Visa-free entry allows North Korean intelligence agents to be more active in Malaysia than in any other country in Southeast Asia.
BANGKOK: A regional security analyst with IHS-Jane, Anthony Davis, has said North Korean intelligence operatives, either from the Recconaisance General Bureau or other security apparatus, have been active in Malaysia.
“Given that North Korean citizens can enter Malaysia without a visa, North Korean intelligence agents have been more active in Malaysia than in any other country in Southeast Asia.
“It has become a sort of regional hub,” he told Bernama in an email interview recently.
Davis, who is based in Bangkok, has travelled widely throughout the region.
He said the activities of North Korean intelligence operatives in Malaysia had not gone unchecked by its regional and western counterparts.
“Regional and western intelligence services have been well aware of this, and covert operations aimed at discouraging North Korean activities have been undertaken,” he said without elaborating.
The presence of North Korean spies in Malaysia was exposed after the brazen assasination of North Korean Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of the North Korean leader, at the KL International Airport 2 (klia2) on Feb 13.
The killing has lifted the shroud of secrecy on the activities of Pyongyang’s intelligence operatives in the country.
Malaysia’s friendly diplomatic relations with North Korea prior to the latest incident, coupled with relaxed immigration rules, including the no-visa requirement, has been taken advantage of by that country’s intelligence agents.
Two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, were charged today with Jong Nam’s murder. They were earlier alleged to have smeared his face with the VX nerve agent.
Davis said as a result of Jong Nam’s assassination, repercussions would be felt not only diplomatically but also at the intelligence level, with the activities of North Korean operatives coming under greater scrutiny.
North Korea’s front companies and intelligence operatives in Malaysia and the region, he said, would face intrusive surveillance and even direct harassment.
“Intelligence services conduct covert operations, including harassment against enemy services on a regular basis. After this affair, life will become a lot tougher for the North Koreans in this region and probably beyond.”
On the use of the nerve agent to kill Jong Nam, Davis said it was almost certainly intended to show that this operation was sanctioned at the highest levels of the state.
“Rogue operators do not get access to a weapon of this type,” he said, noting the nerve agent was listed as a chemical weapon under Schedule 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention Act 2005 and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) 1997.
On the selection of the two women to execute the mission instead of well-trained operatives, Davis noted two attractive young women “fooling around” with an older man would be less likely to cause bystanders to intervene than an attack by males.
“Also, in the event of arrests, as indeed occurred, using foreigners will avoid North Korean intelligence officers being either directly implicated or facing a no-holds-barred interrogation,” he said.