Dispute erupts over ‘spying’ in NK
By Lee Tae-hoon
Controversy reigns over U.S. military reconnaissance missions in North Korea after the publication of a report alleging that U.S. Special Forces have been infiltrating the Stalinist state to spy on Pyongyang’s extensive network of underground military facilities.
The Diplomat, an international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region, broke the news Monday that U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) in South Korea, acknowledged gathering information on the communist country’s underground tunnels and military installations.
The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) denied the report by the Diplomat and other media outlets, saying “Quotes have been made up and attributed to him. No U.S. or ROK forces have parachuted into North Korea.” Yet, many suspect the Diplomat’s report is more credible than the USFK’s rebuttal as it would be unlikely for the journal to have fabricated quotes from Gen. Tolley on the sensitive issue.
According to the Diplomat, Tolley said during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida on May 22 that U.S. and South Korean troops have infiltrated North Korea with an advanced wireless power transmission system.
The SOF commander noted that the commandos parachute in with minimal supplies in order to watch the tunnels without being detected themselves.
“Tolley said a wireless power transmission system would allow his troops to jump into North Korea without heavy loads of batteries for their radios and other gear,” The Diplomat reported adding that the commandos would benefit from a high frequency radio whose signal can’t be traced to its point of origin.
The Diplomat argued that Tolley leaked the confidential information as he explained difficulties the allied forces face in identifying North Korea’s underground tunnels into South Korea and their military function.
“The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” Tolley was quoted as saying. “So we send (South Korean] soldiers and U.S. soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.
” The journal noted that the general claimed Pyongyang has constructed thousands of tunnels, including 20 partially subterranean airfields, thousands of underground artillery positions and at least four tunnels underneath the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.
“We don’t know how many we don’t know about,” Tolley was quoted as saying.
The Diplomat pointed out that the shocking disclosure by a top U.S. commando officer can be interpreted as a reminder of America’s continuing involvement in the “cold war” on the Korean Peninsula.
USFK acknowledged that Brig.Gen. Tolley participated in a theater special operations command commander panel discussion at a Special Operations Forces industry conference in Florida last week.
However, it argued that some reporting has taken great license with his comments and taken him completely out of context.
“Though special reconnaissance is a core special operations force mission, at no time have SOF forces been sent to the north to conduct special reconnaissance,” it said.
In February last year, Army general-turned-lawmaker Lee Jin-sam revealed that infiltrated into the North tit-for-tat retaliation raids in 1967.