Top-Ranking North Korean Official Flees to South
Name is currently being withheld
13 other civilians fled as well
29,000 North Koreans have fled since 1953 with over 1,200 in the past year alone
A Colonel has fled from the North Korean General Reconnaissance Bureau to seek asylum in South Korea. On Monday the Seoul government confirmed that the high-ranking official fled to South Korea sometime last year. The Colonel joins one of 29,000 North Koreans who have fled the country since the end of 1930-53 Korean War, with over 1,200 fleeing in just the past year. These defectors have come from various social and economical statuses within the country but all flee in an effort to escape the North’s harsh political system and extreme poverty, according to the South Korean government.
South Korean sources state that the Colonel, who’s name is being withheld, was a member of Bureau 121, an agency dedicated to cyber-warfare and other clandestine operations. The bureau is believed to be responsible for two deadly attacks that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010. It gained national attention in 2014 when suspected of a “hack attack” on Sony Entertainment Pictures, allegedly in response to the Seth Rogan film “The Interview”.
The Colonel’s defection is one of many recently announced by the South Korean Government. Three days before this announcement it was revealed that 13 North Koreans working in a foreign restaurant had defected to the south in a mass exodus. The Colonel is regarded as an elite member of the North Korean government by other recent defectors. Some analysts believe the Colonel is an “intelligence goldmine” related to North Korean military operations. This defection could lead to the biggest leak in North Korean intelligence since 1997, when Hwang Jang-yop, a senior ruling Workers’ Party official who once tutored Kim’s late dictator father Kim Jong I, fled to the South. Jang-yop’s defection was widely celebrated as a major signal that North’s political system was vastly inferior to the South’s.
South Korea’s spy agency alleges that the Colonel’s defection could be a signal that Kim Jong-Un is losing his grip on the North Korean political system. According to the agency over 70 officials have been executed since Kim took power in 2012. They state that various officials are fleeing the country and seeking asylum in South Korea to avoid these purges. South Korea’s Unification Ministry also confirmed that a North Korean diplomat based in Africa also defected to the south to avoid one of these executions. Despite the South’s claims these numbers are impossible to confirm due to the North’s vice-like grip on all information going in or out of the secretive nation.
Despite the debate about the accuracy in number of executions of North Korean officials or number of defectors from the North to South the Colonel going AWOL is being viewed as a major intelligence victory. The high-ranking official had access to a level of classified information not seen since Hwang Jang-Yop’s defection in 1997. Not only is the Colonel the most informed refugee in over a decade, he is willing to share the information he was privy to. South Korea’s Yohap News Agency claims the Colonel has already leaked information about the secretive Bureau 121 in the following statement issued on Monday April 11 2016.
“He is believed to have stated details about the bureau’s operations against South Korea to authorities here,”
Defections have always been, and will continue to be, a major source of conflict between the North and South. The North claims the South entices citizens to defect with promises of save haven and an un-attainable lifestyle, while the South claims defectors leave on their own accord due to the harsh politics of the North and unbearable living conditions brought on by the struggling economy.
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