Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Imagine a group of Irish revolutionaries smuggled into North Korea by the KGB. The out of shape guys struggled through their physical training. They choked down dog soup and told the North Koreans that they were from the tiny island nation of Malta. The exhausted Irishmen finally fled before they are uncovered as non-Maltese, non-communists. Decades after the bizarre journey, a BBC reporter posed as a professor and duped students into a following him around North Korea.
Those Irish men were actually members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They concocted the scheme to go to North Korea to learn critical assassination moves, bomb-making skills, and everything else that a ragtag team might need to take over a country.
Of course, North Korea never had any interest in getting involved with the IRA or even opening up their country to them. So, how did the North Korean officials accidentally provide top-secret training to the group of European Terrorists? The IRA members claimed that they were from the Maltese Communist Party.
The group of six IRA members had decided that they would visit North Korea in October 1988 during the communist regimes 40 birthday celebrations. The Irishmen flew from Ireland into Moscow where the KGB helped them pull off their elaborate scheme and continue on to North Korea without detection from either side.
Once they got into North Korea, they struggled to keep up. They complained about the food and having to wake up at 6:30 in the morning. Finally, after two months of grueling workouts, the men were booted out of North Korea. It wasn’t because their true identity was discovered or that they couldn’t go on with the training. The North Koreans booted the IRA out of the country because they couldn’t stop fighting amongst themselves. Rather than listening to the Irishmen bicker with each other through another day of training, the North Koreans sent them on the first plane back to Malta.
North Korea might have just accidentally trained the European terrorists without anyone knowing about it, if not for a new book by John Sweeney. BBC reporter Sweeney is an investigative journalist for the popular British news series Panorama.
Sweeney is no stranger to going undercover and facing danger. Over the course of his career, he has covered revolutions and wars in more than 60 different countries.
Sweeney had a couple pieces of motivation for going to North Korea and needed a way to go undercover. On top of preparing for the Panorama episode, Sweeny was also preparing to dish the IRA secrets in his new book North Korea Undercover: Inside the World’s Most Secret State.
With some help from the London School of Economics, Sweeney was able to travel to North Korea with a group of students. The problem, however, is that those students thought that Sweeney was their professor. They accuse the journalist of using them as a “human shield” during the dangerous trip. Sweeney defends his actions by saying that the students knew that a journalist was coming. The BBC is currently doing damage control while pulling in some of their top ratings with the North Korean episode of Panorama.
By Nicci Mende