Shadowy Anti-Kim Organization Claims Responsibility for DPRK Madrid Embassy Break-in
On Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2019, a Spanish court lifted a secrecy order and released a report detailing the events surrounding the Feb. 22, 2019 break-in at North Korea’s embassy in Madrid by ten individuals, including a Mexican citizen, a US citizen, and a South Korean citizen.
Following the report, a group, which calls itself as Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD), claimed responsibility for the operation. According to Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, the group entered the embassy, assaulted embassy employees, and snatched computers from the compound. On its website, the group has written that it had shared information “of enormous potential value” with the FBI, referring to the electronic files stolen from the embassy.
The website of Cheollima Civil Defense thought to be created on March 7, 2017, describes itself as “organization of refugees who escaped North Korea” that aims to “shake the Kim Jong-un regime.”
Adrian Hong Chang, the alleged leader whose name was disclosed by the Spanish court, has worked as a managing director of a consultancy firm, a human rights advocate, and a writer. One of his most notable past activities includes founding a human rights organization called Liberty in North Korea, which supports North Korean refugees. In an interview with Liberty in North Korea’s current CEO Hannah Song by TIME, she commented that he no longer was involved in their work over ten years. As a writer on issues related to North Korean refugees, he has written articles for major Western news media, such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic.
The group broke into the embassy on Feb. 22, less than a week before the second summit between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Per the report by Judge José de la Mata, who presides over the Spanish court handling the matter, Hong Chang — a Mexican citizen and a US resident — entered the embassy disguised as a business partner with the embassy.
Additionally, after Hong Chang was led into the compound, nine others entered and proceeded to attack embassy employees with metal bars, machetes, knives, and fake pellet guns. Spanish police was initially alerted when neighbors heard a woman scream. In addition, Judge de la Mata wrote that the suspects urged So Yun Sok, North Korea’s only accredited diplomat to Spain, to defect. He refused and was gagged.
So far, the North Korean embassy nor any of its employees have pressed charges in Spain.
Still, Judge de la Mata issued international arrest warrants for Hong Chang and Sam Ruy, a US citizen and fellow CCD member. According to reports, the judge also plans to request extradition for both individuals, currently thought to have fled to US soil. When asked about the matter during a regular news briefing, US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino declined to comment on the extradition request. However, Palladino told reporters that “the United States government had nothing to do with this,” emphasizing that Washington called for the safety and protection of all embassies.
In a similar manner, the FBI did not comment on accepting the files offered by the shadowy organization. Referring to the investigation into the incident, a statement by the FBI stated “it is our standard practice to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” but “the FBI enjoys a strong working relationship without Spanish law enforcement partners.”
On the same day as the unsealing of court documents, CCD claimed responsibility for entering the North Korean embassy in Madrid and claimed that the incident “was not an attack.” It further claims that the members of CCD were “invited into the embassy,” and that “no one was gagged or beaten.” Lee Wolosky, a former national security official in several American administrations who is acting as a legal counsel of the group stated that “many of the assertions of Judge de la Mata, as reported in the media, are inaccurate and uninformed.”
Amid the flurry of speculation, experts point out the extraordinary disclosure of names of members of CCD that include a US citizen and a US resident in danger. Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea expert at Tufts University, notes “observing this extraordinary situation unfold, who in the future would collaborate with the United States government were they ever to come into possession of high-value intelligence on North Korea obtained illegally?”
Drawing the connection with the meeting between Trump and Kim, various news media have pointed out that the former North Korea ambassador to Spain took a major part in the negotiations before the meeting, and the group may have broken in to obtain information on him.
On its website, CCD claims the group was established responding to an “emergency request” to protect the family of Kim Jong-nam, a half brother of Kim Jong Un who was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.