Asylum for whistleblower
WASHINGTON ― A veteran U.S. immigration judge has reached a historic decision in the case of a former operative for South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) who revealed in detail the manipulations and machinations that preceded the June 2000 North-South Korea summit and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Kim Dae-jung at the height of his presidency.
The judge, Charles M. Honeyman, spurning an impassioned appeal by the U.S. government, had granted asylum in the United States to Kim Ki-sam, his wife and two teenage children. In his ruling, the judge at the immigration court in Philadelphia found ``a reasonable possibility” that Kim Ki-sam ``will suffer the alleged persecution upon his return to South Korea” and was ``statutorily eligible for asylum based on his well-founded fear of persecution by the South Korean government and the NIS based on his political opinion.”
What makes the case extraordinary is that Kim Ki-sam is not a refugee or defector from an oppressive regime, such as that of North Korea, but a patriotic South Korean citizen who believed the public had the right to know the tremendous investment of time, money and resources that went into arranging the June 2000 summit between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il. Kim Ki-sam left South Korea for the United States in 2002 and applied for asylum the next year after revealing much of what he knew to the Korean media. The bottom line of his revelations is that hundreds of millions of dollars, nobody knows exactly how much, flowed into North Korean coffers to grease the path to the summit while the NIS and other agencies lobbied hard for years for the Nobel Prize for Kim Dae-jung.
One cannot blame the NIS for having brought charges against Kim Ki-sam for revealing its inner secrets. Nor can one blame Kim Dae-jung for having wanted to bring about North-South rapprochement in the June 2000 summit. Nobody believes he had any idea that those untold millions would finance a nuclear program in which North Korea has by now conducted two underground nuclear tests and is probably planning a third one to show the power of the regime as Kim Jong-un, his late father’s chosen heir, asserts himself at the behest of a coterie of aging generals.
With all due respect for both the NIS and Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy, however, the world had a right to know the summit was bought at enormous cost in terms of money and, finally, the security of a region amid a rising danger of a nuclear holocaust. Kim Ki-sam poured out his notes to me as I was working on a book, ``Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae-jung and Sunshine,” published shortly after Kim Dae-jung’s death in 2009. The information he gave provided a perspective on modern Korea that was sorely lacking in all my research on Kim Dae-jung’s life and times.
The sad paradox was that Kim Dae-jung battled heroically for democracy in South Korea while glossing over or totally ignoring North Korea’s strategy. The Workers’ Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, shortly after Kim Jong-il died, cited the nuclear program as his ``greatest legacy.” Kim Jong-il could not have nurtured that program as he did without tremendous funding from South Korea that he should have invested in food and medicine for his own people, suffering from hunger and disease on an unimaginable scale.
In view of all the help that Ki-sam provided for my book, I was glad to testify as an ``expert witness” at his immigration hearing before Judge Honeyman. The judge in his ruling summarized my testimony, saying that I believed ``Korean authorities were most angered that a former NIS member betrayed the service by revealing state secrets….” Officials did not blame me ``as an enemy of the state,” the judge noted in his summary of my testimony, but ``objected to the fact” that Kim Ki-sam had ``provided secret information to Mr. Kirk.”
One of the signal aspects of the case was the passion with which the U.S. government fought against asylum for Kim Ki-sam. An experienced assistant chief counsel for the Department of Homeland Security was deputized to fight the application. Ki-sam had an equally experienced ``accredited representative,” Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, who has stood by a number of applicants for asylum over the years. Besides calling me as a witness, Janet also called on Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation, whom the judge quoted as saying that ``anybody who speaks out for the human rights of North Korean people becomes an enemy” of the North Korean regime.
Why did the U.S. government invest such resources into a vain attempt at denying asylum to Kim Ki-sam? The judge, winding up his summary of my testimony, said that I believed ``the United States government objected” under ``political pressure from the South Korean government.” Clearly, in my view, South Korean officials, while Kim Dae-jung was president, wanted to go after the person who had done the most to expose the dark side of the Sunshine Policy. They appeared to have no trouble enlisting the support of their friends in the U.S. embassy in Seoul and the State Department. Shame on them, these anonymous American officials, for bowing to such pressure.
The judge wound up his summary of my remarks by saying that I had ``testified” that I was ``not being paid to testify.” Nor did I pay Kim Ki-sam for any of the great information he provided me. I was glad to have done whatever I could to support his case, just as he aided in providing material that, as Judge Honeyman quoted me, ``gave ‘a whole point’” to my book.
Columnist Donald Kirk, www.donaldkirk.com, is the author of `` Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae-jung and Sunshine,” published by Palgrave Macmillan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.