Poison is just one tool for North Korea's highly trained spies, defectors say
Poison pens and torch guns are part of the arsenal of North Korea's spies who receive special privileges in the secretive nation where 28 million people are suffering in poverty, defectors say.
"We were taught to be ready to die for the Kim regime and if caught, to make sure we were not taken alive," said Kim Dong–shik, a defector who was trained as a spy and infiltrated South Korea before he was shot in Seoul.
Suspicion surrounding the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged 46 year-old half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un at Kuala Lumpur's international airport on Monday, has fallen on the country's huge spy network.
Two women agents reportedly used poison, possibly poison needles, to kill Kim Jong-nam in what would seem to be a scene straight from the set of a James Bond movie.
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But for years defectors have told how North Korean spies are highly trained in elite schools and treated on the same level as army generals.
Kim Dong-shik told CNN in 2015 that for four years he learnt martial arts, scuba diving and how to shoot and rig explosives at a specialised university.
Another defector, Kim Hyun-hee told the ABC in 2013 how she was groomed by North Korean spymasters to plant a bomb on a South Korean passenger plane.
The 1987 attack killed all 115 people on board and led to the United States listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The Kim regime has for years used spies to back a vast international criminal network that has included drug trafficking, according to defectors and multiple reports.
In 2012 the North Korean ship Pong Su made headlines as it was chased along the NSW coast from Victoria by the Australian Federal Police and the Australian navy.
It was found to contain a huge consignment of heroin that was traced to North Korean government connections in Singapore and the Chinese territory of Macau.
North Korea's spies have a long history of kidnapping foreigners to serve the state.
A South Korean humanitarian organisation said late last year it has evidence that American David Sneddon was kidnapped in China 12 years ago and forced to teach English to the children of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.
His pupils included the current leader, Kim Jong-un.
In 2012 Kim Jong-il confessed to having kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens but the Japanese government believes more were taken.
The list of known abductees include those from South Korea, China, Romania, Lebanon, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Macau.
One 14 year-old Japanese girl was kidnapped and forced to teach the Japanese language and customs to North Korea's spies, according to the Wall Street Journal.
North Korea has four intelligence organisations.
The most secretive is the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which operates six bureaus whose specialities include cyber and overseas intelligence.
The bureau is known to have sent spies into South Korea through tunnels under the border demilitarised zone.
Defectors say little happens in the country without the knowledge of Kim Jong-un, who became supreme leader in June last year after the death of his father two months earlier.
- Sydney Morning Herald