Is North Korea testing chemical and biological weapons on humans? The answer almost certainly is yes. Is it experimenting on children and the mentally handicapped? Probably so.
After decades of development, Pyongyang has stockpiled 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons — mainly mustard gas, sarin, phosgene, and hydrogen cyanide — and is capable of rapid production in time of war. The arsenal, one of the world’s largest, can be fired into South Korea either by artillery shell or with missiles.
When he was director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte cited the North’s chemical weapons as among the “greatest threats” to the United States. The North is believed to operate 12 facilities producing chemicals for war use.
North Korea has also weaponized anthrax, smallpox, pneumonic plague, cholera, and botulism and may have as many as 5,000 tons of biological agents. Kim Jong Il’s militant state is thought to have at least 20 plants involved in developing and producing these weapons. The North’s program started in the 1960s, and it has a high call on the nation’s meager resources.
So far, there has been no documented use of North Korea’s chemical or biological agents on foreigners, but that does not mean there have been no victims. Some, such as national security analyst John Loftus, think the high toll — perhaps 3,000 killed or injured — resulting from the train blast in Ryongchon, a town close to the China border, in April 2004 was the result of the release of chemical or biological agents being transported to Syria. That charge has never been proven..
More certain, however, are the accusations that North Korea has tested chemical and biological agents on its own people. “An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners. One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the fifty women,” said Sun Ok Lee, a former prisoner, in the middle of this decade. “All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.”
None of the allegations, including Lee’s, can be substantiated. All of them come from refugees and defectors, who have a general motive to make their stories appear of great value to South Korean and Western intelligence agencies. As a result of the incentive to fabricate, some of what we hear from those fleeing Kim’s state is almost certainly untrue.
For example, Pyongyang — and some of its harshest critics — allege that the BBC 2004 program Access to Evil, which reported that chemical weapons were used on political prisoners, relied on faked North Korean documents. The documents — orders to transfer prisoners for the purpose of experimentation — could be forgeries because they carry seals that do not look genuine.
Yet even if some defector stories are untrue, fleeing North Koreans, over time, have told essentially the same story, thereby unintentionally corroborating each other. For instance, Kwon Hyok, formerly the chief of security at the now-infamous Camp 22, states that small groups of people were led into a chamber with glass windows and suffocated with gas while technicians observed the gruesome process. Compare this to the testimony of Im Chun-yong, a former North Korean commando. He says one of his soldiers told him of a facility on an island off the country’s west coast where people were put into a glass chamber. “Poisonous gas was injected in,” Im says, relating the story secondhand. “He watched doctors time how long it took for them to die.”
Kim Sang-hun says that when he was a UN official he had interviewed hundreds of fleeing citizens, and most of them talked about the horrifying testing. “Human experimentation is a widespread practice,” he notes.
Im, once a captain in Brigade No. 19, a special forces unit, confirms the experimentation is commonplace and also alleges that the government uses mentally and physically handicapped children, relating the story of his commander, who was essentially forced to give up his 12-year-old mentally ill daughter in the early 1990s. There may be as many as five locations where such testing takes place, says Kim, the former UN official.
North Korea is not only testing chemical and biological weapons, it is also rehearsing their use. Im said he was given training on firing a “bazooka-style” weapon delivering WMD.
Would North Korea actually use its chemical and biological weapons? Im, for one, is convinced Kim Jong Il would not hesitate to do so. The country, after all, is run by ruthless men and women who have committed horrific acts in the past. Killing their own citizens, especially the handicapped, is consistent with all we know about the criminals responsible for the most abhorrent regime on earth today.