KUALA LUMPUR: While Malaysia and North Korea are doing their best to solve the diplomatic spat between the two governments, attention is now focused on the presence of more than 1,000 North Korean citizens in Malaysia.
The assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 three weeks ago has sparked the interest of many quarters over Pyongyang's intelligence operations in Malaysia.
A source told Bernama that the presence of the North Koreans in the country, masquerading behind careers in various fields, was all planned in order to form an organised intelligence network.
It is not difficult to understand as to why quite a number of North Koreans are working as information technology specialists and masquerading behind local companies in Cyberjaya - to help them to gather information and data internally, the source said.
"These are not ordinary people because they are specially trained before being selected by the regime to work abroad.
"While being sponsored by local companies, their presence in Malaysia are not just to work but also (to function) as trained spies."
This group of people are part of approximately 100,000 North Koreans working overseas worldwide and have become valuable "resources" to the regime as they are also sending their hard-earned money to their home country, according to the source.
Every North Korean abroad is required to report at their embassy on a monthly basis and undergo a debriefing.
"BAGS CONTAINING MONEY"
The source claimed that in addition to IT, the North Koreans are also active in iron ore mining in Sarawak and as partners to Malaysian businessmen.
"They are trying to export Malaysian products to North Korea and vice versa even though they know many quarters are aware of the restrictions imposed by the United Nations on their country."
The source also said it was a practice for employers to pay the salaries of the North Koreans directly to their embassy here, while the employees would only receive a living allowance.
"The embassy usually takes the money out of Malaysia in the form of cash because they cannot make online transactions due to the restrictions by the UN on Pyongyang.
"They will carry bags containing money and get cleared by the airport security while using their diplomatic privileges."
The answers to questions on why more North Koreans work in the IT sector and how the country manages to produce so many of them can be found on Hackread, a Milan-based online news portal, according to the source.
The portal revealed that an IT unit set up by the regime, known as Bureau 121, comprised an elite group of well-trained hackers to perform the duties of cyber espionage and cyber crime.
A Bernama check found an interview between the news portal and Professor Kim Heung Kwang, a North Korean who defected to South Korea in 2004.
In the interview, Kim said he taught computer science in North Korea to an elite group of hackers for 20 years.
Only those who worked for Bureau 121 were allowed to gain access to the Internet or to leave the country, the academic said.
However, Bernama's source said the active intelligence agents could not escape from being monitored by the Malaysian authorities.
"All the intelligence services in the region are aware of this and their covert operations are being intensified round-the-clock to monitor the activities by North Korea," the source added.