Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
Following is the fifth excerpt from a book by WorldTribune and Geostrategy-Direct columnist Donald Kirk and the Korean author Kim Ki-Sam, “How South Korea’s Kim Dae-Jung bought his Peace Prize and financed Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear program”.
While the governments of South Korea and the United States helped suppress publication of this book in both countries, it has been published to acclaim in Norway, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize. With the ouster Friday of impeached conservative President Park Geun-Hye, leftist forces aligned with the policies of Kim Dae-Jung are poised to take power in Seoul.
The sensitivities of Korean leaders and bureaucrats were clear after Kim Ki-Sam went to the United States in 2002 and began to expose the link between the payoffs and the Nobel Peace Prize.
Until Judge Honeyman’s ruling, Ki-Sam had been an asylum applicant who had given up a promising career at the NIS for which he had worked hard for eight years after graduating in 1993 from the law school of Seoul National University. His last job in the agency was foreign press coordinator in the Office of External Cooperation Aid (OECA). Despite its fancy name, the office was a cover for the secret team that was organized to hunt for the Nobel— to carry out “the NP Project,” the “Nobel Prize Project,” or the “S Project” (with “S” standing for “Special”).
Kim Ki-Sam had begun work for the special team in February 1999, one year after DJ’s inauguration. “DJ had ordered his final push to win the Nobel Peace Prize, building the team under the aegis of NIS Director Lee Jong-Chan in August 1998,” Kim Ki-Sam recalled in vivid detail.
NIS Director Lee Jong-Chan was ironically a conservative who had fallen out with the conservative Grand National Party but had dreams of running for president. “He knew the best gift for DJ was this tiny little piece of metal called the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Kim.
Ra Jong-Il, deputy NIS director, a former professor in London and Seoul, in cahoots with Lee and close to the foreign press, loved the idea of a Korean winning the Nobel.
Between them, Lee and Ra worked together to form the team that included Kim Ki-Sam as a junior member.
“At the time, the Office of External Cooperation Aid was an undercover tool for the secret mission of the NP Project even though I had no idea when I was first assigned to the office,” Kim Ki-Sam recalled, “The size of the office was about ten members, and its sacred mission, led by a skillful expert on Northern Europe, was conducted in extreme secrecy within the agency.
The chief of the office was Lee Jong-Hun, one of the top experts when it comes to Norwegian issues and the Nobel Peace Prize. However, for some reason, Lee Jong-Hun was too cautious in pushing the project, and he was gradually edged out of the secret mission.
Not long after, Kim Han-Jung took complete control of the clandestine project and rapidly consolidated resources for the campaign.”
Understandably, Lee Jong-Chan, the NIS director who got the idea of setting up the office, was nonrevealing in his accounts after losing his job in May 1999. “When I was assigned to the NIS, I found that there was a lot of information in various fields but no economic information,” Lee Jong-Chan told Monthly Chosun. “The role of an intelligence organization is to foretell future crises to the consumer of the information”— that is, the president. Lee reminded Koreans that the government had asked the International Monetary Fund for a $58 billion bailout during the financial crisis of 1997– 98: “The so- called IMF crisis was caused when the intelligence organization did not pay appropriate attention to economic information. Thus I recruited several scholars who had studied international economics and installed them in the Office of External Cooperation Aid.”
Members of the office had backgrounds in law and politics, while Kim Han-Jung, the pivotal figure of the team, had majored in international economics as an undergraduate and international politics in graduate school. The organization had yet another mission. A government official described the purpose of OECA in detail for the article in Monthly Chosun in March 2003. “The purpose was to install an international human network, in particular in four super- power countries around the Korean peninsula”— that is, the four countries with most impact on Korea: the United States, Japan, China, and Russia.
The office focused mainly on the United States, according to the official. “We planned to contact an influential person in the U.S. and pursue good relations through that person,” the official was quoted as saying. “In order to have good relations with George W. Bush while he was governor of Texas, the office asked a major South Korean company to set up a branch office in the state. We also planned a public relations program through which President Kim was mentioned in the foreign press as frequently as possible.”
While studying at Seoul National University, Kim Han-Jung had earned his credentials as a democracy activist by getting jailed for two years for violating the Law on Assembly and Demonstrations after he and 13 students had barged into the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul on Nov. 4, 1985, and tried to set it on fire. A native of Haman, a remote village near the industrial center of Masan and the port of Busan in southeastern Korea, Kim Han-Jung might have logically not wanted to affiliate himself with Kim Dae-Jung, the populist leader from the port city of Mokpo in the restive Cholla region of southwestern Korea. People from the southeastern Kyoungsang region tended to think of DJ as ppal-gang-yi (“the Communist”) or ger-jit-mal-jaeng-yi (“the liar”), while those from the southwest saw him as a veritable messiah. DJ, however, was known to prefer to recruit certain non- Cholla people in order to show that he was not just a regional figure. Sublimating deep historic differences between the Kyoungsang and Cholla regions, Kim Han-Jung, after getting out of jail, had begun working for DJ as his press secretary when DJ was leader of the opposition Democratic Party. “DJ had me clipping the newspapers for six months,” he said in an article in Monthly JoongAng, published by JoongAng Ilbo in July 2003. “Later I took notes as dictated by DJ for his speeches and commentaries.” By the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the introduction of word processors, “I typed fast and clean,” he said, and “DJ was amazed.”
His four- year tenure as DJ’s press secretary ended in the 1992 presidential election, in which DJ was defeated by Kim Young-Sam (YS) after YS, once a liberal foe of dictatorial military rule, had aligned with conservatives in pursuit of victory. As for Kim Han-Jung, after that defeat, he went on to graduate studies in international politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick, but again saw his future with DJ after DJ’s election as president in December 1997. When he returned to Korea in early 1998, however, he found the Blue House, combining the functions of the White House and Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, already occupied by newly hired brains.
Instead, he settled down at the NIS in May 1998— a career move that seemed somewhat surprising since he had been a member of a leftist group as a student. Entering the agency, he received a most unusual favor from NIS Director Lee Jong-Chan. Seeing he had almost no money to rent an apartment, Lee let him lodge in an NIS safe house. Lee recognized, as those who knew him noted, that he was indeed a “very brilliant guy,” “superb at planning”— though known to “display a hot temper” in pursuit of what he wanted.
For a year or so in the NIS, Kim Han-Jung plunged into projects on DJ’s behalf, secretly moving ahead on numerous missions in the hunt for the Nobel Peace Prize. One of his interests while at the NIS was to hold a “Peace Concert” in the DMZ (the demilitarized zone that has divided North and South Korea since the Korean War) at which world- renowned singers would perform. His other covert operations included publication of books and pamphlets to promote DJ and his sunshine policy, all of which focused on portraying DJ as a leading democratic activist and great statesman in the midst of the financial crisis that swept much of Asia in 1997 and 1998. He also worked hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to persuade the South African antiapartheid hero Nelson Mandela to come to Seoul in order to project DJ as a global figure.
Fired from the NIS in May 1999, Kim Han-Jung worked still more closely for DJ, taking charge of the Forum of Democratic Leaders in the Asia Pacific (FDL- AP), a cover- up group set up for the sole purpose of winning the Nobel for DJ. Later in the year, Kim Han-Jung skillfully set up a connection with East Timor that he saw as another device to promote DJ for the Nobel. After he had made a connection with East Timor, he was appointed by DJ on Dec. 14, 1999, as chief of the first attachment chamber in the Blue House, giving him a channel to the top in the all-important role of gatekeeper for DJ. This appointment amazed people because he was only 36 years old and completely unknown to the public.
It was known that First Lady Lee Hee-Ho loved him; she gushed, “He is my son, gained without the labor of childbirth.” DJ saw him as “a capable young man who [was] competent for the job.”
Kim Ki-Sam, who had worked beside him in the NIS for four months, saw Kim Han-Jung in a more disturbing light. He aspired to being “the shadow of Kim Dae-Jung or maybe his alter ego,” Ki-Sam recalled. “He never exposed himself and never left a trace of what he had done for DJ. He was a perfectionist through and through.”
Kim Han-Jung’s service in the Blue House culminated a long relationship. He was “a definite shadow man for around ten years altogether, four years as press secretary before the 1992 election, one year or so in the NIS in 1998– 1999, more than two years in the Blue House in 2000– 2002, and more than two years as DJ’s secretary after his retirement.” His penchant for secrecy was so perfect, “No Blue House correspondents knew what he was doing in the Blue House as the Chief of the First Attachment Chamber,” according to Ki-Sam . “Only a few had a glimmer of an idea.”
As the key vehicle for the secret operation, OECA had another important duty — publicizing inter- Korean cooperation, DJ’s “Sunshine Policy” to the North, to the foreign press. Members of the NP Project team, as “propaganda warriors,” strategically strove for favorable publicity from foreign correspondents. Buying dinners, giving briefings — the reason for all such events was to take advantage of foreign journalists in the campaign for good news stories, needed to arouse sympathy and emotional support for DJ. “Orchestrating the foreign media was our basic trade,” Ki-Sam recalled. “The goal was to create as many dramatic events as possible, to keep the news flowing for foreign journalists.”
At OECA, Kim Ki-Sam ’s job was “to deal with the foreign press to create a favorable atmosphere.” As a junior press coordinator, Kim Ki-Sam assisted NIS foreign press spokesman Kim Young-Jun in arranging briefings for the foreign press, among other duties. Kim Young-Jun had just returned from England after eight years studying at the London School of Economics, from which he had received a doctorate, when he was recruited by deputy director Ra Jong-Il in August 1998. As foreign press spokesman of NIS, he was in charge of monitoring and coordinating all NIS policy toward foreign journalists in Seoul. A routine responsibility was to report major articles to Ra Jong-Il daily. Other responsibilities included providing news film of North Korea or introducing North Korean defectors to the foreign media. As a close colleague of Kim Han-Jung at the NIS, Kim Ki-Sam “looked over his shoulder at what Kim Han-Jung was doing to hunt for the Nobel.” Gradually he began to wonder. “I had no idea about the mission at the time I joined the office. I knew it was secret, and then I got to know the purpose was to win the Nobel Peace Prize for DJ.”
As time went on, Ki-Sam realized that the sunshine policy was a means toward an end, the Nobel, and that DJ was sacrificing national interests for that special purpose.
Disturbing questions began to arise in the junior NIS officer’s mind: For all its enormous international prestige, was the Nobel really worth such a massive diversion of resources, time, and talent? What meaning or relevance did it have for the Korean people or the interests of the country?
The real question was whether the “sunshine policy” had warmed the desperate lives of the mass of North Koreans— the same flesh and blood as their brothers and sisters in South Korea. Or did it not help the North Korean dictator fortify his grip over his people and prolong their pain? And did this diversion not finance the North’s nuclear and missile programs, endangering not just the Korean Peninsula but the region and the world?
Gradually, Ki-Sam ’s skepticism turned to outrage.