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Scene of the crime: Spanish authorities suspect two CIA operatives were involved in a brazen daytime invasin the North Korea embassy in Madrid. (Credit: Google Street)

The story of the February 22 break-in at the North Korean embassy in Madrid just keeps “getting more pregnant” as investigative reporters are wont to say.

The daytime attack, involving ten men (some of whom escaped via Uber), is rather more entertaining than parsing the Talmudic texts of Barr and Mueller. (Plus, Rachel Maddow doesn’t have a theory, Glenn Greenwald doesn’t have an opinion, John Brennan is mum. And Anderson Cooper isn’t on the scene, at least not yet.)

The North Korean embassy attack is not another elite journo-spat but a real-life Hollywood thriller screenplay that is being written in media cliches in real time. As a historian of the CIA I’m all too familiar with the agency’s many cock-ups/crimes. I have to ask myself, is this one of them?

El Pais, the most reliable newspaper in Spain, can bring you up to speed on the incident, which North Korea is now calling a “terror attack.”

The Perps

The cast of characters will be familiar to observers of secret intelligence operations.

The embassy burglars sought information, a la Watergate. Unlike Watergate, they came by day.  They invaded the Embassy in a quiet residential neighborhood, assaulted the staff, tied people up, and demanded computers and files.

A BBC report says they were especially interested in former ambassador to Madrid, Kim Hyok-chol, a confidante of Kim Jong-un.

He was a natural target for those seeking intelligence about North Korea’s nuclear program. In February Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 2016, described him as nuclear expert.

“At a very young age, Kim Hyok Chol was placed on the task force that wrote the drafts for North Korea’s nuclear strategy documents at its foreign ministry,” Thae told reporters at a news conference in Seoul.

El Pais on the possible motive for the brazen attack:

Investigators believe that the intruders were looking for “sensitive information regarding North Korea’s nuclear and arms program” just days ahead of the Hanoi summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, which ended abruptly without a deal.

Self-confessed burglar-in-chief, Adrian Hong Chang, debriefed the FBI on Feb. 27, the first day of the summit.

Covert Actions

Other possible evidence of an intelligence operation. The perpetrators

  • recorded their symbolic provocations;
  • carried many passports;
  • absconded to the United States and debriefed U.S. officials

Then came this Watergate-style denial from State Department spokesman Robert Palladino last Tuesday:

“the government of the United States had nothing to do” with the break-in.

Shades of Ron Ziegler, the Nixon White House spokesman who dismissed the Watergage break-in as a “third rate burglary.”

Palladino is a spokesman for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, formerly director of the CIA.

The CIA Link

Last week El Pais provided new details about how Spanish authorities came to suspect CIA involvement.  It turns out U.S. officials waited three weeks to tell Spanish law enforcement authorities that Chang had shared the fruits of raid with the FBI within five days of the attack.

(I speculate that a CIA representative sat in on the Chang debrief at some point. That would be standard operation procedure but I have no evidence that it happened.)

After the Spanish cops absorbed the FBI’s report, they made inquiries in Langley. The CIA provided answers that are still undisclosed. The Spanish investigators came away dissatisfied.

El Pais explained why:

According to the judge’s report, the group leader got in touch with the FBI on February 27, five days after the operation, to share information and hand over the material obtained in Madrid. Hong Chang was not arrested, and Spanish authorities were only informed after the story had made news headlines.

Spanish authorities contacted the CIA, which offered an “unconvincing” reply. Sources at the US embassy in Madrid said they do not comment on intelligence matters being handled by Spanish authorities, and that even if there had been any kind of official or informal call, no comments would be provided either.

Here’s a question for that the House and Senate intelligence committees might want to ask as part of their oversight duties:

What did Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel know about the North Korea embassy break-in? And when did they know it?

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(If you see any noteworthy stories on line, email me or DM on Twitter @jeffersonmorley.)

Source: Adrian Hong Chang: North Korean embassy assailants filmed the attack to prove their actions, say Spanish police | In English | EL PAÍS

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