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Korean-American Charged With Espionage
Suspect reportedly traveled to North Korea while a member of the American military
Robert Neff (neff)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-10 12:28 (KST)   
North Korea is "my home" and South Korea is the "enemy's rearguard," American businessman Michael Chang allegedly proclaimed in a report he sent to North Korea. Michael Chang, 44, also known as Chang Min-ho, has been charged along with four South Koreans of espionage for North Korea.

According to South Korean prosecutors, Chang was the head of the pro-communist group Ilsim-hoe (with one mind) that not only spied upon the South Korean government for the North but also attempted to "establish a fifth column by infiltrating political parties and converting activists to North Korean ideologies."

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The discovery of this the "biggest spy case" in the last six years has been costly. Four of the five accused spies are or were members of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) -- the most prominent of them is the vice secretary general, Choi Ki-young, 40. All were apparently former student activists during the 1980s, commonly known as the 386 generation, which now holds influential power in the present government.

One prosecution official claimed that the police and Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) had "been tracking the case for a long time, monitoring the actions and dialogues of Chang and "Ilsim-hoe members" before they were arrested.

Kim Seung-kyu, who was chief of NIS when the first of the suspected spies was arrested, described the case as "shocking to see" and promised that the NIS was "investigating additional suspects in the case." But shortly afterward, he resigned claiming he did not "want to be a burden" to the Roh government. It has been speculated that he was pressured to resign due to his zealous investigation of the 386 generation, but when he was interviewed by the Chosun Ilbo he would neither deny nor confirm the speculation.

He assured the paper that everyone within the NIS was working with a "strong sense of patriotism" and the investigation would "continue until the truth" was discovered "even if it cost them their jobs" because they were "working to improve [South Korea's] security by arresting North Korean spies."

While the Korean intelligence agency has promised to find "the truth," what has the American government done in its own investigation of Michael Chang? One blogger noted just after the arrest of Chang:

"The Korean aspects of this case are interesting -- and highly embarrassing to the DLP and Uri party, but no one here seems to be mentioning the AMERICAN side of this "386 spy case.'"

What is the American side of the story? First of all, it is filled with Korean reports that often conflict with one another, which could easily be cleared up if the American government would simply make a statement -- which it hasn't. But here is what has been printed mainly in the Korean media.

Michael Chang studied at an unnamed university in Seoul in 1981 and then moved to the United States the following year -- apparently to continue his studies. It is unclear how long he remained in the United States, or where he lived, but according to the Korean prosecution he was recruited by a fellow Korean-American and went to North Korea for the first time in 1989 where he received indoctrination and was reportedly given $10,000. He then returned to the United States and joined the United States Army.

According to the Seoul Press (Nov. 1, 2006), the Korean prosecution alleged Chang was trained as a North Korean spy from 1989 through 1993. However, some media sources claimed that Chang was stationed in Korea at the beginning of 1991 with the military. The Chosun Ilbo reported that he married his wife, who was a USFK (United States Forces Korea) official's secretary, identified as Kang, in June 1991. The official American military newspaper, Stars and Stripes (Nov. 9, 2006), reported that USFK was unable to confirm Chang's service dates in Korea during the 1990s using a "database search" but would try again "using other possible Korean spellings of the name."

Stars and Stripes did verify that Chang's wife had worked for an American lieutenant colonel from 1993 to 1996, but did not name the officer or define his official duties.

In Sept. 1993, Chang was alleged to have traveled to Beijing and then on to Pyongyang where he joined the Worker's Party and pledged allegiance to Kim Jong-il, received ten days of indoctrination by North Korea's Liaison Department and $4,000. It is unclear if he was still in the American military at that time. He then returned to South Korea.

It is unclear what he did in the years following his term with the military -- as we do not know how long he served or where, but his wife finished working for the USFK in 1996. By this time, he was also an American citizen.

In 1999, Chang started Naray Digital Entertainment -- a 3-D animation company. He also held chief positions in several other companies such as Sky Game TV, Korea's first cable game channel. His positions in these information technology companies may have also enabled him to leak confidential information and security technology to North Korea.

Chosun Ilbo reported that according to Grand National Party Lawmaker Lee Kei-kyung it was possible that confidential information was passed to North Korea since "state agencies like the Korean Information Security Agency and the Health Insurance Review Agency were major clients of [Chang's] IT solution company, MediaWill Technology."

Sometimes he and the others received orders from North Korea by e-mail. Accompanying these orders were reassurances from their North Korean superiors that Kim Jong-il valued their service "like very precious gold," and allegedly Chang received awards for his work.

Chang is alleged to have traveled at least three times to North Korea since 1989, but traveled quite frequently to a safe house set up in Beijing where he and his fellow conspirators received training, orders and funding. His last trip to the safe house was in January this year.

In late October, he were arrested along with the other members and held in five different locations in Seoul. Allegedly, NIS threatened to send him to Guantanamo Bay if he did not cooperate. Chang denies most charges, including the charge that he was a member of the North Korean Labor Party. The prosecution, however, claims to have at least 46 reports retrieved from seized computers and data storage, along with pictures and other evidence that supports their charges.

Not everyone feel that the prosecution is on the up and up. From a Chosun Ilbo editorial (Dec. 9, 2006): "if the prosecutor's findings are to be believed, the masterminds were no great shakes in the mind department." Instead of using their many contacts in the highest reaches of the government, they "reported party movements as they read about them in the papers And yet the incompetence and laziness of these spies somehow netted them various decorations from the North Korean regime "

This brings us back to the American issue that the blogger raised. Among other things, he wanted to know how Michael Chang was able to travel to North Korea while a member of the American military, and was also able to gain American citizenship without our own intelligence agencies knowing about it.

"If one doesn't see the implications, I sure hope the FBI, CID, OSI, CIA and others see the significance."

A Timeline of Confusion

1962(?)Michael Chang (Chang Min-ho) born in Korea.
1981Attends university.
1982Goes to the United States (possibly for school).
1989Went to North Korea for the first time.
Joins the United States Army.
1991Serves in Korea with the United States Army.
June 1991Married Ms. Kang.
1993Wife works for USFK official.
Sept. 1991Goes to North Korea and joins Worker's Party.
Receives training in China with Sohn Jong-mok.
1996Wife ends work with USFK.
1999Set up a 3-D animation company, Naray Digital Entertainment.
Mar. 2005Went to China with fellow members of the alleged spy ring
Jan. 2006Last time at the safe house in Beijing.
Oct. 2006Arrested and held for investigation.
Dec. 2006Charged with espionage.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Robert Neff

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