The 4.19 Democratic Uprising in South Korea

South Korea’s First Revolution

Through the eyes of an American boy in Seoul


In 1960, I was living in Seoul, where my father was working for a religious organization that distributed relief aid in postwar South Korea. During the presidential elections of March 1960, I had observed truckloads of people being driven to the polls to vote for the right-wing pro-US dictator, Syngman Rhee. I was not surprised in late March when I began reading of protests throughout the country against what many Koreans said was a rigged election.

On April 19, the anger and fury against Rhee and his police state burst into the streets, when thousands of students and ordinary citizens launched massive demonstrations against the government. That night, my father, who worked in an office downtown, was trapped in his building for hours as police shot into the crowds, killing dozens. For the next few days, my American missionary school near Yonsei University was closed, and I began tracking the daily events. Every day I would cut out relevant stories from the newspapers, some of them – to my utter astonishment – censored and scratched out by the military.

By early May, Rhee had been forced out of the country, and was flown to Hawaii in a plane owned by Civil Air Transport, the CIA’s proprietary airline. For the first time in my life, I had witnessed people stand up and overthrow an unpopular government; suddenly, revolution was real to me.

Unfortunately, the “democratic spring” of 1960 didn’t last long, ending when General Park Chung Hee seized power in a military coup in May 1961. But the spirit of 4.19 lived on, through the 1980 uprising in Kwangju and the 1987 restoration of democracy. And it’s alive today as Koreans protest the drift into authoritarian rule by Park’s daughter, President Park Geun-hye.

I never forgot 4.19, and the 1960 uprising has always signified my baptism into the politics of liberation (the last photo is me in Seoul, in front of the only monument I could find in the city to those tumultuous days). Here is my record of the events, as I recorded them in my scrapbook – my first ever venture into journalism (age 9!).

4-19-p3 4-19-p4
4-19-p7 4-19-p8 4-19-p9 4-19-p10 4-19-p11 4-19-p12 4-19-p13 4-19-p14 4-19-p15 4-19-p17 4-19-p18 4-19-p19 4-19-p20 4-19-p21 4-19-p22 4-19-p23 4-19-p24 4-19-p25 4-19-p26 4-19-p27 4-19-p27-1 4-19-p28 4-19-p29 4-19-p30



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JFK Mystery Solved!

Dallas: The Russians Did It

In keeping with the spirit of this twisted presidential election, I have just discovered new evidence, pieced together from old clippings, that JFK was taken out by the Soviet Union in a plot masterminded by none other than Joseph Stalin himself. The proof is finally here! Please pass the word to Daily Beast, Buzzfeed and Fox News. Thanks to Nancy & Sluggo for the witty internal dialogue.



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Oligarchy of Spies

The Five Pure-Plays that Dominate US Intelligence


Just out, in The Nation:

By Tim Shorrock

The recent integration of two military contractors into a $10 billion behemoth is the latest in a wave of mergers and acquisitions that have transformed America’s privatized, high-tech intelligence system into what looks like an old-fashioned monopoly.

In August, Leidos Holdings, a major contractor for the Pentagon and the National Security Agency, completed a long-planned merger with the Information Systems & Global Solutions division of Lockheed Martin, the global military giant. The 8,000 operatives employed by the new company do everything from analyzing signals for the NSA to tracking down suspected enemy fighters for US Special Forces in the Middle East and Africa.

The sheer size of the new entity makes Leidos one of the most powerful companies in the intelligence-contracting industry, which is worth about $50 billion today. According to a comprehensive study I’ve just completed on public and private employment in intelligence, Leidos is now the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.

Yes, that’s 80 percent. For the first time since spy agencies began outsourcing their core analytic and operational work in the late 1990s, the bulk of the contracted work goes to a handful of companies: Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA, SAIC, and CACI International. This concentration of “pure plays”—a Wall Street term for companies that makes one product for a single market—marks a fundamental shift in an industry that was once a highly diverse mix of large military contractors, small and medium technology companies, and tiny “Beltway Bandits” surrounding Washington, D.C.

As I argue below, these developments are incredibly risky for a country more dependent than ever on intelligence to fight global wars and prevent domestic attacks. “The problem with just five companies providing the lion’s share of contractors is that the client, the U.S. government, won’t have much alternative when a company screws up,” says David Isenberg, the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.

Moreover, the fact that much of this privatized work is top secret—and is generally underreported in the press—undermines the accountability and transparency of our spy agencies. That should deeply concern the American public. “There’s so much less transparency in intelligence than in defense,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War, a study of the political and social impact of Lockheed Martin. “At least in Pentagon contracting, people can dig out conflicts of interest and cost overruns—the pieces of information you can use to get your hands on the problem.”

Fortunately, there is plenty of public information to build a profile of these companies. I’ll start this analysis with a closer look at the members of the new monopoly and a detailed explanation of how I reached my conclusions about their workforce.

• Booz Allen Hamilton, which has stood like a colossus over US intelligence as a contractor and consultant for over 30 years, is partly owned by the Carlyle Group, the politically connected private-equity firm. Booz is basically the consigliere of the Intelligence Community (known in Washington as the “IC”), serving “the Director of National Intelligence, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, National Intelligence and Civil Agencies, and Military Intelligence,” according to the company’s website. And this work can be lethal: Under a contract with Army intelligence, Booz personnel “rapidly track high-value individuals” targeted by the US military in a system now “deployed, and fully operational in Afghanistan.”

• CSRA Inc. was created out of a merger between CSC, which developed and manages the NSA’s classified internal-communications system, and SRA International, a highly profitable company with a long history of involvement in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). Among scores of other contracts, CSRA, which has close ties to the US Air Force, provides 24/7 support for the “global operations” of US commands in Europe and Africa and, under a January 2016 contract, manages the “global network of intelligence platforms” for the most advanced drones in the US arsenal. And in a bizarre set of contracts with the Pentagon’s prison in Guantánamo, it was hired to help both the defense and the prosecution in the military trials of individuals accused of planning the 9/11 attacks.

• SAIC is a well-known military contractor that has expanded into spying by buying Scitor, a company deeply embedded in the Pentagon’s top-secret satellite operations. Scitor’s real value for SAIC is its reach into the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which manages those satellites and integrates downloaded signals and imagery from space for the NSA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). SAIC’s latest project: an $8.5 million contract from the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command for “aerial ISR” in Afghanistan to be partly carried out at the NSA’s huge listening post in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

• CACI International is the Pentagon contractor infamous for supplying interrogators to the US military prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. CACI recently acquired two companies doing extensive work for the NSA and the CIA: National Security Solutions (bought from L-3 Communications) and Six3 Intelligence Solutions. Both have given CACI new inroads into national intelligence. Six3, for example, recently won substantial contracts to provide “counterinsurgency targeting” to NATO forces in Afghanistan. It also just won a new Army contract to provide intelligence to US military forces in Syria—an indication of how deeply US forces are now engaged there. It’s also the only contractor I know that quantifies its results: CACI’s intelligence services have “identified more than 1,500 terrorists threatening our nation,” it claims.

Together, Leidos and its four competitors earned nearly $16 billion from government IT contracts in 2015, according to an annual listing by the trade publication Washington Technology. But the key to their dominance lies not with their revenue but with their employees—specifically, their approximately 45,000 contractors with security clearances who work alongside government employees at the NSA, the CIA, and other agencies…

Click here to read on.


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On Buzzfeed’s McCarthyite smears against Korean Americans

This week I wrote to Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith about a story his publication ran on July 11 that smeared several Korean American peace and community groups as “fronts” for North Korea, using as its source a well-known fabricator who has spent the past three years red-baiting me as well.

I asked Smith to correct the story and run my letter as a way to ameliorate the damage Buzzfeed has done by printing such garbage. Yesterday I was informed by Buzzfeed’s “World News Editor” Hayes Brown that not only would Buzzfeed not issue a correction, but that it would not print my letter.

The fact that Ben Smith apparently approved this decision disappointed me. He knows me and is familiar with my journalism. “It was a pleasure to get to know your work, and I look forward to reading you more,” he emailed me in 2014 when we were discussing a potential project that never came to fruition. For him to allow McCarthyite smears to stand, even to someone he knows, speaks volumes about his commitment to journalistic ethics and integrity.

I was not surprised, however, by Brown’s response and actions as the editor of the story. I recently obtained a resume showing that Brown worked for at least two years for one of the country’s largest intelligence contractors, SRA International, as a “Cyber Policy Analyst” for the Department of Homeland Security (SRA is now known as CSRA following its merger with CSC, one of the National Security Agency’s most important contractors). During his time with SRA, Hayes held a “Top Secret-Active” security clearance. In his resume, he also claims to be a specialist on Asian Studies.

In my emails with Brown, I asked if his work as an intelligence contractor for DHS was relevant to his involvement with the Korea story. He rejected that idea, and downplayed his contractor role, as you will see in the emails below. I disagree and believe his previous job at SRA and DHS is relevant – highly so.

It is significant that he has never disclosed his top secret clearance in any of his biographical materials, and is typically described on his media sites as a mere “contractor.” Brown has also chosen not to disclose his security clearance or his work for SRA in articles about intelligence contractors, as in this 2013 piece from ThinkProgress (he did not reply to an email about this). 

As an editor, I’m sure Brown will appreciate the fact that I allowed him to respond to this post, in contrast to Buzzfeed‘s reprehensible decision not to seek comment from the individuals and organizations attacked in his Korea story. What follows is my full letter, as sent to Buzzfeed on July 13, and my emails with Brown last night.

To:                 Ben Smith and Hayes Brown

From:            Tim Shorrock, with comments from Gloria Steinem

Date:              July 13, 2016

The following is my response to an article that appeared in Buzzfeed News on July 11. I’m an author (“Spies for Hire”) who grew up in Seoul and Tokyo. I’ve been writing about Korea and East Asia for decades, including for The Nation. I wrote this after consulting with Christine Ahn, a Korean-American policy analyst and one of the founders of Women Cross DMZ, which is falsely characterized in the article as a “front” group for North Korea.

In “Meet North Korea’s Number One Fan In The United States,” published on July 11, 2016, you have allowed a known fabricator, Lawrence Peck, to smear several organizations founded by Korean-Americans with baseless, unsubstantiated charges of being “fronts” for the North Korean government of Kim Jong Un.

I’m writing to urge you to correct this article by stating clearly and unequivocally that Mr. Peck’s charge that Women Cross DMZ is a “front” for North Korea has no basis in fact and was printed without any evidence from Mr. Peck and no verification by your reporter Beimeng Fu and your national security editor Hayes Brown.

I have learned that Christine Ahn, the founder of Women Cross DMZ, spoke extensively to Ms. Fu, yet was given no opportunity to comment before Ms. Fu printed Mr. Peck’s false and defamatory allegations about her organization. I consider it serious journalistic malpractice to allow a questionable source to make false claims without giving the subjects of those charges an opportunity to respond.

The night the article appeared, I emailed Mr. Brown about this matter. He responded that Buzzfeed quoted Mr. Peck “because he’s presented himself as one of the few people looking into North Korean groups in the US, but [Buzzfeed] didn’t take his word as gospel…” He also noted that Buzzfeed made “sure to both note that Women Cross DMZ has on other occasions denied the sort of claims he made.”

These assertions are akin to allowing a source who’s “presented himself” as an expert on crime to accuse someone of a crime, and then saying the accused “denies” the accusation. The damage is done. Surely Mr. Brown –who I understand previously worked for a prominent national security contractor and has expertise in China and East Asia – can do better than this.

Despite Mr. Brown’s claims to the contrary, Ms. Fu’s entire piece hinges on Peck’s analysis and is framed by his paranoia of “pro-North Koreans” operating underground in the United States. The Korean-Americans Ms. Fu had the chance to observe are portrayed as shady operatives “under the radar on U.S. soil” when in fact Mr. Roh’s website, Minjok Tongshin, is publicly available on the web, and his meetings easily accessible to the public (incidentally, Mr. Roh’s views may be unpopular, but expressing his views on North Korea is protected speech in the United States).

In fact, there is nothing “under the radar” here, yet Ms. Fu, with the support of her editor, uses Peck’s broad brush analysis to falsely paint other groups, such as Nodutdol, as clandestine “pro-North Korea” organizations with no evidence whatsoever – except for Peck’s word. That is a travesty.

Mr. Peck, for your information, is a professional red-baiter and North Korea hater with no identifiable institutional support. He attacks anyone who believes in dialogue and citizen engagement with North Korea as “pro-North sympathizers” and worse. The engagement approach, as your editor should know, is endorsed by many prominent individuals, including Donald Gregg, the former CIA Station Chief in Seoul, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon (who told CBS News that Women Cross DMZ “was a a very good opportunity to help promote reconciliation between the two Koreas”) and even a few officials in the Obama administration.

Mr. Peck works closely, and coordinates his work, with the most radical right-wing groups in South Korea and within the extreme edges of the North Korean defector community. His primary audience is a core group of agitators in Seoul and Washington who seek regime change in North Korea and, like him, detest those who seek a diplomatic approach. He has virtually no credibility within the foreign press corps in South Korea, and most Korean experts view him as fringe and untrustworthy.

Your reporter could easily have verified Peck’s credibility (or lack of) with reporters who cover the peninsula, such as James Pearson of Reuters or Sang-hun Choe of The New York Times. She could have also spoken to well-known academic experts, such as John Delury (of Yonsei University) or Katherine Moon (of Wellesley College and the Brookings Institution). Instead, she simply reported Peck’s accusations as fact.

But not only are Mr. Peck’s charges baseless; he fabricates dangerous lies about individuals and organizations. I’ve been a target of his red-baiting myself. Recently, after an article of mine that was translated from The Nation went viral in South Korea, Peck attacked me in a right-wing publication in Seoul, calling me a communist and North Korean “sympathizer” (along with Noam Chomsky). In 2015, he tried to convince the Reuters bureau in Seoul that I belonged to two “pro-North Korean” organizations in Berkeley and Seoul; all of these claims are totally false and without any foundation whatsoever (wisely, Reuters ignored Peck).

Mr. Peck has been particularly vicious in his attacks on Christine Ahn of Women Cross DMZ. In your article, he claims – as he has on many occasions – that Women Cross DMZ is a “front group” for North Korea. In fact, he has gone much further than that.

In May, on the eve of a visit by the group to Seoul to participate in another women’s peace walk along the southern border of the DMZ, Mr. Peck gave a press conference charging that the May 2015 women’s peace walk was initiated by a North Korean diplomat named Pak Chol, and that Ms. Ahn was under his “influence.” In his statement, which was described in Yonhap News, Peck said, “Facts have emerged which indicate that the Women Cross project was likely a political influence operation by North Korea targeting [South Korea], and the US, and accomplished by the North’s intelligence service in conjunction with Ahn and some of her colleagues.”

This is an outright lie. I’ve known Ms. Ahn for many years. Because I’m a well-established writer on Korean affairs, Ms. Ahn sought my advice about her march in 2010, long before she approached the North and South Korean governments for permission to walk through their territories. I was in touch with her through the entire process and was lucky enough to witness the women cross the border at the DMZ, which I wrote about for Politico.

It was outrageous for your reporter and editor to allow Mr. Peck’s slander of Women Cross DMZ as a “front” for North Korea to stand with just a silent denial from the organization. For your information, its membership includes two Nobel Peace Laureates, a retired US Army Colonel, a regional director of Amnesty International, professors, human rights lawyers and a US Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, the revered American feminist Gloria Steinem.

Here is a direct quote from Ms. Steinem about Mr. Peck’s accusations, sent to me yesterday:

I’ve known Christine Ahn since 2011 when we were both protesting the building of a U.S. naval base on Jeju Island at the tip of South Korea. She was clearly a smart, effective and independent organizer. We stayed friends, and in October 2013, Christine asked if an international delegation of women peacemakers could get permission from both governments to cross the DMZ, would I join? I said yes, I had lost high school classmates to the Korean War, and I was worried that, with no public discussion to the contrary, people assumed that the division of Korea was permanent. In fact, the Armistice Agreement that halted the war was designed to last three months until there could be peace talks.

Since the success of our peace walk, we’ve worked closely with Korean women peacemakers to call for these peace talks. We’re not a “front” for anyone, but a transparent group speaking only for ourselves. We act on our own, speak for ourselves, and participate in Women Cross DMZ because the Korean War must end with a peace agreement. A half century of official silence hasn’t worked, so why not try ordinary people talking?”

To verify her statement, please feel free to contact Ms. Steinem (note: I provided her email address).

To summarize, your article is inconsistent with the standards of journalistic practice and endangers pro-peace individuals, especially in South Korea where mere accusations of being pro-North can land them in jail. I request that you correct Ms. Fu’s article as soon as possible and run my statement as a rejoinder.

I look forward to your response.


Tim Shorrock

Washington DC

Here is my full email exchange with Hayes Brown about the story and his previous work as an intelligence contractor.

Hayes Brown 4:46 PM to me, Ben

Tim, Mr. Peck was not the only person that Beimeng spoke to for this story — including defectors, Korean-American organization leaders, and scholars alike — and I disagree with your assessment that it hinged on his analysis. Moreover, you’re right that Roh’s site and views are protected under America’s freedom of speech. His ability to say what he likes in defense of a country where he’d be able to do nothing of the sort is the point of a story where you’ve chosen to focus on one aspect. We’ve read over your lengthy statement and are declining to publish it; we are also going to refrain from making any additional changes to the story at this time. We stand by Beimeng and if you chose to publish your statement elsewhere, I’ll happily read it there. Thanks, Hayes

Tim Shorrock 7:19 PM to Hayes, Ben

OK, you have decided to publish a McCarthyite smear on an entire community of Korean Americans on the basis of one man with a record of fraudulent smears, and you even defend your decision not to seek comment from those attacked. I will publish my full statement and more since you seem to have no compunction about committing journalistic malpractice.

Meanwhile, because I believe your editing and political background is entirely relevant to your approach to this story, I will publish with my statement the full details of your recent role as an intelligence contractor. According to a resume you submitted to a government contractor in 2012, you were a Cyber Policy Analyst with SRA International Inc., holding a Top Secret and Active security clearance, working for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications. Your specialization in college was Asian Studies, and you learned Mandarin Chinese.

In this position, with your top secret clearance, were you working on issues pertaining to North Korea, which has been a major target of US cybersecurity policies? Were you blogging for sites such as At Water’s Edge and UN Dispatch while you were working for DHS? Do you still hold your security clearance? My full statement will be published after you have a chance to respond to my questions.

Tim Shorrock

Hayes Brown 7:28 PM to me

Hi Tim. I really disagree with you when you say my first real job out of college tinted my editing of this story but you’re the one who’s actually writing this up. “Cyber Policy Analyst” was the title but I was literally moving files digitally between CS&C’s branches. It was seriously an office admin gig; none of my work when I was 24 ever involved North Korea and I didn’t even get my TS clearance until right before I left the contract. I was blogging for those sites, the first of which was my personal site, and no, my clearance is no longer active since I let it lapse when I left SRA years ago. Thanks for reaching out.

Tim Shorrock 7:31 PM to Hayes

Got it. I will run your full statement. In doing so, I will be providing you what you refused to do to the Korean Americans you smeared. How a guy with your thin background became a national security editor at any publication is amazing.

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The Dictator’s Daughter Strikes Again

Fighting for Baek Nam-gi, the South Korean farmer-activist

The family of Baek Nam-gi introducing themselves at the "Gwangju Eve" rally in Gwangju, May 17, 1980. Credit: Doraji Baek

The family of Baek Nam-gi introducing themselves at the “Gwangju Eve” rally in Gwangju, May 17, 1980. Credit: Doraji Baek

Seoul—Inside the intensive-care unit (ICU) of Seoul National University Hospital, Baek Nam-gi, a 69-year-old farmer and lifelong political activist, lies in a deep coma. His skull is still partially open after his surgery last November, when he was rushed here after being knocked violently to the ground by a burst from a high-powered water cannon deployed by the police forces of President Park Geun-hye’s government. They were trying to block a massive demonstration of 130,000 people in downtown Seoul protesting Park’s labor and trade policies.

I am here with Doraji Monica Baek, his eldest daughter, a slim, quiet woman who works as an editor for a local publisher of novels. She has asked me to accompany her to the ICU to visit her father. Baek had read my article in The Nation last December about the events that brought her father here as part of her family’s quest for justice. I feel a mixture of sorrow and privilege as we stand quietly by his bed, where he lies motionless except for the deep heaves in his chest as a machine forces him to breathe in and out. I touch her arm, and she places her hand on mine. There are no words at moments like this.

Mr. Baek, whose prognosis is not good, has become a symbol to many Koreans of the increasingly harsh response of the Park government toward dissent. Screenshot 2016-06-02 18.50.10In particular, people are angry and disgusted with police violence and a climate of impunity in which the government refuses to take responsibility for the actions of police officials. In Baek’s case, Park’s government has never apologized to his family and, according to human-rights activists, promoted officials involved in the November incident, including the police commander who ran the operation that day…

Thus begins my latest piece in The Nation, where you can read the rest of the story. But, first, click here to view the incredible footage from the November demonstration, where you can see Mr. Baek being directly targeted by the water cannons, as his daughter charges in the article. Below are some more photos, including a shot of Doraji and I at SNU hospital and several from the demonstration for justice on Monday in Seoul, organized by Amnesty International Korea and other organizations, at the exact spot where Mr. Baek was knocked to the ground. Finally, after the photos I’ve posted more information about Mr. Baek and the issues raised by his injuries, provided by AI Korea.  

Update for Korean readers: I spoke about my visit with Mr. Baek and his daughter in this interview with Voice of the People in Seoul.

tim shorrock and doraji baek

Seoul demonstration for Baek Nam-gi, Monday May 30. Credit: Amnesty International Korea

Seoul demonstration for Baek Nam-gi, Monday May 30. Credit: Amnesty International Korea

Credit: Amnesty International Korea

Credit: Amnesty International Korea


Credit: Amnesty International Korea

Credit: Amnesty International Korea

Credit: Amnesty International Korea

Screenshot 2016-06-02 18.28.09
Screenshot 2016-06-02 18.29.00
Screenshot 2016-06-02 18.29.18

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