Former North Korean operative reveals secret spy tactics

Updated 6:52 AM EDT, Fri May 22, 2015
pkg hancocks north korea spies_00015506.jpg
pkg hancocks north korea spies_00015506.jpg
Now playing
02:29
Former spy: N. Korean agents operating in U.S., S. Korea
CNN
Now playing
02:35
Photos show N. Korea improving nuclear facility
KCTV
Now playing
02:06
North Korea shakes up its military leadership
CNN
Now playing
02:51
CNN reporter's surreal journey inside N. Korea
Hyon Song-Wol (C), the leader of North Korea's popular Moranbong band, arrives at Seoul station in Seoul on January 21, 2018 before boarding a train bound for the eastern city of Gangneung.
North Korean delegates arrived in Seoul on January 21 on their way to inspect venues and prepare cultural performances for next month's Winter Olympics, in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South for four years. / AFP PHOTO / KOREA POOL / - / South Korea OUT        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
-/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Hyon Song-Wol (C), the leader of North Korea's popular Moranbong band, arrives at Seoul station in Seoul on January 21, 2018 before boarding a train bound for the eastern city of Gangneung. North Korean delegates arrived in Seoul on January 21 on their way to inspect venues and prepare cultural performances for next month's Winter Olympics, in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South for four years. / AFP PHOTO / KOREA POOL / - / South Korea OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:44
Who is North Korean pop star Hyon Song Wol?
north korea kim jung un new year speech hancocks lklv_00005209.jpg
Korean Central TV
north korea kim jung un new year speech hancocks lklv_00005209.jpg
Now playing
02:20
Kim Jong Un delivers New Year's address
Now playing
00:49
North Korea's largest textile factory
Now playing
00:51
Communal living in Pyongyang
Now playing
01:01
A glimpse of life in Pyongyang
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) inspecting a launching drill of the medium-and-long range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location.
Kim vowed to complete North Korea's nuclear force despite sanctions, saying the final goal of his country's weapons development is "equilibrium of real force" with the United States, state media reported on September 16.  NK leadership watch says:  Kim Jong Un watches a missile drill on September 15, 2017. Also in attendance behind him are Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol (Photo: KCNA).
STR/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) inspecting a launching drill of the medium-and-long range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. Kim vowed to complete North Korea's nuclear force despite sanctions, saying the final goal of his country's weapons development is "equilibrium of real force" with the United States, state media reported on September 16. NK leadership watch says: Kim Jong Un watches a missile drill on September 15, 2017. Also in attendance behind him are Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol (Photo: KCNA).
Now playing
02:33
Inside story of N. Korean smuggler's paradise
Now playing
00:56
The home of a North Korean Workers' Party member
A North Korean defector darts across the DMZ dividing the two Koreas in this screenshot of handout video provided by the United Nations Command.
United Nations Command
A North Korean defector darts across the DMZ dividing the two Koreas in this screenshot of handout video provided by the United Nations Command.
Now playing
03:05
Video shows North Korean defector's escape
North Korean soldiers (R) look at the South side while US Vice President Mike Pence (not pictured) visits the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea on April 17, 2017.
Pence arrived at the gateway to the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas, in a show of US resolve a day after North Korea failed in its attempt to test another missile. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je        (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean soldiers (R) look at the South side while US Vice President Mike Pence (not pictured) visits the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea on April 17, 2017. Pence arrived at the gateway to the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas, in a show of US resolve a day after North Korea failed in its attempt to test another missile. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:40
What it's really like to be inside North Korea
Kim Yo Jong, the youngest sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seen in March 2014.
KCNA via Getty Images
Kim Yo Jong, the youngest sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seen in March 2014.
Now playing
02:14
Kim Jong Un promotes his sister (2017)
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 29, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory, as his wife Ri Sol-Ju (R) looks on. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT   ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP.  /         (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
STR/AFP/Getty Images
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 29, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory, as his wife Ri Sol-Ju (R) looks on. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:08
Kim Jong Un's wife makes rare public appearance
KCTV
Now playing
00:44
Watch: N. Korea performance shows US in flames

Story highlights

Kim Dong-shik said he spied for North Korea before being caught

He was shot by officers in Seoul before he could commit suicide, as instructed

Kim said North Korean agents are still working worldwide for the regime

Seoul CNN —  

Looking at the poison pens and torch guns, you would be forgiven for thinking you were on a James Bond set. But these weapons are real and are still part of the arsenal of North Korean spies.

Agents from the most isolated country on Earth are not a thing of the past, said one man who claims his job once was to infiltrate South Korea on missions for the Kim regime.

Chosen for the job while still in high-school, Kim Dong-shik told CNN he was sent to a specialized university for four years where he learned skills including martial arts, scuba diving, how to shoot and rig explosives. Only years later when he was fully trained was he told why he had been chosen.

“When I was told I was going to be a spy… I felt stunned,” Kim said. “There have been many accidents in the past with spies. A lot who were sent to South Korea were killed, so I assumed I’d die.”

The physical training was only one part, Kim said; the psychological preparation was key.

“We were taught to be ready to die for the Kim regime and if caught, to make sure we were not taken alive,” he said.

Kim was shot by South Korean officials, in 1995, while on a mission in Seoul so was unable to commit suicide, he said. He claims his entire family was executed back in North Korea as punishment for him not fulfilling his destiny. CNN is unable to independently verify Kim’s claims as North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive countries.

READ: From traitors to poster children

Life of a spy

Kim says his first mission to South Korea in 1990 was to bring back a high-ranking agent he called Lee who had been working in the country for some time. His second was to try to recruit those with anti-government sentiments who may have sympathies towards the North.

Back then he said he communicated with HQ via short-wave radio. One program from Pyongyang that aired at midnight had an anchor reading numbers – he said that was code to tell him his next mission. He assumes methods of communicating are far more sophisticated now.

How they’re enticed

One former member of the elite, Kang Myong-do said North Korean spies are operating in countries across the world including the United States, where he estimates hundreds may be working at any one time. One of their main purposes is to try to recruit Korean-Americans who lean towards supporting North Korea, he said.

“There are three different tactics they use,” he said. “First is to give them free visas to North Korea, second, to give them access to do business and make money there and third, they use women to entice them. This tactic has been widely used since the ‘80s.”

Kang said he used to work in the Unification Development Division in 1984. One of the duties of this division was to send spies to the U.S., South Korea and Japan, he said, adding that the division still exists to this day.

He said spies and the human intelligence they provide play a big role in maintaining Kim Jong Un’s regime. It’s a belief shared by Kim Dong-shik who says, “North Korea treats them very well. Spies are treated on the same level as generals, their education is to a similar high level. So it’s fair to say North Korea considers spies as very important.”