An American citizen whose May 2018 release was secured by President Donald Trump has detailed his experiences in a North Korean prison camp after getting caught spying for the CIA and the South Korean intelligence service.
Speaking with NK News, Kim Dong Chul said he spied for the CIA for around six years before being caught and sent to a labor camp, where he suffered torture at the hands of his North Korean guards. Kim, who once lived in Virginia was living in China before his arrest.
Kim confessed to spying soon after his arrest in 2015, admitting to supplying South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency with sensitive information. North Korean media at the time said the businessman was detained while “perpetrating… state subversive plots and espionage against” the North.
Kim told NK News that he had also been working for the CIA, passing along intelligence he was able to access thanks to his work at the Rason Special Economic Zone, which established by Pyongyang to encourage economic growth via foreign investment. The businessman described the information as “very significant,” and explained how he “filmed footage with a watch and used electromagnetic wave wiretapping equipment.” He was also tasked with recruiting double agents across the nation, with a specific focus on unearthing information regarding the North’s military and nuclear capabilities, Kim explained.
His last mission was to investigate a suspicious vessel at the Rajin port, identified as of interest to the CIA after being spotted on satellite images. The agency asked Kim “to take very close-up photos of it and figure out what it was being used for.” Kim delivered the information prior to being arrested in 2015. North Korean authorities said he was found with a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets when he was detained in Rason, the BBC reported in 2016.
Kim detailed how his mental state and physical health quickly deteriorated under the pressure of torture and then forced labor. “I became a traitor overnight and was locked up in a forced labor camp,” he said. “I hit rock bottom.” Kim was beaten repeatedly and tortured in other ways as North Korean agents sought to uncover possible networks of fellow spies and double agents. The abuse left him partially paralyzed and even drove him to attempt suicide. Regardless, “I could not die,” Kim recalled.
After a one-day trial, Kim was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor at a prison camp, where he was kept isolated from fellow prisoners. Kim was eventually freed alongside Pyongyang University of Science and Technology lecturers Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song in 2018.