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Who Busted Into North Korea’s Madrid Embassy?

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SEOUL—The 10 men in dark suits who raided the North Korean embassy in Madrid last month had one goal in mind, it would seem: to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Although the scene of the February 22 crime in Spain was many thousands of miles from the DMZ, analysts view the 10 involved as the cutting edge of a North Korean dissident group that’s now named Jayu Joseon, “Free [North] Korea.” It allegedly has the backing of some wealthy Koreans and foreigners as well as ties inside the North—apparently the first organization to have set up an operational challenge to the leadership in Pyongyang.

The immediate purpose of the break-in was to seize computers and mobile phones on which intelligence analysts could find top-secret message traffic to the former North Korean ambassador to Spain, Kim Hyok Chol.

He was expelled by Madrid in September 2017 after the United Nations imposed new sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests. But at the time of the raid last month he had a much more sensitive position: Pyongyang's envoy to the nuclear talks with Washington and Seoul.

The group busted into the embassy just five days before the summit in Hanoi between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which would have made any intelligence it picked up useful—but has also been cited by analysts as a reason it was not sanctioned by the Americans. The timing would seem to be too provocative and the risk of scuttling the summit too high.

In the event, for a multitude of reasons anticipated long before the Madrid incicent, the Hanoi summit was a failure.

Initial reports in Spain after the break-in did not mention Jayu Joseon (formerly named Cheollima Civil Defense), but did mention suspicions among unnamed Spanish authorities that two of the men who took part had unspecified connections to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Subsequent reports in The Washington Post and elsewhere have suggested Jayu Joseon operates entirely on its own. But the very long record of exile/underground movements around the world suggests they almost always have at least some support from foreign powers, and may also receive direction from them.

(Nicaragua’s Contras built up by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, and Iran’s Mujahedin e Khalq backed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein until his downfall would be two examples.)

Yet another sign of the extreme sensitivity of the Madrid operation is that Spanish authorities have not released any information on their investigation aside from the basic facts that the 10 men entered the embassy, beat up and tied eight people inside, and remained there for several hours.

Jayu Joseon has yet to comment on the Madrid raid. Indeed, it might not have been publicized at all had a police vehicle not shown up at the embassy after a woman freed herself and appeared at a window shouting for help.

When a police officer knocked on the door, a man opened it up and said there was no problem. The police, respecting the embassy’s diplomatic status, did not attempt to enter and see for themselves.

Finally the 10 fled in two luxury vehicles that sped through the opened gates of the embassy drive. The cars veered crazily through traffic before they were abandoned and the men disappeared without a trace—at least as far as public information is concerned.........

© The Daily Beast