Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Awakening of a North Korean Spy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Awakening of a North Korean Spy

Article excerpt

For much of his 32 years, Lee Kwang Soo knew one thing: the North Korean military.

Up at 5 a.m., he trained all day, learning infiltration and survival techniques. He even learned to speak with a South Korean accent from criminals who defected to North Korea to escape punishment. His parents haven't seen him since he entered a secluded military base at age 17. His wife, introduced to him by the communist party because she was "loyal" to the regime, only met him once a month.

And so it might still be. But Mr. Lee's life took a dramatic turn on Sept. 18, 1996. The submarine he and 25 fellow commandos were riding aboard hit a rock on South Korea's northeast coast during a spy mission. Pouring out of the grounded sub, they fled to the hills, setting off a massive manhunt and freezing inter-Korean relations. All but Lee were killed by South Korean troops or committed suicide. Lee was taken alive. One-and-a-half years since his capture, Lee is still adjusting to a world he never imagined. As North and South Korea move closer to discussing temporary reunions for families separated by the Korean War, Lee and other North Koreans settling in the South stand as an example of the wide cultural cleft to be bridged. After his capture, Lee was toured around South Korea by the National Security Agency, meeting people from all walks of life and being paraded out to the press. During this education period he stayed in a safe house in Seoul and was gradually given more personal freedoms as he embraced the South Korean way of life. For Lee, everything was new, from neon lights and pop songs to managing one's money and open discussions of politics. His first taste of the South was almost comical and came while fleeing through the mountains. Peering out from roadside bushes, Lee was bewildered by an unbroken stream of cars that lasted for three hours. How could South Korea, which he thought was an impoverished American colony, have so many new vehicles? Soon, he grew hungry and approached a farmhouse for food. Believing the isolated house wouldn't have a phone, he sat snacking while the owners called the police. Even six months ago, Lee appeared innocent and naive. During an interview he beamed like a five-year-old when pleased and became shifty when asked analytical or probing questions. It has taken time for him to understand the value of money. Lee would stare at notes of different denominations trying to determine why one was worth more, according to a national security agent who looked after him. "{The agents} bought me everything so I didn't really know how money works," he says now. He's adjusted a lot since then. "At that time I didn't feel comfortable in this society. I didn't feel comfortable with meeting people. I had to stay with {a national security agent} all the time," he says. …

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