If North Korea Was Selling Missile 'Expertise,' Who Was Buying?


Australia's federal police went on a public relations offensive Sunday, trumpeting the arrest of a man alleged to be working clandestinely for North Korea on the Aussie continent.

Chan Han Choi, 59, was accused in a tidy press release of, among other things, being an "economic agent" and "brokering the sale of missiles and missile componentry and expertise" on behalf of North Korea. Specifically, the AFP said the missile components and expertise related to software for the guidance systems for missiles. The release also revealed the operation's code name -- "Byahaut" -- and included photos of Choi and a video that apparently showed his arrest over the weekend.

"This case is like nothing we have ever seen on Australian soil," AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Guaghan said in the release.

Op Byahaut arrest 2.jpg

But as forthcoming as the AFP has been (and apparently one time far more than they meant to be), the police made one glaring omission: Who was Choi supposedly selling the missile components to?

The AFP only described the potential customers for the North Korean tech and "expertise" as "other international entities" and authorities declined to elaborate beyond that.

Reaching back decades, there are a host of suspects and nearly all of them are currently a concern for the U.S.

"North Korea remains one of the world's leading suppliers of ballistic missiles and technology, and continues to provide assistance to both Iran's and Syria's ballistic missile programs," reads an October 2009 U.S. government report quoted in a diplomatic communique released by WikiLeaks. "North Korea, since the 1980s, has supplied a variety of customers with ballistic missiles, missile components, and missile-related technology. These sales have included complete Category I missile systems, as well as production technology and expertise. North Korea has maintained its right to sell ballistic missiles and continues to market its systems to countries in the Middle East while seeking to expand its missile marketing activities worldwide. North Korea this year probably resumed ballistic missile-related cooperation with Yemen, and may have recently reached an agreement with Burma [Myanmar] to provide Rangoon [Yangon] with ballistic missile technology.

Seven years before that, in 2003 the CIA painted with a broader brush when it told Congress that North Korea exported ballistic missile technology to the "Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa."

In congressional testimony in 1992, then-CIA Director Robert Gates linked North Korean missile exports to Iran, Libya and Syria.

"North Korea's missile program is an urgent national security concern in East Asia, and it has ripple effects elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East," Gates told lawmakers then. "North Korea has invested heavily in the military, and depends on arms sales for much of its hard currency earnings."

In recent years, at least the suspicions surrounding North Korea's purported enthusiasm for missile proliferation haven't changed. In September, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo was speaking about North Korea's missile and nuclear capability when he said it was "fair to say" North Korea would share its technological advancements with willing customers.

"The North Koreans have a long history of being proliferators and sharing their knowledge, their technology, their capacities around the world," Pompeo reportedly told Fox News then, singling out Iran in particular as a potential buyer.

Those are just the nation-states. And this particular case comes with another wrinkle, as AFP top official Guaghan told reporters in a press conference that "there's no governments or officials involved in any of this."

"This is black market 101, people trying to use the black market as a way to get things they shouldn't get ahold of and then get revenue back in return," he said.

When pressed, Guaghan refused to say what kind of entity was lining up to buy the missile components and expertise, nor where it was based, citing an "ongoing investigation" with international partners.

Primary Source: AFP's News Release and Links to Media/Press Conference

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