On February 18, 2016, a ruling party lawmaker from North Korea had stated that President Kim Jong-Un has ordered the regime’s intelligence agencies to concentrate their abilities and assets for potential terrorist attacks on South Korea.
The South Korean Saenuri Party and President Park Geun-hye’s administration held an emergency meeting Thursday morning to further discuss the situation. The National Intelligence Services (NIS) briefed the ruling party and other government agencies about North Korea’s actions.
According to the NIS’ findings North Korea may be preparing to target anti-North Korean activists, defectors, or government officials. Journalists critical of the Kim Jong-Un regime could also be targeted. NIS believes techniques used on activists and defectors could include poisoning and kidnappings.
NIS also pointed out to potential attacks on critical infrastructure that included wastewater treatment and power plants. NIS report also warned against potential threats to public facilities like shopping malls and subways.
The threat to South Korea is mostly likely to be to responsibility of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, which has targeted South Korea in the past. The bureau is responsible for deadly attacks including: the sinking of a Chenoa warship; attempted assassination of high profile defector Hwang Jang-Yop; and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. In 2010 the RGB conducted a general reorganization that Korea specialists warned might represent preparations to a shift towards greater activity.
While not directly connected to the RGB, in March of last year a South Korean activist with ties to North Korea assaulted the U.S. Ambassador, slashing his face with a knife.
South Korea has vowed to take action in the wake of North Korea’s testing of a supposed hydrogen bomb and recent missile test, which occurred under the cover of a satellite launch. Both of which are violations of UN Security Council resolutions.
On February 7, 2016, the same day that North Korea had launched their satellite, South Korea contacted Washington, D.C. and notified them of their desire to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is used to help combat short and medium range missile attacks.
In an effort to pressure North Korea economically, South Korea broke off cooperation with the North and shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, one of the few legal methods for the isolated Pyonyang regime to acquire hard currency. In retaliation, North Korea ordered all South Korean workers expelled, seized their property, cut off all lines of communication with the south.
South Korean President Geun-hye has stressed the importance of passing key anti-terrorism legislation. Despite multiple legislative proposals under a number of South Korean administrations, no anti-terror legislation has ever successfully to a vote, likely the result of concerns such a bill would provide too much power to the intelligence services, which do have a history of interference with domestic politics.
The United States finds itself in the middle of this conflict but is committed to maintaining the safety of South Korea. The United States has provided 15,000 additional troops to help conduct military drill this scheduled for March 7, 2016. North Korea routinely claims that such military exercise drills are a ploy for an eventual northward invasion led by the U.S.
North Korea’s history says it is capable of anything against its southern neighbor even when fully supported by the United States. If the NIS’ prediction of increased North Korean terror activity is accurate, which seems likely, it may be the impetus the South Korean government needs to push its anti-terrorism legislation through to approval.