwangju anticommunist investigation room in Dec. 1980 while working in Korea Electric Power Corporation under the espionage suspicion that he collected South Korean information while wandering around reading electric meters and tried to hand it over to North Korea. He had to go through brutal manhandling for 52 days until he finally made a fake confession. But he was put on trial for that confession and sentenced for 7-year imprisonment and 7-year disqualification. Since there was no evidence that fit the whole suspicion, prosecution fabricated a suspicion that he remembered all the information collected during electric meter reading and then tried to hand it over to a North Korean spy whenever he met the spy. It took 29 years to scrap his name from such false accusations.

There were also cases where they stopped in the middle of framing people as spies.

In Sep. 1971, a group of government agents rushed into an isolated island in Baekya-ri, Hwajeong-myeon, Jeonnam, and took Ik-Hwan Kim, deputy chief of Hwajeong-myeon then aged in his 40s, and his sister in law with her daughter without explanation. They were locked in a secret place and beaten and kicked like others. The niece in her 20s was even undressed and sexually harassed. Saying ‘An island resident tipped us there is a spy who have been to North Korea. It is you, right?’, they forced them to confess that they had acted as resident spies. They forced them to make even fake confessions in naked body telling them that they would get their clothes back if they admitted.

Mauling them for one week in such a way, they then suddenly let them go quipping that “Uh … sorry, we got the real culprit …” Though they went back to their village, people shun away from them as spy families. The niece then in her 20s who had been stripped of her clothes lived alone unable to marry anyone due to sociophobia all her life.

Mr. Lim, an ordinary fisherman. His landlord was dragged to the security force under the espionage suspicion in Jul. 1985. Mr. Lim was also taken for interrogation since he had been close to his landlord. He was interrogated over 28 hours and then acquitted. But he died in two weeks with bruises and wounds everywhere of his body. Water boarding, electricity torture and beating were the cause. In 2011, after 26 years, court ordered government to pay 130 million won to his survival family for compensation.

In our modern history, we can discover numerous spy fabrication cases whose number can reach tens easily. These cases share very important problem in common such that they were all structural corruption borne through the collusion of pan-public security forces and political forces affected by the character of the regime in power. According to Supreme Court’s record, the number of indictments for violating National Security Law (NSL) dropped to 30 cases a year (2006) during the Moo-Hyun Roh’s Government but jumped to 98 cases (2012) during Myung-bak Lee’s government. In 2013, the first year of Mdm. president Geun-hye Park’s government, the number reached 102 cases. When cold-war era ideology makes its strong mark and the society heads to the summit of ideological conflict, the number of NSL violation and espionage cases can soar sky high depending on how the ruling forces manipulates this kind of social climate. We can easily see many of these cases will turn out to be innocent after a while. Seoul city employee spy case and the suspicion of evidence tampering broke out under this ground.

It is natural for public security offices to investigate matters that look dubious even by a modicum to fulfil their responsibility and prove their value of existence. But that should not be to build a ground for securing ruling power or expanding it. That should start from and end at a sound vision of national value and the belief of protecting national integrity. That national value and integrity must include the grand principle that our society is a democratic republic and democracy should run in a democratic way. Political and public security forces should not misuse national integrity protection function to coexist and to elevate their value of (co)existence. If the risk of encounter such misuse is excessive, then we should prepare a strong civilian control mechanism against it. Now is the time.

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