Much hand-wringing and melodrama has surrounded the broad daylight break-in that happened at the North Korean embassy in Spain on February 22nd. Adrian Hong Chang and former U.S. Marine Christopher Ahn are accused of breaking into the embassy, holding several North Koreans hostage, and stealing a tranche of computer hard drives and documents. The alleged culprits left a trail of evidence throughout their sloppy operation and were quickly named by Spanish courts and the U.S. Department of Justice. Ahn was arrested in Los Angeles and is awaiting potential extradition back to Spain. Chang and Ahn were both known for previous anti-North Korean activism under the name Free Joseon.
Accusations, rumors, and conspiracy theories have flown far and wide, beginning with the Spanish courts accusing the CIA of having orchestrated the break-in, a claim they appear to have since backed down from. The entire incident is bizarre and has left a lot of people rightfully asking questions, but was the U.S. government really behind the break in? We can comfortably answer that question: no. Circumstantially, there is no way the intelligence community would have run such an operation a week prior to President Trump’s historic meeting with Kim Jung Un in Vietnam.
Let’s take a deeper look at how the U.S. government runs covert operations.
There are a number of different players within the intelligence community, and a few in the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, who could carry out this type of mission. The CIA and NSA both have technicians who do this type of work. Operators assigned to Delta Force’s reconnaissance detachment or SEAL Team Six‘s Black Squadron could have managed it, as could the Army’s Intelligence Support Activity (ISA). This type of operation would almost certainly be covered by a waived, unacknowledged Special Access Program (SAP).