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Part II by JT Brown
...the North Korean problem appears to be even more lethal than originally thought

As if war with Iraq- the daily, daylong images of fighting, and most recently, analysts’ accelerating (if predictable) talk of another Vietnam debacle- were not enough for our plates, allow me to heap some more on with these two words: North Korea.

Yes. That problem. It will still be there when we get back. And now, according to reports which have existed here in Japan but have largely gone unnoticed in the West, the North Korean problem appears to be even more lethal than originally thought.

For those who till now have somehow managed to tune out all the rumblings coming out of this region of the world, North Korea is the country in relatively prosperous northeast Asia where humanitarian groups estimate over 2,000,000 people have died from man-made famine. Even Doctors without Borders gave up on this country in 1998, dismayed by the dictatorship's mishandling of food aid from other countries(ie., appropriating it for the military and politically connected). *1

North Korea is also the country which in recent history has engaged in a well documented campaign of sabotage against South Korea, wreaking havoc and carnage with strikes such as, but hardly limited to, the October 1983 Rangoon bomb attack that killed several members of a South Korean presidential delegation to Myanmar, the two bombings in 1986 and 1987 of Kimpo International Airport as Seoul prepared to host the ’87 Asian Games and the ’88 Olympics, and of course the November 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines Flight 858, which was downed over the Bay of Bengal, killing all the 115 passengers and crew aboard. More on this incident shortly.

In the past half year, North Korea has unilaterally broken the 1994 Agreed Framework, withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, been test firing missiles in the direction of Japan, and ramped up its production of nuclear weapons.
However, according to the Washington Post, "The (U.S.) administration has acquiesced in North Korea becoming a nuclear power" and "is turning its attention to preventing the Communist government in Pyongyang from selling nuclear material to the highest bidder." In that same article, Japanese ruling party parlimentarian Taro Kono states, "We need to be debating how to live with North Korea, with or without nuclear weapons."*2

At the end of the day, perhaps realistic conclusions, both. But, if we're going to try and "live with North Korea" while preventing it from "selling...material to the highest bidder", then there are some disturbing circumstances at which it is high time we all had a look.
I remember holidaying Seoul just weeks after the bombing of KAL Flight 858. The city, the entire country, was riveted by the unfolding details of the story. Two North Korean agents posing as a Japanese couple, boarded the flight in Baghdad, planted their bomb in the overhead luggage compartment, then deplaned in Abu Dhabi. When caught in Bharain traveling with forged passports under the names "Shinichi and Mayumi Hachiya", they immediately tried to commit suicide by taking poison pills. The man succeeded; the woman failed. The latter was turned over to South Korean officials who brought her Seoul. There, "Mayumi Hachiya" confessing all before live television cameras, became a most celebrated femme fatale. Her real name was Kim Hyung Hee, she was 26 years old(and very pretty, drawing literally thousands of marraige proposals from single South Korean men), but most interesting to me at the time, was her revelation that she had been tutored in both Japanese language and mannerisms by a Japanese national, whom Kim knew only by the name of "Lee Un Hae". I learned then for the first time from the South Korean press about what had long been suspected, but would not be resolved yet for years to come: North Korea had been kidnapping innocent South Korean and Japanese citizens, spiriting them away to North Korea to exploit them as resources for their espionage, with most of these people never to be heard from again.
Over the years, revelations and speculation about these kidnapping/disappearances trickled in bit by bit. In 1991, the National Police Agency in Japan announced that it had identified a disappeared young Japanese woman as 'TY' (and now believed to be Yaeko Taguchi, disappeared in 1978) who most likely was the "Lee Un Hae" that tutored Miss Kim. A North Korean defector in 1993, and then again South Korean intelligence in 1997, provided clues about the most heart-wrenching story of the Japanese kidnap victims, a then thirteen year-old schoolgirl, Megumi Yokota, who vanished while walking home from school in 1977. Readers may recall Megumi's name, as only last month her still distraught parents came to Washington, pleading for U.S. help in satisfactorily resolving this issue. Last September, the North's President Kim Jong Il surprisingly confessed to his country's kidnapping of Japanese over the years. But in a sad and macabre twist, eight of the thirteen ‘acknowleged’ victims were said to now be dead. And although her parents have yet to accept it, one of the eight was Megumi Yokota.
Also over the years, there had been some other puzzling occurrences in Japan with possible North Korean links. With North Korea's brinksmanship pushing its way to the forefront of the news, I decided once and for all that I wanted to look into these, and get them out of my system. Of the most eery, were rumors that the infamous Aum Shinrikyo Cult (they of the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995) had ties to North Korea.

To begin with, there were the interesting coincidences of gold bullion. After the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway, when police raided Aum's facilities in rural Japan's Yamanashi Prefecture, they found in the cult's possession a peculiar type of gold bullion: 10 unassayed gold bars. Gold is normally stamped with its weight, purity and assayer, in order for it to be sold or traded. This gold was completely unmarked, which would render it difficult to deal. But also, completely untraceable. Coincidence number one: the only other instance of such strange bullion in recent memory was when former Japanese ruling party king-maker, Shin Kanemaru, was indicted and later found guilty in a Japanese yakuza(mafia) related scandal in 1992. Identical unmarked gold bars were confiscated by police during raids on his office and home. Coincidence number two: Kanemaru's home constituency was Yamanashi Prefecture. Coincidence number three: The Washington Post reported in November of last year about a North Korean spy who defected to Japan and was scheduled to testify before the Japanese pariliament, when the ruling party, much to the protestations of opposition legislators, suddenly cancelled his testimony. It seems that what he had to say was too hot to handle. Of the things he told the Post he was planning to testify about, one was that Shin Kanemaru received "unmarked gold" for his secret brokering of a summit between Japan and North Korea in 1990.*4 Should this indeed explain what Kanemaru did to get his gold, what might Aum have done to get theirs? But first.....
There was the March 1995 assassination attempt on Japanese National Police Chief Takaji Kunimatsu. Kunimatsu had been spearheading the investigation into the cult. Shot four times outside his residence while leaving for work one morning, he did survive but his assailant has never been caught. Widely reported in the Japanese media at the time was that found at the scene of the crime were a North Korean military button and coin where the gunman had stood. (The question does beg to be asked, however, 'would an assassin from the North really bring along to a hit, his button and coin from said state?').....

This was then followed by the brazen, and successful, assassination of Hideo Murai. Murai was a central figure and chief scientist for Aum. He also was the person directly in charge of Aum's production of the deadly nerve gas sarin (remember this). On April 23, 1995, in full view of hordes of television cameras, reporters and several police officers, a 29 year-old man named Hiroyuki Jo stepped forward and repeatedly stabbed Murai with a kitchen knife. Then he struck a pose of bravado and bellowed for the TV cameras that were recording away until the police finally moved against him. Jo turned out to haved an underworld background. Also, he was an ethnic Korean....
Why, though, was Murai singled out to be assassinated? And did his killer's ethnicity have any particular significance? Jo gave to the police a succession stories, none which made much sense. The first, was that he was outraged by Aum's actions and simply wanted to kill a cultist –any cultist. But that didn't wash because during his daylong stalking of Murai outside of Aum's headquarters, several other Aum figures, both major and minor, passed by him throughout the day. His second story, the one that the police went with, was that the boss of the right-wing group he was affiliated with ordered him to carry out the hit. Some in the media went on to speculate that there were drug deals between Aum and the Japanese yakuza which Murai was privy to and therefore silenced. But to me, that explanation also defied logic. Jo's action –especially the manner in which he did it (down to the loud, easily identifiable yakuza garb he donned)– immediately, as well as predictably, put the theretofore off-the-radar yakuza, directly under the spotlight. There had to be better reason, and a different source, of the order to assasinate Aum Science Chief Murai....

In 1999, the United States Congress' House North Korea Advisory Group issued its "Congressional Report on North Korean Threat". Buried in the report were two sentences mentioning the North's capacity to deliver chemical weapons through "unconventional delivery means, e.g., clandestine aerosols and balloons". I personally remember -in 1996, I believe– the first reported case of several small, mysterious balloons landing in various locations in western and central Japan. It was not known whence the came and why they were sent, but the prevailing speculation was that they were sent by North Korea, possibly in a dry run of a chemical warfare attack against Japan. Try as I might, I could not find anything (that was credible) to footnote this recollection of mine. But I have been able to locate two press accounts of subsequent mysterious balloon sightings over Japan, one which includes a reference to the earlier event. I footnote them now. *4, 5 (And here is an 'internet' account of the original event, though this particular account might not do much to contribute to the credibility to my recollection.*6)
I had a lot of loose ends and questions, but nothing concrete. So I gathered up my notions of nefarious triangles and plots, and plunged into the Japanese language press. And got lucky.

Unbeknownst to me, in 1999 a prominent Japanese investigative journalist by the name of Koji Takazawa had written an extensive report precisely on an Aum Shinrikyo/North Korean nexus. The report, entitled "Oum to Kita Chousen no Yami wo Toita (Aum and North Korea's Plot Unraveled)", was serialized over a four month period in the Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, commencing with the August 21, 1999 issue and continuing through the November 6, issue of that same year. In 1998, Takazawa's book Shukumei: Yodogo B_meishatachi no Himitsu Kosaku (to be published soon in English as Destiny: The Secret Activities of the Yodogo Exiles) came out and would to go on to win the prestigious Kodansha Non-Fiction Prize. In Shukumei, Takazawa did groundbreaking work in revealing how a band of Japanese left wing radicals that in 1970 hijacked a Japanese airliner, the 'Yodo-go', and took it to North Korea for revolutionary training, were then compelled by the North Korean government to participate in the North's espionage operations over the next three decades. A noted writer and chronicler of Japan's New Left movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's, Takazawa traveled repeated over the years to Pyongyang, and actually met with and interviewed the Yodogo Group members. In particular, Shukumei is about the Yodogo Group's central role in many of the ensuing kidnappings of Japanese citizens to the North. Then, in the Shukan Gendai serialization, journalist Takazawa trained his focus on a new dimension: North Korea's cultivation of the Aum Shinrikyo Cult.

First some background. According to Dr. Patricia Steinhoff, University of Hawaii Professor of Sociology, and leading U.S. authority on Japanese society (also, translator of aforementioned English version of Shukumei), in addition to assigning the Yodogo Group to kidnapping Japanese nationals to North Korea, the North took the young left wingers' wild ambitions of leading a new-leftist revolution in Japan, and channeled them into the North's own equally wild designs. Namely, plans for carrying out acts of sabotage in Japan, leading a coup d'etat, and ultimately effecting a Kim Il Sung ‘Juche’-styled revolution in Japan. Says Dr. Steinhoff, "The North Koreans turned them (the Yodogos) from New Lefties into Chuche believers so they'd make the kind of revolution they wanted."

But in "Aum and North Korea's Plot Unraveled", Takazawa writes such Yodogo efforts were a general failure, culminating in the arrests of two of the Yodogo members who had infiltrated back into Japan under assumed names. He indicates that this was the North's impetus in then turning to Aum to carry out operations. Takazawa follows the paths of two key characters, both inner circle members of Aum who had the ear of cult leader Shoko Asahara, and reviews their deep and lengthy ties to North Korea. Both were originally members of the 'International Institute of Juche Ideology', a propaganda arm of the North based in Tokyo. The frequent travel of both to Pyongyang is documented, spanning a decade in one’s case, including his admissions in an interview of sojourns there of up to three months at a time and meetings with the intellectual architect of Juche Ideology, bigwig Hwang Jang Yop.

In addition to introducing us to these two Juche-cum-Aum followers, Takazawa does much to vindicate suspicions about Aum Science Minister Hideo Murai's assassin, Hiroyuki Jo. Jo consorted in circles that had known North Korean spies in their midst. His close friend and roommates's father was in the leadership of Chongryun, the stridently pro-North association of Koreans living in Japan (and often considered fifth column for the North). Jo himself received his education in Chongryun operated private schools. And finally, he turns out to have spent some of his young adulthood living in none other than North Korea. Just what he was doing there is not known.

As for Chief Scientist Murai, when the Japanese police's crackdown on Aum got into full swing, North Korea most certainly did have reason to silence him before he started singing. Here, Takazawa drops a bombshell. Apparently, on Murai's orders, an Aum follower obtained employment in the Japanese nuclear power industry. Once inside, that person got their hands on confidential nuclear data. And Murai forwarded the data to North Korea....

In a nutshell, the central thesis Takazawa drives at is: in their quest to carry out sabotage and even ultimately foment revolution in Japan, North Korea turned to Aum Shinrikyo, and is at least partly responsible for the cult's violent shift in the early 1990's.
But is there more?

I had not known about the transferring of nuclear data to North Korea when I first delved into this. My first hunches drew me to the sarin. Not that these two different trails need be exclusive of each other. Takazawa reports that Kim Il Sung wrote pointedly about the importance of using sarin as a weapon. And Aum arrived at using sarin, only after failing (sometimes through downright amateurish ineptitude) to kill people using VX gas, botulism, and phosgene gas. It has been well reported that Aum sought armaments and WMD technology from Russia.*7 Having difficulties with their various deadly gas efforts, why not also procure from North Korea, with whom they already a deepening relationship?

I was drawn to the sarin because of the Murai killing. And also, because I had another foggy recollection from years gone by. This one was about the foreign inspectors that visited the sight of Aum's sarin laboratory, 'Satian #7', and oversaw its demolition. I recalled that, at the time, the inspectors had stated something to the effect that, though the equipment there was expensive, it was not conceivable that sarin could have been produced in such seedy and dilapidated conditions. The internet is rife with the same recollection by others, but alas, I couldn't find anything in the mainstream media, English or Japanese, to support such claims.

So I went to the source. Both the inspections and supervision of the demolition of Satian #7 plant, was carried out by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the official body entrusted by member states for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. (Its headquarters is in The Hague; its website is I contacted the 'Media and Public Affairs Branch' by email, and proceeded to have a lengthy back and forth with a amiable member of that office whom I shall refer to as 'Peter '(because that is his name).

I explained to Peter that I was doing a piece on Aum, gave him the gist of my questions about the Satian #7 plant and the rumors surrounding the OPCW inspectors, and asked him if he could contact said inspectors and confirm their actual assessment of the facility. Peter initially emailed me right back, writing "I will check the details and will update you as soon as possible." For exactly one work week, I cooled my heels, waiting for my promised "update". Finally, I inquired about my inquiry. An answer came back. I was told to have "patience". But Peter assured me, "I am curious too ... be of good cheer" (his elipses, not mine). Into the second week, I touched basis with Peter again. This time he wrote, "Progress is slow over here JT", but promised "By the end of the week, I will be able to come back to you with the decision." So now, what I had presumed was a promise to provide me with the inspectors assessment of the sarin plant, had been diminished to just a promise to 'decide' whether or not to release the information. Not that it mattered. Peter broke his promise to me that Friday. There was also no word from him the following Monday. Or Tuesday, the time of this writing. In all, over two weeks elapsed with me fruitlessly trying to chase Peter all around cyberspace. One knows when they are being stonewalled.

I wasn't told, "Our inspectors reported no such thing." I wasn't told, "We cannot release that kind of information." For some reason, I am simply, and continually, being stonewalled..........
Before going to the OPCW, I did recall, however, that there had been one individual, a Japanese journalist, who had been permitted access to the inside of Satian #7, just before its demolition. Her name is Shoko Egawa and she is a household name in Japan, appearing frequently on TV and writing about various societal topics. I prepared just three questions for her by email, with the the one I really wanted answered listed as number one. Namely, "Considering the rumors that Satian #7 was not a facility conducive to producing sarin, what was your impression upon actually seeing the facility for yourself?"
She was kind enough to respond, to my other two questions. But the Japanese characters in the text to my first one, which I wished most for her to answer, apparently kept getting corrupted and rendered illegible in the transmission. Now, once in a blue moon this actually can happen to the characters used in Japanese emails. But even after I carefully retyped out everything, and made doubly sure I was formatting the text properly before resending, her response came back again, "Can't read that question." She then tersely told me in effect to not email her anymore. Hmmmm........

Just to be certain, without altering anything, I forwarded the original text of my email to her to another email account I have with Yahoo. It arrived completely legible and intact. I then forwarded the first of the emails I sent to her, once again altering nothing. This too, arrived without a hitch.
People who know about the reality of the Satian #7 sarin plant, are not talking. Why is this?
Ms. Egawa, for one, perhaps has good reason to not want to deal with any reopened Aum controversies. She survived an attack on her life made by Aum in 1994 following one of her reports on the cult.

At this point, it is tempting to jump to conclusions by stringing together the all of the above, aforementioned circumstances. The fact is, in trying to chase down this story, I've actually ended up creating more questions than with which I started. But in the end, the story may turn out to just not have legs.
Also, on a separate point, though I hardly delved in to it in this article, the Japanese investigative authorities, Foreign Ministry, and political leaders have much to answer for in their highly suspect handling of all of the above cases.
But I have done all that I can as an amateur reporter; it is now time for the big boys of the media to take over. May the questions fly. And may they begin with:
A) Has North Korea already done it? Have they, in fact, provided terrorists (Aum) with weapons of mass destruction such as sarin?
B) Just what else might authorities in Japan know about North Korea, that is not known by the U.S. and the rest of the world?

I’d like to suggest in conclusion, that just perhaps, the current U.S. Ambassador to Japan might wish to reprise his famous question from three decades ago, and pose it squarely to the Japanese. "What did they know, and when did they know it?"
Now, New York Times, Washington Post -over to you.
(My special thanks to Dr. Patricia Steinhoff, {who was also founding director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Hawaii, and a Fulbright Scholar to Japan} for providing me with invaluable background on journalist Koji Takazawa and his work, as well as on the issue of North Korea and some of their espionage operations in Japan. Look for Dr. Steinhoff's upcoming English translation of Takazawa's book, Destiny: The Secret Activities of the Yodogo Exiles, for more on the Yodogo Group Hijackers and their incorporation into North Korean espionage machinations.) For those wishing to acquaint themselves further with Aum Shinrikyo and some of the better known Aum related events described in this article, one review of the cult and sarin attacks can be found online at: {}
*1 THE WASHINGTON TIMES, "Kim blamed for N. Korea famine", January 6, 2003
*2 Washington Post Foreign Service, "Foes Giving In To N. Korea's Nuclear Aims", March 5, 2003
*3 Washington Post Foreign Service, "Defector From N. Korea Creating a Stir in Japan",
November 27, 2002Mainichi
*4 Reuters, "Flock of mystery balloons puzzles Japan police", May19,1999
*5 The Weekly Post, "Balloon Bomb May Have Already Reached Japan from North Korea",
November 18 - November 24, 2002 (
*6 "The Aum Shinrikyo and N Korea",

© J T Brown April 2003

North Korea and the ‘Japan Card’ Part One
J T Brown - So what will be the endgame?

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