Revolution on the Slopes of Mt. Gwanak

[In the Shadow of the Sun]
Han Ki Hong, NKnet  |  2014-07-13 22:35

In May 2010 a call came into 111 Call Center, where the NIS, South Koreas state intelligence agency, accepts civilian reports of threats to national security. The caller asserted something very serious: that remnants of Minhyukdang, an underground pro-North Korea organization that had been active in the 1990s, had returned to their old ways.

Three years later, the report was found to be accurate. A serving National Assemblyman and former Minhyukdang cadre called Lee Seok Ki had, it was said, formed a new Revolutionary Organization. 130 members of this so-called RO had met at a location in Hapjeong-dong, Seoul during May 2013, a time of great inter-Korean tensions. There they had, the court would later acknowledge, discussed concrete means of fomenting unrest and overthrowing the South Korean state in the event of war. Seven men were convicted; appeals are ongoing.

The simple fact that this could take place in contemporary South Korea often comes as a surprise to Daily NK readers, most of whom have never been steeped in the Cold War milieu of the Korean Peninsula. Yet it is just the most recent in a long line of extraordinary tales of infiltration and espionage, as Zeitgeist Publishing House revealed in 2012 when it released Han Ki Hong's The Shadow of Progressivism". The book seized upon a moment in South Korean history, and was enormously successful. In this, the second part of an exclusive series of excerpts, Daily NK finds out why.

Former pro-North Korea student activist
Kim Young Hwan. | Image: Daily NK
Kim Young Hwan is the same human rights activist that Chinese state security agents arrested and tortured over 114 days between March and July 2012.

Despite his prolonged incarceration, the Chinese authorities never charged Kim with a crime, and are therefore the only ones who know why he was arrested at all. Kim believes they didn't even know who he was in the beginning; in his view, they just arrested him because he happened to be with activists who were under surveillance at the time. It was only later, once his importance had been established, that Kim was accused of conspiring against the Chinese state. They would later threaten to pass him over to the North Koreans. 

This was not a trivial threat. Kims Chinese interlocutors knew very well that the North Korean security forces would be overjoyed to get their hands on Kim. Why? Because in the 1990s, he directly and very publicly betrayed Kim Il Sung. 

It was back in 1991 that Kim made his secret trip to Pyongyang. At the time, he was a youthful activist with an extreme, and extremely critical, view of the South Korean government of President Chun Doo Hwan, a military dictator who had taken power in a coup detat. A law student at Seoul National University, South Koreas premier academic institution, Kims anti-government activism in the dying days of the 1980s earned him a spell behind bars. 

Following his release in December 1988 after two years and a month in prison, Kim joined an underground organization founded by fellow law classmate Ha Young Ok. The Anti-imperialist Youth Alliance was styled after a group established by Kim Il Sung in his own youthful revolutionary phase. There, Kim Young Hwan organized the distribution of pro-North Korea materials to colleges and factories as part of birthday celebrations idolizing Kim Il Sung. He hung signs praising Kim and his son, Kim Jong Il, and conducted study sessions eulogizing both the core tenets of Juche and Kim Il Sungs prowess as an independence fighter. 

North Korean operatives soon took note of Kims acumen in organizational matters, and concluded that they should recruit him to the revolutionary cause. Thus, one day in early July 1989, he received a request for a meeting from a man who identified himself as Kim Cheol Soo. The man would later be revealed as Yoon Taek Rim, a known North Korean agent. 

When the two men met, the middle-aged Yoon explained: I have come from the North, Mr. Kim, and wish to discuss unification with you. But Kim, understandably skeptical and fearful of South Korean intelligence agents, retorted: How can I be certain that you are from the North?

Ah yes, I see, Yoon concurred. Then I will take steps to help you confirm it. Listen to the broadcast from Pyongyang at 22:00 tomorrow night. The announcer will state that I have made contact with Mr. Kim and delivered the message. This will prove my identity.

Kim listened to the broadcast as instructed, and sure enough the North Korean announcer did exactly as Yoon had said he would, convincing Kim that the story was true. Yet Kim felt ambivalent about meeting the man from the North again. He was already a core member of an underground movement philosophically based on the Juche idea, and he desperately wanted to see North Korean society for himself and discuss Juche with North Korean experts. But now that this appeared to be coming to pass, he found himself with much to ponder.

The beach on Ganghwa Island where Kim met the North Korean submarine that transported him to Haeju.
The map shows how close the beach (marked by a red pin) is to Seoul. North Korean territory is just out
of shot to the north.  | Image: Google Maps

Despite these doubts, Kim went on to meet Yoon six or seven times, all while doing things like hiking up and down Mt. Gwanak, an urban mountain in the south of Seoul. Yoon brought Kim into the Chosun Workers Party in a ceremony held on that very mountainside, getting him to pledge undying loyalty to the Party and to Kim Il Sung. Prior to his departure back to the North, Yoon also gave Kim a shortwave radio, codebooks and a numbers chart for interpreting broadcasts from Pyongyang. Every two months, a series of numbers was broadcast containing instructions for all personnel in South Korea, including Kim, who by then was known by his handle: "Gwanaksan-1."

In February 1991, the numbers called Gwanaksan-1 to Pyongyang. He was instructed to come at an appropriate time, but moreover to bring someone with you who can organize and manage our communications effort. Kim called on a former colleague who had just been released from prison. I am going to take part in an important and dangerous task for the sake of unification, Kim told Jo Yu Sik. Can you do it with me? Jo agreed, and at midnight on May 17th that year the two men rendezvoused with two North Korean agents on a beach at Geonpyeong-ni, on the west coast of Ganghwa Island (see image).

Almost five hours later, the four men arrived by submarine in the North Korean port city of Haeju, where two ranking Party officials were waiting.

To be continued...

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