In February 2019, the North Korean embassy in Madrid Spain was raided. During the raid, the group of men removed an assortment of computers, cell phones, and other media storage machines. The group suspected of this action is known as Free Joseon, a group established to oppose the North Korean regime.
Formed in 2017 Free Joseon, aka Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD), was established to support those wanting to defect from North Korea and opposed the regime of Kim Jong Un (EyeSpy, 122, 2019). On their site they define their mission:
The Provisional Government of Free Joseon certainly seeks ultimate peace and believes in dialogue over conflict when it is held between partners in good faith. Millions starved to death, hundreds of thousands of citizens in concentration camps, and hundreds of foreigners kidnapped and assassinated will attest that, unfortunately, the regime in Pyongyang has never acted in good faith and only seeks to stall while it continues to proliferate weapons of mass destruction and commit mass atrocities. The regime has never stopped developing weapons of mass destruction even while engaging with the United States since 2018. Regretfully, these empty gestures by the Kim regime serve only to deceive the world and empower an immoral criminal regime. Change must come, for both our oppressed people and for a genuine peace (www.cheollimacivildefense.org/).
Since its inception, the group has maintained a rather secretive existence. This latest action in Madrid has been seen as their most audacious action (EyeSpy, 122, 2019). Days before President Trump was set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, a mysterious incident in Spain threatened to derail the entire high-stakes nuclear summit. In broad daylight, masked assailants infiltrated North Korea’s embassy in Madrid, tied up the staff, stole computers and mobile phones, and fled the scene in two luxury vehicles (www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/ae4208a4-c451-4886-b608-f5ac1f182d3d_story.html?noredirect=on).
Details about the mysterious attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid suggested that the incident was more serious than first thought. According to sources close to an investigation into what happened on February 22, around 10 people carrying fake firearms entered the residential building, located in the Aravaca district in Madrid, and assaulted the eight people inside, who were a mixture of staff from the embassy and guests.
A Korean woman who managed to escape the building alerted residents thanks to her screams. Police officers who responded and were unable to understand what the woman was saying in Korean, tried to enter the building, but a man opened the door to them and told them that there was nothing going on. Minutes later, two luxury vehicles sped out of the embassy, leaving the staff and guests behind in the building and taking computers and documents with them (elpais.com/1551363460_929631.html).
El Pais, the most reliable newspaper in Spain, can bring you up to speed on the incident, which North Korea is now suddenly calling a terror attack. The embassy burglars sought information, à la Watergate. Unlike Watergate, they came by day. They invaded the embassy in a quiet residential neighborhood, assaulted the staff, tied people up, and demanded computers and files.
A British Broadcasting Corporation report says they were especially interested in the former ambassador to Madrid, Kim Hyok Chol, a confidant of Kim Jong Un. Investigators believe that the intruders were looking for ‘sensitive information regarding North Korea’s nuclear and arms program’ just days ahead of the Hanoi summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump. (www.asiatimes.com/spain-not-satisfied-with-cia-answers-on-embassy-attack/).
Some of the documents stolen are said to comprise memos and notes related to the North Korean nuclear ambitions.
Because of this, North Korea has insisted that the robbery was orchestrated at the behest of the CIA or FBI. This speculation has only been heightened by the fact that members of the robbery were American, a former US Marine Christopher Ahn. Because of the US arrests, it has been speculated that the information stolen was turned over to American intelligence services (EyeSpy, 2019). This accusation has been made by more than just North Korea.
Spanish intelligence initially blamed two individuals connected to the CIA for the attack. A Spanish court has issued an extradition order for men alleged to have been involved in the assault. The men are accused of breaking into and entering the North Korean embassy in Madrid, taking North Korean diplomats hostage, and stealing computers, hard drives, cellphones, and encryption devices that they later handed over to the FBI.
The situation has been further complicated by the US response ─ the Department of Justice issued a wanted poster for the leader of Free Joseon. The public notification from the DOJ underscores the seriousness of the US government’s efforts to track down two Koreans sought for possible extradition to Spain under a criminal warrant issued in March by Judge José de la Mata of Spain’s high court. The very unusual move has stirred a backlash from US foreign-policy hard-liners on North Korea who say the Trump administration’s manhunt for the suspects amounts to support for that country’s 34-year-old dictator.
It has also received a controversial response from elements in the US who are dismayed by the Trump administration’s handling of the situation. The US government publicly disclosed the names of the suspects which angered supporters of the Free Joseon movement (www.thenation.com/did-the-cia-orchestrate-an-attack-on-the-north-korean-embassy-spain-cia/). It further garnered controversy when the US Justice Department’s deciding to execute warrants against US personnel that derive from criminal complaints filed by North Korea (EyeSpy, 2019).
This situation regarding the Madrid raid raises complications for the US. The use of proxy groups to carry out missions in the service of intelligence agencies is a common practice.
But, in this case, with US citizens being actively involved in such an action, and the materials obtained possibly containing information beneficial to US intelligence, even if Free Joseon takes full responsibility for this break-in.
The insinuation that the US intelligence community was involved is going to continue to playout. This situation will also compromise the Trump administration. The US has issued arrest warrants to honor an extradition that ultimately resulted from a filing made by the North Korean government and has the potential to create a serious political controversy.
The Madrid Incident, EyeSpy Magazine, Issue No. 122, 2019.