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Accusations Swirl of CIA, Russia, Dissident Group Involvement in North Korea Embassy Attack

A journalist from South Korea rings an intercom of North Korea's embassy in Madrid, Spain February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
A journalist from South Korea rings an intercom of North Korea's embassy in Madrid, Spain February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Who broke into North Korea’s embassy in Spain? The brazen attack and siege of data has prompted multiple theories.

On February 22, just five days ahead of the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, ten masked men broke into the North Korea embassy in Madrid.

Once inside, the masked men tied up embassy employees and stole several computers. A female employee managed to escape through a window on the second floor. She screamed, and nearby residents reacted quickly by calling the police.

When police officers arrived an Asian man greeted them and tried to assure them everything was OK and nothing had happened. A few minutes later, the man and the ten attackers escaped from the embassy building with computers, mobile phones and documents and took off in two diplomatic cars driving at full speed.

“They carried fake firearms and held them for two hours,” said a source close to the investigation. The police found that eight people were bound for four hours with bags on their heads. Two of them needed medical help after the raid.

Who Was Behind the Raid on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid?

Allegations of who’s responsible for the attack have varied in the media so far. El Pais and El Confidencial both reported that Spanish investigators believe two of the suspects have ties to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The CIA denied the allegation and officials from American, Spanish and North Korean governments declined to comment.

The Washington Post and other American media outlets reported that a North Korean dissident group aimed at overthrowing Kim Jong-Un was believed to be the mastermind of the attack. According to a source’s statement to the Post, the group is called the Cheollima Civil Defense.

The newspaper said the group, which also goes by the name Free Joseon, came to prominence in 2017 after evacuating a nephew of Kim from Macau when potential threats to his life surfaced.

The Post’s sources said the group did not act in coordination with any governments and U.S. intelligence agencies would have been especially reluctant to be involved given the sensitive timing of the mission ahead of a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi from Feb. 27-28.

On Feb. 25 the group’s website posted a statement saying the group had “received a request for help from comrades in a certain Western country” and that “it was a highly dangerous situation but (we) responded.” The group said an important announcement would be coming that week, but no details of any operation have been released.

So far, El Confidencial and El Pais have yet to provide supporting evidence that the CIA was behind the attack though they claim their information comes from Spanish police investigators.

The Washington Examiner, in an opinion piece, suggested that Russia might be involved in El Pais’ accusation of CIA involvement in the embassy attack – since Russia loves to promote its anti-American political agenda, according to the author’s argument.

CIA Involvement in Madrid Questioned 

Other reports claim that it was improbable the CIA masterminded the raid. Multiple security experts and intelligence officials told Yahoo News that it was too risky for American intelligence to conduct such an operation.

John Nixon, a former senior leadership analyst at the CIA, wrote in his email to Yahoo: “This sounds like keystone cops (sic) to me. The risk aversion the CIA feels for such [an] overt act would most certainly kick in and cause such a plan to die on the drawing board.”

David Maxwell, a former Special Operations officer with more than 20 years experience in Asia, also cast doubt over the CIA’s role in the raid.

However, Ken Gause, a senior foreign leadership analyst and director of the international affairs group at CNA, a nonprofit analysis firm based in Virginia told Yahoo “There is precedent of intelligence agencies doing this to foreign embassies for [counterintelligence] reasons.

“Normally we can keep it quiet but given U.S. intel ops in Europe over the last few years (bugging leaders’ personal cell phones, for example) and the anger Trump’s policies have caused with traditional allies, it is not surprising that we couldn’t keep this incident quiet, if in fact it was us who did it,” said Gause in an email to Yahoo.

Another theory put forth by Spanish news site el Periodico is that the men were mercenaries for hire, possibly hired by South Korean intelligence which has often worked hand in hand with U.S. intelligence. With the Trump-Kim summit approaching only days after the break-in though, it begs the question if South Korea and the U.S. would put the summit at risk.

Why Was the North Korean Embassy Targeted?

Multiple reports suggested that the assailants may have broken into the embassy building to find out information about former North Korean ambassador to Spain, Kim Hyok-Chol, who was expelled in September 2017 due to Pyongyang’s nuclear testing program.

Hyok-Chol played a vital role in his country’s negotiations with the U.S. during the Hanoi summit. Hyok-chol also joined a Washington trip with Jong-un’s right hand Kim Yong-Chol last January.

Oddly, the assailants carried imitation weapons while police discovered “an arsenal of arms” in the embassy which consisted of shotguns, rifles and handguns. Gun ownership laws in Spain are stringent.

Whatever the reason behind the attack, the attackers carried out the operation smoothly, indicating they knew what they looking for: cellphones and computer devices, which contained vast information of the North Korean government.

It is unknown whether the suspects knew there was a meeting inside the building in the afternoon. “It appears that they did not know that there were guests there. They were, however, apparently looking for specific documentation,” sources close to Spanish investigators told El Pais.

 


Reuters contributed to this article.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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