Skip to comments.N Korean scientists defect ("Operation Weasel!")
Posted on 04/18/2003 12:19:05 PM PDT by ellery
A SWATH of North Korea's military and scientific elite, among them key nuclear specialists, has defected to the US and its allies through a highly secret smuggling operation involving the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.
The defections have taken place since last October and have been made possible through the help of 11 countries that agreed to provide consular protection to smuggle the targets from neighbouring China, according to sources close to the operation, which has now been wound up.
Some countries also agreed to act as transit points for up to 30 days once the defectors left China, the sources claim.
Among those now believed to be in a safe house in the West is the father of North Korea's nuclear program, Kyong Won-ha, who left his homeland late last year with the help of Spanish officials. Debriefings of Mr Kyong are said to have given intelligence officials an unprecedented insight into North Korea's nuclear capabilities, particularly at the feared reactor number one in the southern city of Yongbyon.
The operation dubbed Weasel has been largely facilitated through non-government organisations and private citizens from South Korea, the US and its allies. It has deliberately been kept at arm's length from any government.
It is understood to have led directly to the defection of up to 20 senior North Korean officials in the past six months.
Those countries involved were responsible for arranging and providing consular support and protection to the defectors once they were smuggled from North Korea into China.
After a tense six-month standoff, North Korea will next week join talks with the US and China to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. It will be the first direct high-level contact between Washington and Pyongyang since last October, when US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said North Korean officials had admitted running a covert program to make nuclear weapons.
It was just 24 hours after the Bali bombing in October last year that Nauru was encouraged to join the network. The approach came from Washington lawyer Philip Gagner, who was asked to relay a message given to him by US officials.
On October 12, Mr Gagner wrote to Nauru's then president, Rene Harris: "Some of the governments involved, including governments in the Pacific and the United States Government, would like to have the assistance of the Nauru Government in a diplomatic matter of very great sensitivity, (which) involves a country not Iraq which may have acquired weapons of primary concern to other governments and other countries in the region and the world.
"This is a matter of sufficient concern that the government of the United States would likely recommend removing Nauru from the (Financial Action Task Force) list of non-co-operative countries."
This was a reference to financial sanctions the multi-national body had threatened to impose on Nauru.
Mr Harris and his successor Bernard Dowiyogo were told later that Nauruan missions would be opened in Washington and Beijing free of charge to Nauru ostensibly to boost the near bankrupt atoll's trade ties with each superpower.
But Mr Harris said the real reason for the Beijing embassy "was to expedite the movement of these very important refugees".
A confidential cabinet report on a Nauruan delegation to Washington in October says Nauru was asked to "help normalise relationships between North Korea and the US" by "providing assistance with certain refugees".
A member of the delegation, Nauru's former finance minister Kinza Clodumar, said the North Korean operation was detailed to him during that Washington visit.
"We were going to get a (North Korean) nuclear scientist and his family from a farm in China and then take them in a Nauru consulate car to an embassy," Mr Clodumar said.
Through confidential documents and interviews with key players in Washington, the Pacific and North Asia, The Weekend Australian has pieced together the story of Operation Weasel.
The plan to use Nauru was managed by Americans and New Zealanders operating at arm's length from their governments. Australia was not involved.
Despite Nauru's inclusion in the plan, sources say Nauru's diplomatic cover was not ultimately used to deliver the defectors to safety.
An earlier plan to use Nauru to move a senior defector from a northern Chinese town late last year was unsuccessful.
Despite the Nauruan failures, the operation was successful and those involved claim to have gleaned from the defectors crucial information about North Korea's nuclear program.
In recent months, powerful former members of previous US administrations have been making pointed public pronouncements about North Korea.
They include former Reagan adviser Michael Horowitz, from the Hudson Institute, and former CIA director James Woolsey, chairman of the US organis ation Freedom House, who in January called for the US to discreetly, but actively, encourage senior defectors.
Those countries believed to have taken part in Operation Weasel include the US, Nauru, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Thailand, The Philippines and Spain.
As you said - BRAVO!
Is this for real?
If this turns out to be true, I believe you are 100% correct .. WOW
The North Korean "depth" in their strategic sciences might not be great enough to continue every aspect of their programs with these defectors gone.
Time to mess with their heads by cancelling or delaying the scheduled talks with them in China now, if for nothing else to see if they really can restart their reactor and process weapons grade material still...
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