Madrid’s N Korea Embassy raid leader identified as regime change advocate

Adrian Hong, who allegedly led an attack on North Korea's embassy in Madrid, is a longtime US-based advocate of regime change in Pyongyang whose sources of financial support are murky.

Madrid's N Korea Embassy raid leader identified as regime change advocate
The N Korean flag. Photo: AFP

Spain's National Court identified the leader of the group which invaded the embassy and stole records and computers on February 22 as 35-year-old Mexican national Adrian Hong Chang.

According to the court, he went by the name “Matthew Chao” while in Madrid, booked his Uber under the name “Oswaldo Trump”, and led the group of 10 who stormed the embassy wielding knives and fake guns.

After the raid he allegedly flew to New York and has not been heard from since.


In the United States, he goes by the name Adrian Hong.   

Well-spoken, with detailed knowledge of North Korea's politics and economy, Hong in 2005 co-founded the California-based Liberty in North Korea group (LiNK), which helps resettle refugees from the country.

In December 2006 he was arrested together with two other field workers in China as they tried to help six North Koreans escape their country.   

They were released after being held for 10 days.   

But not long after that Hong left LiNK and began campaigning for human rights and regime change in Pyongyang, presenting himelf as chief executive of a consultancy called Pegasus Strategies LLC.

The company was described in one article on Hong as “an initiative that uses cutting-edge technology to penetrate closed societies and empower people in those nations.”

His resume from when he was a fellow at the TED organization in 2010 said he has lectured at South Korea's Ewha University on human rights and foreign policy, and was a research fellow at Yale University.

'Dress rehearsal'

But then his activity gets murky. Few in Washington's close-knit circles of North Korea watchers said they knew much about him, or who finances his activities.

In 2011 he showed up in Tripoli, Libya.   

A former TED associate of Hong's, Jordanian businessman Suleiman Bakhit, said that during the first Libyan civil war, they built an operation to take some 15,000 Libyan civilians to be treated in Jordanian hospitals.

He continued advocating about North Korea.   

“I consider the Arab Spring a dress rehearsal for North Korea,” Hong told Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper in 2011.   

“But North Korea is a far more lethal, prepared and massive opponent for the people than Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, in every category: pervasiveness of public security and secret police, size of military and mobilisation, hopelessness and general impoverished and malnourished state of the people.”

In 2015, Hong founded the Joseon Institute, based in New York and named after the 14th-19th century dynasty that ruled the Korean peninsula.   

Its website describes its mission as to “prepare actionable blueprints on how to manage a transition and prepare for a brighter future in a new North Korea,” and suggests it has secret “planning commissions” to direct the country.

Hong's link to the “Cheollima Civil Defense” group, which took credit for the attack on the embassy and apparently offered the materials it took to the FBI, is unclear.

The group presents itself as the government-in-waiting for a “Free Joseon”: “We declare this entity the sole legitimate representative of the Korean people of the north,” its website says.

Yet the group could very well be tied to Hong: “Cheollima” is the name of a powerful stallion in East Asian mythology — a direct parallel to Pegasus of Greek mythology.

By AFP's Paul Handley 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Danish chef spent ten years infiltrating North Korea

A Danish chef on a sickness pension spent ten years infiltrating and secretly filming North Korea's foreign influence operation for a documentary, even winning a contract to manufacture military equipment in a third country.

Danish chef spent ten years infiltrating North Korea
Former chef Ulrich Larsen shakes hands with Alejandro Cao de Benós, the 'gatekeeper to North Korea'. Photo: Piraya Films
“The Mole – Undercover in North Korea”, which broadcasts on Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and British TV this Sunday, uses footage shot with hidden cameras Ulrich Larsen brought to meetings in Europe and North Korea, to expose how North Koreans are desperately trying to obtain US dollars and oil for the regime through encouraging foreign investors to break international UN sanctions. 
The film is directed by the Danish film maker Mads Brügger, who hired Jim Latrache-Qvortrup to represent an arms dealer called “Mr James”, who accompanied Larsen to meetings and then signed a contract on a visit to Pyongyang with a representative of a North Korean arms factory, with government officials present. 
Larsen, who had had to give up work due to chronic inflammation of his pancreas, began working on the project out of boredom.  He told Danish broadcaster DR  that he approached Brügger after curiosity about the regime led him to join the Korean Friendship Association (KFA). 
There he came into contact with Alejandro Cao de Benós, a Spanish nobleman who presents himself as “the Gatekeeper of North Korea”.
“I started with the project to make time go by when I was on sickness benefits,” he told DR. “But when I got started, I became curious. 'Is this possible?” “Is it real?” And I think sometimes it's healthy to sniff at something that seems exciting.” 
In 2013, Cao De Benós contacted Larsen, telling him he had three interesting investment projects in North Korea if Larsen could find people with more than 50,000 euros to invest. 
It was then that Brügger hired Latrache-Qvortrup, a former foreign legionnaire who had spent eight years in prison for dealing drugs to the rich and famous. 
Latrache-Qvortrup then accompanied Larsen on trips to Uganda, Spain, Norway and North Korea to help expose the hermit state's influence operation. 
Larsen said he had kept his double life secret from his family. 
“My wife was never told at all that what I was doing could be dangerous. Not at all,” he said. “I can see that it's selfish, but if I had told her, I would probably have been told not to come home. At the same time, it was also a way to protect her. Because if she knew I was going out to meet with an arms dealer, she would have been sitting at home a total wreck.” 
One of the most tense moments came when Cao De Benós brought a device that detects hidden cameras to a meeting. 
Hugh Griffiths, co-ordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea between 2014 and 2019, told the BBC that he had found the film “highly credible”.
“This film is the most severe embarrassment to Chairman Kim Jong-un that we have ever seen,” said Griffiths. “Just because it appears amateurish does not mean the intention to sell and gain foreign currency revenue is not there. Elements of the film really do correspond with what we already know.”
Larsen told DR that now the film was being broadcast, he was worried that he might face repercussions. 
“There is no doubt that some people are going to be pretty angry. I have pissed all over some of these people and lied incredibly. And it's easy to travel around the world, so if they now decide that I should learn a lesson. Or if the North Koreans could think of sending someone after me…”
But he said he hoped that would not happen.
“I then choose to believe that they are not so… what can I say… low-down practical. But it may be that they want to set an example and scare me, or do something worse. I do not know what will happen.”