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American and North Korean spies held secret talks over a decade



The secret channel between the Central Intelligence Agency and the spies of America's bitter adversary involved two missions in Pyongyang in 2012 during the Obama administration by Michael Morel, then the CIA deputy director, and at least one of his successors, Avril Haynes, current and former US officials say.

The channel seems to have fallen late in the Obama administration. Mike Pompeo resumed it as the CIA director sent an agency agent to meet with a North Korean colleague in Singapore in August 2017

Until the beginning of 2018, a whirlwind of secret and public talks gathered together Mrs. Trump and Kim. the Singapore Summit in June, and the intelligence channel played a role. Both sides are preparing for a second summit in late February.

Several contact details were reported earlier. This article is the most comprehensive description of how it works.

The channel was not the only factor that gathered the leaders. They took risks in holding the summit, the first among their countries. North Korea's improving relations with South Korea have helped.

  State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Andrew Kim, left, in Pyongyang, July 2018

State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Andrew Kim, left, in Pyongyang, July 2018


Andrew Harnic / Associated Press

But the existence of the intelligence channel reveals a new dimension to what is known about the US-North Korean ties, adding the texture to the public picture of mutual threats, stunned negotiations and, rather, a summit meeting.

At least until 2009, the channel has established connections between the security apparatus that provided a way to diplomacy. A key interlocutor was General Kim Yong Chol, former head of the Pyongyang General Investigation Bureau's spy agency. He was now the largest negotiator for North Korea and met on Friday with Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Pompe.

Some of the reconnaissance meetings were public. When North Korea demanded a senior US official visit to Pyongyang in 2014 to obtain the release of two US detainees, then James Clapper, director of the US National Intelligence, who went. There he met with General Kim.

Mostly contacts were hidden.

  Kim Jong Chol, center of North Korea, in Washington after a meeting with Mr. Pompeo on Friday.

Korean Kim Jong Chol, center, in Washington, following a meeting with Mr. Pompeo on Friday.


Photo:

Michael Reynolds / EPA / Shutterstock

A view beyond the Secret Intelligence Channel appears from current and former Trump and Obama administration officials who describe how the administrations have used it and how the channel has helped to reach the historic summit.

The CIA, the State Department and the White House refused to comment on the secret channel, as well as a diplomat from the North Korean mission in New York. Other employees mentioned in this article or their institutions were given the opportunity to comment.

The United States and North Korea have never had diplomatic relations and have no embassies in the capitals of others. They have long exchanged messages through the North Korea mission in New York. Some US officials believe the benefit of this channel is limited, saying its primary goal is to convey the messages of the less influential North Korean ministry.

By contrast, before the new era of summits, the intelligence channel was a way to communicate directly with hard-line regimes. US officials sometimes called it a "gon canal," referring to North Korean interlocutors whom Americans consider unpleasant but important in solving security issues. Some South Korean politicians accuse General Kim of observing the sinking of the South Korean naval ship in 2010. The US has accused the spy agency of having hosted Sony Pictures computer hackers in 2014. North Korea denies responsibility for both.

Washington uses intelligence meetings for many purposes. They expanded from the way in which detained Americans discussed a potential crisis management tool as a means of confirming the US readiness to normalize relations in exchange for denuclearization and a mechanism for discussing summit plans ending with a visit to the United States. Pompeo. Spring, when he's the director of the CIA.

  Launch a test rocket in August 2017 in a photo of the North Korean government.

Launch a test rocket in August 2017 in a photo of the North Korean government.


Photo:

/ Associated Press

"The rationale for using a channel between intelligence services would be that in the event of a crisis it could provide an opportunity to reach people in their system with power," said Daniel Russell, senior state department and national security official representative of The Council of Asia during the Obama administration. "In general, in countries like North Korea, the Foreign Ministry has limited influence, so you need to be able to talk to boys with weapons."

There are precedents for the use of spies for sensitive conversations with authoritarian regimes. Officials from the British Intelligence Service and from the CIA began talks that ended with the abandonment of Libya from its nuclear and chemical weapons programs in 2003.

The secret talks began

Secret Intelligence talks began until 2009 when relations were frozen. President Obama's White House asked Joseph DeTrani to reach north. Named Broadway Jo, reputed in a public way, he was North Korea's "missionary" to the Director of National Intelligence, coordinating the efforts of US spy agencies to decrypt the hermetic side.

n. DeTrani, who spoke mandarin and spent more than two decades at the CIA, was among the few US officers who had extensive interaction with North Korea. He was a negotiator during the unfortunate six-party talks, a multi-faceted effort from 2003 to 2009 to persuade North Korea to abandon nuclear ambitions.

DeTrani thinks it is worth talking to North Korea under all circumstances. we are in communication, we do not misinterpret what is happening and there is a chance to take small openings, "said Dennis Blair, a retired admiral and director of national intelligence during the first 16 months of the Obama administration.

DeTrani's mission was narrow. Obama wanted him to secure the release of two US journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard work. Mr DeTrani held unpublished meetings in Singapore under tense circumstances: Pyongyang conducted rocket tests that his North Korean colleagues from Mr Detrani refused to discuss

The talks helped Pyongyang's visit by former President Clinton in 2009, when he returned journalists.

  Former President Clinton with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, 2009 [19659007] Former President Clinton, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang,

Korean Central News Agency / Associated Press

After taking responsibility for US intelligence efforts in the fight against proliferation in 2010, Mr DeTrany made a secret trip to Pyongyang, warning North Korea against the proliferation of nuclear and missile systems.

He surrendered a collar for secret meetings to Mr. Morel, No. 2. The CIA in April 2012 both officers flew to Pyongyang with an American aircraft from Guam, and Mr. DeTrani introduced the CIA Deputy Director to the north. Koreans.

The moment was critical. The Obama administration has concluded the Transition Day agreement in February, during which North agrees to a moratorium on long-term missile testing and nuclear testing, and closes its nuclear facilities in Yonbon, including uranium enrichment. The United States promised to provide food aid. But Washington said North Korea's plans to launch a satellite would break the deal.

Kim Jong Il, who ruled North Korea for 17 years, died in December last year, transferring power to Kim Chen Un-which made it crucial to maintain the open communications line.

United States. efforts to remove this start failed. Mr. Morel, an Asia-based CIA officer, returned to Pyongyang next August with the message that North Korea faces a choice. It can build its nuclear and missile arsenals and suffer from diplomatic and economic isolation – or choose denuclearization and become part of the international community.

  Michael Morell in 2012 [19659908] Photo by Michael Morell in 2012 [
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Mark Wilson / Getty Images<br />
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<p>  The journey ended with disappointment: he could not hope for the audience with Kim Chen Un. </p>
<p>  Sometimes the glimmer of the secret channel becomes public. At the end of 2012, a South Korean newspaper reported that mysterious Americans had made two trips to North Korea. In January 2018, the Financial Times reported that Mr. Morel had made a secret trip to North Korea in 2012. </p>
<p>  Morel was replaced by CIA Deputy Director by Ms. Haynes, whose road to a senior post for national security included work as the owner of an independent bookstore. She traveled to Pyongyang during her mandate as CIA No 2 from August 2013 to January 2015 </p>
<p>  Despite the failures of the breakthroughs, some former officials say it was helpful to have contacts with the rigid elements of the regime, who were considered to be influential and controlling the security apparatus held by US prisoners. Keeping Channel Secrets has also allowed the Obama administration to encourage international partners to isolate Pyongyang from a diplomatic and economic point of view as part of a campaign to put pressure on nuclear weapons. </p>
<p>  "This is the only reliable communication channel for the most basic issues," says Trump senior officer. "That's where the North Koreans felt comfortable." to North Korea, they knew about the back channel. Still, the skeptics among some former administrative officials have questioned whether the secret channel has reduced the traditional negotiating role of the State Department. "Open channels of communication are always important, but envoys and messages also matter," says Joel Whit, a former State Department official now at the Stimson Center, an unbiased Washington think tank. "Intelligence officers are not trained diplomats, and if they do not hand over the right message they can turn to." </p><div><script async src=

  Joseph DeTrani, bottom right, in Singapore in 2015 </p>
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  Joseph DeTrani, bottom right, in Singapore in 2015 [19659908] Photo:
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<p>  Using the hidden channel seems to be waxy and weakened. Following reports in 2016, reports have shown that North Korea's missile and nuclear programs are advancing, Washington has extended economic sanctions, including Kim Jong Un. During high-level visits, there seems to be an interruption, although it is unclear whether the channel was completely dormant. </p>
<p>  As tensions rose in August 2017, the channel was renewed. This month, Mr Trump threatened North Korean leaders with "fire and fury," the annual US and South Korean military games resumed, and Pyongyang responded by testing a ballistic missile over Japan. </p>
<p>  Andrew Kim, a veteran CIA officer and head of the agency's new Mission Mission Center, travels to Singapore to meet with North Korean representatives. Mr. Kim, former head of several CIA overseas stations, was born in South Korea and has long-standing ties with his top national security officials. </p><div><script async src=

The separate efforts, apart from the intelligence channel, also show Mr Trump's interest in dialogue. In September 2017, the North Korean Foreign Minister invited Geoffrey Feltman, a former US diplomat who served as Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs in North Korea, to Pyongyang for Dialogue

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told him to trigger the idea for the first time from other interested parties, says Mr Feltman, and the Trump administration officials advise against the trip. But when Mr. Guterres raised the issue with Mr. Trump at the Oval Office meeting in October, the president said that Mr Feltman should go, said Mr Feltman and a spokesman for U.N. Mr Trump's personal role in approving the trip was not announced in advance.

Mr. Feltman made the trip public. During the four-day meetings in December 2017, he said, he told the North Koreans that the United States is not the only country worried about its nuclear and missile trials. He gave North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho a copy of The Sleepwalkers, a book on how European nations faced World War I

  Geoffrey Feltman, a center in Pyongyang in 2017 during a four-day visit. =

Jeffrey Feltman, center, in Pyongyang in 2017 during a four-day visit.


Photo:

John Chol Jin / Associated Press

In his November speech, Kim Chen Wu boasted that his country had completed building up its nuclear and missile forces. Citing this speech, Mr Feltman urged the North Koreans to redirect their efforts to the upcoming South Korean winter games to seek an opening with South Korea and the West, an idea that Pyongyang officials may have already had.

New Year's Address to Kim Jong Yang in 2018 hinted at a change: While stressing his nuclear capabilities, he proposed to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics.

Adding the momentum, South Korean officials began to encourage the idea of ​​a high-level meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, and the idea was also explored in the secret channel.

In March, South Korean officials visited the White House and surrendered the North Korean leader's invitation to meet Mr. Trump. The plan was for National Security Adviser HR. McMaster and senior officials consult the South Koreans, discuss the proposal and meet the South Koreans with Mr. Trump the next day.

Instead, Mr Trump decided to meet the South Koreans then and then and immediately agreed to the summit, saying, "Tell them I will."

The administration still wanted a direct confirmation from the North Korean leadership that they wanted a summit. The Intelligence Channel was active after the August meeting in Singapore, and the US used it to confirm the invitation from the Pyongyang summit and offer plans for the meeting.

At the end of March, Mr. Pompeo, then the CIA Director, flew to Pyongyang. Six weeks later, as Secretary of State, he went again, accompanied by Andrew Kim, and returned with three American detainees.

Less than a month later, Mr. Trump and Kim met in Singapore. diplomacy is now largely open and is happening at the highest levels. Intelligence contacts continue. In Washington on Friday, General Kim met without warning with CIA Deputy Director Von Bishop. Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com and Warren P. Strobil at Warren.Strobel@wsj.com


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