Did John Bolton, President Trump’s national security advisor, order an assault on the North Korean embassy in Spain to get an advantage in the nuclear talks?
On February 22 the embassy of the DPRK in Madrid was raided by a gang of thugs:
A group of men entered North Korea’s embassy in Madrid, bound and gagged staff, before driving off with stolen mobile phones and computers, Spanish media has reported.
Spanish police are investigating after El Confidencial reported a woman escaped the embassy last Friday screaming in Korean, prompting residents nearby to call police.After she reportedly revealed staff were tied up and gagged, officers knocked on the door to investigate, but were met by a man who told them everything was fine.
Soon after, two cars left the compound at high speed, one of them carrying the man who had answered the door. Police did not enter the building, but staff walked out soon after the incident.
Kim Hyok Chol was ambassador to Spain until September 2017, when the Spanish government expelled him and another diplomat following Pyongyang’s round of nuclear tests and missile launches over neighbouring Japan.
The name Kim Hyok Chol sounds familiar. He recently was in the news when he led the North Korean delegation in the nuclear talks:
Kim Hyok Chol, a career diplomat from an elite North Korean family, made his international debut just a few weeks ago as Pyongyang’s new point man for nuclear negotiations. In the run-up to the Feb. 27-28 summit, he has been in talks with U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun to lay the groundwork for the meeting, taking diplomats by surprise.
[H]is appointment left a few people flipping through their files of cadres to find out more. Channel A News, a South Korean TV outlet, drew a circle around him in a video from a White House meeting between Trump and North Korean officials in January, asking who he was.
The embassy raid was no normal thievery. There were eight people in the embassy when it was raided at 3:00 PM local time. They were bound, bags were put over their heads and some were interrogated. The thieves left with computer hardware and the cellphones of the personnel.
It now appears that the CIA was involved in the embassy raid. El Pais reports:
Investigators from the Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) have linked an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22 to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US secret service. The CIA has denied any involvement but government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”
Investigators from the General Information Office (CGI) and CNI ruled out the idea that the attack was the work of common criminals. The operation was perfectly planned as if it were carried out by a “military cell,” said sources close to the investigation. The assailants knew what they were looking for, taking only computers and mobile phones.
Sources believe that the goal of the attack on the North Korean embassy was to get information on Kim Hyok Chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Spain.
The Spanish language version of the El Pais report has additional details (machine translated):
After analyzing the recordings of the security cameras in the area, questioning the hostages and analyzing the diplomatic vehicles used in the flight, it has been possible to identify some of the assailants. Although the majority were Koreans, at least two of them have been recognized by the Spanish information services for their links with the American CIA.The indications that point to the US espionage service, in probable cooperation with that of South Korea, are so strong that Spanish interlocutors have contacted the CIA to ask for explanations. The response was negative, but “unconvincing”, according to Government sources.
The Spanish version also includes a side-box with further details of the raid:
One of the darkest aspects of the assault on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid is the interrogation to which the head of the command, who called himself The Entrepreneur, subjected the charge of business, leading the diplomatic delegation since the ambassador was expelled. The head of the commando separated the diplomat from the rest of the hostages and locked himself alone with him. It is not known what he intended, but the current head of the Pyongyang delegation in Madrid probably knows a lot about Kim Hyok Chol, head of the North Korean delegation in the nuclear negotiations before the US, with whom he coincided when the latter was ambassador in Madrid, between 2014 and 2017.
A U.S. raid of a foreign embassy in a third country is a diplomatic affront that will have consequences. The government in Madrid can not let this go by. Other important embassies in Spain – think China – will urge the Spanish government to take further steps to guarantee their security.
CIA personnel is not immune. In 2005 a court in Italy ordered the arrest of 18 CIA agents who abducted an Imam off the streets of Milan to torture him in Egypt and elsewhere.
The Spanish services seem to suspect that the sole point was to get information on Kim Hyok Chol. That may well be though I suspect that an attempt to find North Korea’s diplomatic encryption codes was part of the task. It is not unusual that a country will try to gain such information. What is very unusual is the brute force way in which this was done. Was this thought to intimidate North Korea?
Whatever. I can only think of one person in Washington DC who disregards diplomacy enough to task the CIA with a military style raid on a foreign embassy in a third country. His name is John Bolton.
Moon of Alabama
The 21st Century