by Tim Shorrock
The celebration of defectors from communist international locations is an previous custom in Washington. Over the years, dozens of diplomats and spies from the Soviet Union—together with quite a few world-famous athletes and dancers—have stepped throughout the US nationwide safety stage and executed their half for freedom and democracy, America-style.
One of probably the most spectacular was Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, who defected whereas visiting India in 1966. A decade later, Victor Belenko flew his MIG fighter jet to Japan, turned himself over to US authorities, and spent years working as a advisor to US protection contractors. The greatest coup could have been Arkady Shevchenko, who in 1978 turned the highest-ranking Soviet official to ever defect, taking refuge with the CIA after spying for the US for three years from his perch on the United Nations.
This week, Washington gave a heat welcome to Thae Yong-ho, the highest-level diplomat to defect from North Korea since 1979. A 12 months in the past, Thae, an erudite man in his 50s, fled London, the place he was serving as North Korea’s deputy ambbadador to the UK. Thae and his household had been ultimately granted asylum in South Korea, the place he’s now working for the nation’s National Intelligence Service, the successor to the once-dreaded Korean CIA.
Thae spent a lot of his time in Washington preaching in regards to the ills of his nation and its 33-year-old hereditary dictator, Kim Jong Un. He denounced the nation’s community of jail camps, the place he stated even former ambbadadors to Cuba and Malaysia have been despatched for political crimes. At one level, he declared that North Korea’s dismal document on human rights “was tantamount to the crimes committed by the Nazis.” In distinction to many North Korean defectors, nonetheless, Thae had no direct expertise with that system.
In a gap badertion to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which invited him to testify on his second day within the metropolis, Thae defined that, as a member of North Korea’s diplomatic elite, he had all the time loved “economic privileges,” and acquired a lot of his greater schooling overseas, particularly in China. Since 2001, he spent most of his time in Europe, additionally representing North Korea in Sweden and earlier than the UN. “We were dedicated, true communists,” he stated, however now “my family and I have abandoned that.”
His rejection of the ruling Workers Party seemed to be much more sensible than ideological, nonetheless. In a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Thae defined that his major motivation for defecting was his household’s expertise with the unimaginable array of knowledge from the Internet they seen throughout their life in London. His sons, he stated, cherished the Internet, “which is so great, even for study, for fun, for everything. But why does the North Korean regime not allow it?”
Questions like that, he stated, positioned him in a “very difficult situation,” whereas discussions together with his British mates “left me flat-footed.” He lastly determined that “the biggest legacy I can leave for my sons is the freedom” supplied to extraordinary folks by on-line data, chats, and searches. His boys “saw a different world,” he stated. “I could not let them life a life like me as a modern-day slave.”
Pressure, Engagement: Not War
On the raging battle between Kim Jong Un and President Trump over the North’s fast-advancing nuclear and missile packages, Thae took the view adopted by many US badysts of North Korea’s intentions. Kim, he stated, is attempting to “blackmail” the United States, with the last word objective of forcing it to withdraw its 28,000 troopers from South Korea.
At the identical time, he warned towards a pre-emptive strike—similar to these contemplated by the Trump administration—due to the “human sacrifice” that North Korea might inflict on South Korea with its huge array of artillery and rockets simply north of the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). “I support maximum pressure policy” of the Trump administration, he stated, “but I strongly believe that maximum pressure should go together with maximum engagement.”
That engagement, he advised, must be start with direct contacts with the Kim authorities. “Before any military action is taken, I think it is necessary to meet Kim Jong Un, at least once, to understand his thinking and try to convince him that he would be destroyed” if the North badaults the U.S. or its allies, he advised Congress. The finish objective, he added, is to steer the North to surrender its weapons after which “help Kim Jong Un build its economy and make North Korea a prosperous country.”
As for future insurance policies, Thae emphasised the significance of penetrating North Korea’s data blockade. The use of “soft power,” he stated, can be key to ending what he referred to as Kim’s “reign of terror” over the North Korean inhabitants. “We can’t change” the regime’s coverage, he stated, “but we can do the dissemination of outside information inside North Korea.”
He advised a marketing campaign of “tailor-made content”—smuggled in digital reminiscence units that may be simply hidden from authorities—to teach the North Korean folks and their ruling elite in regards to the realities of the Kim regime and “basic concepts of human rights, freedom and democracy.”
Thae’s stress on data operations dovetailed with the insurance policies of the group that sponsored his first journey to the United States: the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US authorities company that Congress created within the 1980s to supplant the CIA in supporting pro-US democratic forces all over the world. In current years, NED has taken a serious curiosity in North Korea.
In 2006, in keeping with NED’s webpage on North Korea, the group spent over $2 million on greater than dozen organizations centered on bringing worldwide consideration to the human rights state of affairs in North Korea and supporting the “free flow” of knowledge into the nation. Major recipients included NK News ($200,000), which is often quoted on US social media, and Unification Media Group, which acquired $440,00 to beam radio broadcasts in North Korea (in 2014, Pyongyang slammed it as an “anti-Republic clown show of provocation,” in keeping with NK News).
Thae’s speak at CSIS was co-sponsored by NED and the Committee for Human Rights in Korea, which final week launched a report primarily based on newly obtainable imagery that claims that Kim has vastly expanded his “brutal and inhumane” jail system over the previous 4 years.
His go to got here as President Trump was making ready to go to South Korea to focus world consideration on his marketing campaign to finish North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM packages. With Trump prone to face opposition and demonstrations towards his militaristic insurance policies in Seoul, Thae’s appearances in Washington seemed to be designed to persuade Americans that powerful measures similar to sanctions are essential to cope with Pyongyang and that North Korean defectors is likely to be round who might run a successor authorities if the Kim regime ever collapsed.
“Thae Yong-ho can help us answer the question of how to understand North Korea, which is a precondition for the development of an effective policy to deal with the security threat,” Carl Gershman, the longtime director of NED and a outstanding anti-communist activist from the times of the Cold War, stated in introducing the previous diplomat at CSIS.
Tim Shorrock is a Washington-based journalist who writes about US nationwide safety and international coverage for a lot of publications at residence and overseas. He is the writer of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. Photo: Thae Yong-ho (CNN)