Update: Since the time of this report, the Joseon Institute has scrubbed their website. Archived versions of it are linked in this article.
After weeks of a sustained media campaign attempting to undermine confidence in the denuclearization talks with North Korea it seems that efforts have been significantly ramped up. New revelations regarding events concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and statements coming out of the hermit kingdom itself show a concerted effort from both inside and out of the country to overthrow Kim Jong Un and prevent peace for the Peninsula. These efforts are being assisted not only by the United Nations (UN), but also, surprisingly, the United Kingdom and other European states. The recent developments indicate that a dangerous new chapter is unfolding in the campaign to prevent North Korean denuclearization.
I. North Korea’s Defense Industry, Military Rebels Against Kim
On March 26, 2019, Reuters highlighted South Korean reports of a North Korean statement made by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui on March 15 regarding the positions President Donald Trump had outlined to the North Korean delegation during negotiations at the Hanoi Summit. Most shocking about the statement was the admission that Chairman Kim Jong Un had “faced much opposition and challenges” from the military and defense industry within the DPRK due to their desire for him to not give up nuclear weapons. The North Koreans, who are known for venerating their leadership and extolling their total power would not admit to such weakness unless they were highly concerned about stark realities within their own country.
The pushback from the North Korean defense industry paints the global distribution of DPRK-produced weaponry in a new light. Disobedient Media has previously noted that such dissemination of conventional arms created a very real risk that groups who North Korea never had any intention of supporting would use their weaponry in heinous acts which would then be blamed on the DPRK. The now apparently open opposition to Kim Jong Un from his own defense industry causes doubt as to the extent that North Korean leadership is aware of weapons transfers being conducted in their name.
The policy of Songun promoted by Kim Jong Il for many years allowed the DPRK’s military industrial complex to thrive. With the advent of new leadership that has prioritized peace, this industry will now suffer. The willingness of North Korean authorities to openly acknowledge rebellion against them raises questions about who is truly in control of the country. It would appear that the pariah nation is held hostage by its own contractors and parties involved with nuclear development.
North Korea’s military has also been a thorn in Chairman Kim’s side ever since his ascension to power. In May 2017, The Asahi Shimbun reported that the murder of Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam had come just days after he met with a suspected US intelligence agent in Malaysia. Just a few months after Kim’s murder, the young North Korean leader purged the country’s powerful General Political Bureau over what was described as an “impure attitude” likely in relation to the apparent coup attempt. Top military posts were ultimately filled with individuals who were more loyal to Kim. To see the DPRK’s military stepping up attempts to undermine Kim Jong Un as a potential end to the Korean War looms is hardly a surprise.
II. Inside “Cheollima Civil Defense” And Their Ties To The UN, UK
Many Western media sources such as The Guardian and South China Morning Post have increasingly promoted a group of North Korean exiles who go by monikers such as Cheollima Civil Defense and Free Joseon. This coverage intensified after Cheollima Civil Defense was blamed for a break in at the North Korean embassy in Spain. Disobedient Media has cast doubts on such claims due to the group’s lack of military muscle. This analysis has appeared to be confirmed by reported statements from the group about their inability to defend themselves against potential responses from the North Korean government. Nevertheless, the connections of the group and the intention of Western and international media to use them as a propaganda tool provide an opportunity to examine their connections to both the United Nations and various European states as part of efforts to keep North Korea isolated and at war.
Cheollima Civil Defense is a relative newcomer to the Korean dissident scene. South Korean reports about the organization in February 2019 indicated that they were not familiar to North Korean defectors. The group claims to be a protector of the now-murdered Kim Jong Nam’s son and France24 has highlighted suspicions that Cheollima is supported by South Korean intelligence services. As the administration of President Moon Jae-in has prioritized a decrease in hostile behaviors to promote dialogue with North Korea, it is likely that intelligence factions supporting Cheollima were loyal to the now-deposed and cult-connected government of Park Geun-hye. During Park Geun-hye’s tenure the South Korean government took a hardline approach to relations with the DPRK that made peace talks unlikely.
Since the group has achieved international notoriety in 2019, lifetime Council on Foreign Relations member and former State Department official Lee Wolosky has been retained to represent them. Wolosky is known for his work directing US government efforts to apprehend notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Bout was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivering anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
One of the individuals reported to be behind Cheollima is US-based Mexican citizen Adrian Hong Chang. Hong is a mentor at Spark Labs, South Korea’s premier startup accelerator, a former visitor at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy (2010 – 2011), Visiting Lecturer teaching “America, Human Rights and Foreign Policy” at Korea’s Ewha University (2008), and was selected as a 2009 Arnold Wolfers Fellow at Yale University (2009). He has deep ties to the anti-DPRK activist community and is the founder of a Long Beach, CA-based NGO known as Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). Hong and other LiNK employees have previously been arrested in China and deported after entering the country to unsuccessfully help North Korean defectors during their escape. An examination of LiNK’s staff page shows that a number of individuals who are involved have previously worked for the United Nations.
Hong also served as the head of the Joseon Institute since 2015 according to NK News. The Joseon Institute’s website shows many indications of being a front organization. Their senior fellows, fellows and “Dosan Fellows” are all undisclosed. Their About page makes no secret of the fact that they solely exist to pursue regime change within North Korea, which they believe will occur “in the near-term.” The Joseon Institute’s advisors are former Libya “transitional” Prime Minister Mustafa A.G. Abushagur, former Mongolian Prime Minister Rinchinnyam Amarjargal, and British MP Fiona Bruce. Rinchinnyam Amarjargal is a supporter of the United Nations’ Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly which is partially geared towards the creation of a “more accountable” international political system.
III. Cheollima Civil Defense Likely To Be Used As Pawns, Will Never Take Power
The North Korean defense industry and military’s rebellion against Kim Jong Un shows a clear desire for regime change. North Korean defectors have openly opined that the Free Joseon movement is centered entirely around removing one member of the Kim family to be replaced by another in the name of “liberation.” All those involved in this regime change attempt ought to remember the many times in history where pretenders to the throne that solicited foreign aid in their quest for power caused not only their own destruction but the ruination of their entire homeland. The exiles will never be allowed to actually take power by their foreign sponsors and North Korea will find itself caught up in the horrors of a war that would no doubt engulf the country should Kim Jong Un be removed from power.
Those behind Cheollima Civil Defense do not seem to have any intention of ending the Korean War or seeking unification for Korea. The pervasive involvement of the United Nations is a further indication of this. The UN has been leading proponent of sanctions that are a sticking point between North Korea and the United States as they negotiate denuclearization. Disobedient Media has previously exposed the collaboration between the United Nation’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on North Korea and intelligence contractors to distribute and misleadingly interpret satellite imagery in an attempt to bolster the case for retaining sanctions against the DPRK.
As recently as March 27, 2019, UN PoE’s head Hugh Griffiths went before Congress to claim that he had “not seen North Korean progress towards denuclearization.” He was joined by the commander of US Forces in Korea Robert Abrams who similarly contended that North Korea’s activity was “inconsistent with denuclearization.” Both individuals ignore North Korean actions such as their public destruction of parts of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the presence of international journalists. This kind of extensive coordination for propaganda purposes summons memories of the extensive efforts to implant the belief that Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
It is more than likely that Cheollima Civil Defense is being pushed into the public consciousness with the intention to involve them in a planned event that will poison North Korea’s relations both with countries they have been improving relations with as well as some of the nations who have previously acted as business partners or clients. The fact that a “transformation computer” which allows Pyongyang to securely communicate with its embassies abroad was stolen in the Spanish embassy raid indicates a possible plan to prevent Kim from working with his foreign service to defuse a future provocation that will be attributed to him. While the ultimate goal of such efforts is regime change, the immediate objective will be to increasingly isolate the DPRK and reduce the list of parties who are willing to work with them and stand in the way of destabilization efforts.
Those involved with Cheollima Civil Defense do not seem to realize that once Kim Jong Un (and apparently, his family as well) are eliminated they will no longer be a necessary part of the equation for regime change in the DPRK.
IV. Blaming The United States For European Meddling?
The continual state of war that exists with North Korea allows for many countries to enjoy an increased amount of influence in Asia that they might not otherwise have. Denuclearization and improved relations between the North and South would jeopardize this arrangement. An examination of the parties involved with the regime change efforts and media narratives being deployed indicates that the United States may be framed for the actions of other Western countries seeking to provoke the DPRK and maintain their isolation.
The United Kingdom’s involvement with the Joseon Institute exposes their geopolitical intentions for North Korea. The United Kingdom is one of a number of parties who have used scandals such as Russiagate as a foreign policy tool to keep foreign leadership distracted and engaged in behavior which benefits Britain. In the same sense, sanctions and nuclear weapons are now being used to distract Kim Jong Un, prevent him from enacting his own agenda and cast doubt on his leadership abilities due to continuing poor relations with North Korea’s neighbors. “Nucleargate” is a distraction designed to prevent peace and a new, much improved chapter in the DPRK’s history.
It is possible that original claims of CIA involvement in the Spanish embassy attack are totally fabricated by British intelligence assets to shift responsibility away from other Western nations onto the United States. The allegations of the Central Intelligence Agency’s connection to the break-in were originally run by Spanish newspaper El País. El País was described by Grayzone as a specifically “friendly host” to the British Foreign Office and military intelligence-supported Integrity Initiative which has in the past targeted Disobedient Media.
Great Britain has had a deep relationship with Spain since World War II, when Britain bought off the Spanish to remain neutral and then used the country as an escape route for downed Allied airmen. British agency GCHQ collaborates independently with counterparts in Germany, France, Spain and Sweden. British-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was also revealed to have been working with Spanish intelligence officers in the years leading up to his poisoning in 2018. Additionally, Spain is a “Tier B” nation who participates in “focused cooperation” on computer network exploitation with members of the UKUSA Agreement popularly known as Five Eyes (FVEY).
The United States has strongly denied having anything to with the break in at North Korea’s embassy in Spain. With the Hanoi Summit looming at the time it is extremely unlikely that American intelligence would have jeopardized a potential deal by provoking the DPRK.
The Joseon Institute’s affiliation with Mustafa A.G. Abushagur, who failed to successfully transition Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, is a strong indication that the groups behind efforts to replace Kim are European rather than American. Libya’s regime change was lead by the United Kingdom, France and other NATO members as part of President Barack Obama’s “leading from behind” approach to foreign politics. Other European nations such as Holland have been directly implicated as supporters of Cheollima Civil Defense by the group themselves. The involvement of European nations as opposed to the United States would explain why Hong Chang made the odd decision to approach the FBI with intelligence for sale instead of a more appropriate agency such as the CIA. Such a mistake would not have been made by an asset already working for American intelligence.
With American and South Korean diplomats due to hold talks in Washington this week, perhaps they ought to discuss the ways in which foreign interests and parties within North Korea itself are ramping up efforts to undermine the peace process and prevent the defusing of a dangerous, nuclear-armed situation. Kim Il Sung engaged in war with the hope of unifying the Korean Peninsula only to see that war create yet another stumbling block on the road to reconciliation. Kim Jong Il engaged in war for war’s purpose and destroyed his father’s legacy while turning the DPRK into a reclusive outcast. Kim Jong Un is not his father and has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of his grandfather. All parties interested in preventing further destruction and warfare ought to encourage North Korea to avoid poor decisions that will negatively affect them.
Now is the time for caution and sobriety. Now is the time for peace.