40. Despatch From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State 1

No. 260


  • Department of State Circular Telegrams Nos. 559 and 560, dated March 24 [23], 19552
[Page 74]


  • Report on the Counter-Subversive Capacity of the Republic of Korea

The joint report on the Counter-Subversive Capacity of the Republic of Korea, attached as Enclosure No. 1, is submitted in accordance with the instructions under reference. It was prepared [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] by [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the Embassy, using material also obtained from the Service Attaches, Korea Civil Assistance Command (KCAC), FOA and Assistant Chief of Staff, G–2, Eighth U.S. Army (Forward).

The Assistant Chief of Staff, G–2, Eighth U.S. Army (Forward) does not agree that an increased level of U.S. assistance is necessary to improve the capacity of the ROK police-type forces for combating Communist subversion. His conclusions and views are summarized in Enclosure No. 2, attached.

Carl W. Strom
Chargé d’Affaires, a.i.

Enclosure 1


Introduction and Summary

For the purposes of the instructions under reference the Republic of Korea (ROK) is considered to be the type of country in which the primary need for U.S. assistance is in improving the capabilities of police-type forces in order to prevent Communist subversion from making important headway. Greater U.S. efforts, therefore, should be [Page 75] directed towards improving the overall effectiveness of existing internal security forces. The National Police is the logical organization for development as the major internal security force because of its manpower, its long existence as a police force and its complete coverage of the country. From a manpower standpoint it is adequate, but on the basis of actual performance it does not even approximate an adequate counter-espionage and counter-intelligence service. Korea suffers from a plethora of internal security organizations which are not only countenanced but encouraged and utilized by President Rhee. The two major forces, in addition to the National Police, are the ROK Army CIC and the Joint Provost Marshal Command. All these organizations are used at times by President Rhee for security as well as political actions, and, in addition, the President has his own private police and investigating force known as the Kyungmudae4 Police, which is drawn from the National Police personnel. Such a diversity of security and investigative units results in vying for the favor of President Rhee, and generally each unit spends more time watching the others for indications of Presidential favor than in doing the spade work necessary to uncover skillful subversive tactics. Within the ROK, the regular armed forces should continue to have the primary mission of protecting against external attack.

I. State of Development of Threat and Subversion

The threat of Communist control of the ROK through subversion is at present a potential, rather than an actual, danger. North Korean directed Communist guerrilla elements in the ROK have been almost totally annihilated. Such subversion as has been accomplished has resulted from efforts of the Korean Labor Party (KLP), the Communist Party of North Korea. Its organized underground assets in South Korea were destroyed during the war. The KLP must now, therefore, rely upon propaganda and compartmented and low-level espionage agents in attempting to create another underground.

The Korean Government and its people are strongly anti-Communist, and there are at present relatively few manifestations of internal Communist activity in South Korea. A potentially dangerous situation could develop, however, in the event President Rhee dies or becomes incapacitated. His personal rule, his failure to provide for a successor, his policy of playing off officials against each other, and the absence of strongly entrenched traditions of political party responsibilities are some of the characteristics which could provide confusion and disorder when the firm hand of Rhee is removed. Such a situation would be fertile ground for Communist subversive activities.

[Page 76]

In these circumstances certain limited North Korean subversive assets which already exist in South Korea in a more or less dormant state could be used to advantage by trained agents to exploit the confusion and disorder that might well accompany a ROK political crisis. The following identifiable groups are assets of this type: Remnants of the former Communist underground in South Korea; other Communists and Communist sympathizers who survived the Korean war in the ROK; relatives and associates of the thousands of Leftist intellectuals who fled to North Korea during the war; approximately two million refugees from North Korea now in South Korea who, although mostly non-Communists, are exploitable because of their friends and relatives in North Korea; and prisoners of war released by the ROK in South Korea.

The counter-subversive facilities and personnel of the ROK security agencies are almost fully occupied in carrying out political tasks assigned by President Rhee and in seeking to combat the large volume of Communist low-level espionage and subversive penetration attempts from North Korea. Even so, subversives apprehended by the ROK probably represent only a fraction of the total number of agents dispatched by the KLP.

It can be assumed that there are high caliber individual agents working at high levels within the ROK whose mission is political subversion. Civil and military security agents do not have a planned, coordinated program to combat this type agent who represents a far greater threat of political subversion than do the low-level type, border crossing agents.

A dangerous situation results from the fact that through its control of coastal smuggling channels between North and South Korea the KLP and its intelligence organization exert a damaging influence on the ROK intelligence efforts. Fifteen Communist front trading organizations have been established in North Korea close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The ROK positive and counter-intelligence agencies in turn have established cover-type commercial firms in South Korea to deal with these North Korean organizations on the naive assumption that the South Koreans will be able to engage in effective positive intelligence activities against the North. In practice the KLP is able to send commercial goods, subversive agents, funds, instructions and radios through the smuggling channel to the South Korean commercial fronts and through them to other destinations in South Korea. However, the agents and couriers dispatched by the South Korean intelligence services are not permitted to penetrate North Korea beyond the trading firms immediately above the DMZ where they receive information which is prepared and intended for them by the KLP. Competition between the several ROK intelligence [Page 77] agencies and the corruptibility of their officials are damaging byproducts of this trade.

The inadequate salaries of members of the ROK police and military counter-subversive agencies make them susceptible to bribes to augment their salaries. This situation is no doubt exploited by the North Koreans, and as a result some criminals and subversives without proper identification documents can probably evade the law and go undetected.

There are two organizations in Japan, the Minsen (Korean Minority Group of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP)) and the Third Force movement for Korean unification, which should be considered as Communist assets and of potential usefulness in South Korea for Communist purposes. Indicative of Minsen activity is the fact one such political-type agent has been detected and apprehended in Korea in the last five months. The ROK has outlawed the Third Force movement and fought it. The Communists both in North Korea and in Japan engage in extensive smuggling by sea between Japan and South Korea. Profits help finance their operations and the channels are used for courier purposes.

[Here follows a six-page analysis of the adequacy of the countermeasures taken by the Republic of Korea to meet the threat of Communist subversion. The analysis includes a detailed discussion of the strength and mission of the National Police, the Joint Provost Marshal General Command, and the Counter-intelligence Corps of the South Korean Army.]

III. Analysis of Local U.S. Programs

U.S. programs of assistance and support of the NP or the several intelligence agencies of the ROK Armed Services are presently being carried out by [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] KCAC, FOA and Army CIC. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the programs are narrow and specific in scope and are not coordinated by any central U.S. agency in Korea. The programs vary in nature but are limited to theoretical and practical training. U.S. is not rendering logistical support to the ROK intelligence agencies, except for that programed by FOA, as noted below.

[1 paragraph (25 lines of source text) not declassified]

Korea Civil Assistance Command (KCAC)

During the military government phases in South Korea following World War II the U.S. directed the NP and rendered limited logistical support. Remnants of that program exist today within the public safety branch of KCAC in the form of a U.S. Advisory Group to the NP, soon to be reduced to only nine U.S. Army officers, with the function of advising the NP in all phases of its operations. No logistical support is included. The U.S. Advisory Group has sponsored the [Page 78] training of twenty ROK police officials in the U.S. Funds were supplied by the U.S. Department of State. Ten more will probably go to the U.S. during the balance of 1955 on funds furnished by the Department of State and FOA. (In addition, the ROK Government has financed ineffective short-time training in the U.S. for approximately ten more during the last three years.)


FOA Program

FOA has extended assistance to the NP in the fiscal year 1954. Six hundred and forty thousand dollars of FOA funds were made available as a grant to purchase cloth for police uniforms. The purchase has not materialized, however, for the ROK has not been willing to buy from Japanese sources, which offered the lowest bids. In addition, a $1,000,000 grant was made the ROK for purchase of communications equipment: $471,000 for radio equipment, which will be delivered in September 1955, and $529,000 for communications wire, now being procured.

Under the Fiscal Year 1955 program, funds made available by FOA through the Bank of Korea are being used by a Korean importer to finance the purchase of a 300-line $25,000 switchboard for the NP.

Two of the ten trainees to go to the U.S. this year from the NP, as noted above, will be financed by FOA.

FOA recently offered to establish and finance a legal center in Seoul with a law library and staff from the American Bar Association. It is understood, however, that President Rhee has declined the offer.


Army CIC

[1 paragraph (1-1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

IV. Recommendations

This is a joint report prepared by the Embassy [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] which also incorporates material obtained from the Service Attachés, KCAC, FOA and the Assistant Chief of Staff, G–2, Eighth U.S. Army (Forward). The conclusions presented and the following recommendations are concurred in by the Embassy, the Service Attachés [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. AC/S, G–2 of Eighth Army (Forward), has taken exception to the report in the manner indicated in Enclosure 2.

It is the joint conclusion of the Embassy, the Service Attachés [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that conditions in the ROK would not justify the diversion of military assistance funds to the internal security forces. The following specific recommendations which may involve the establishment of new programs are based on the assumption that improvement of the ROK internal security forces to meet Communist subversion can be accomplished through carefully [Page 79] defined projects directed at specific deficiencies. Such an approach might be more acceptable politically to President Rhee than a general overall program. The timing of each suggested recommendation should be subjected to further detailed consideration. The practical implementation of these recommendations should be the subject of further coordinated study by the interested agencies.

It is recommended that:

The several interested agencies of the U.S. Government coordinate and adopt a program of assistance for the ROK internal security forces which would consist both of specialized training and limited logistical support.
A U.S. training program in counter-subversion and [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] techniques be established for the ROK National Police. All training should be on-the-ground and techniques applicable in the United States must be adapted to conditions peculiar to South Korea and to Asia in general.
The American military services (Army, Navy Air Force) in Korea train their counterparts in the ROK armed services through on-the-ground training courses devoted to the techniques of counterintelligence and that members of these ROK services participate, as appropriate, in the NP training program.
The ROK security agencies be encouraged and assisted in developing procedures for the exchange of all information and in establishing a central information and research center.
In addition to extending training to the ROK agencies, American intelligence agencies work, to the extent feasible, with the ROKs in joint counter-subversive activities thus teaching techniques and offering guidance at the same time.
Training in the United States be offered to selected members of ROK security agencies.
USIA aid effectively in a counter-subversion propaganda program by supplying ROK agencies with a flow of usable [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] information for their use in addressing the people of South Korea. This education-propaganda should include material with respect to overall Communist intents, techniques, propaganda lines and methods, overall strategy and techniques and especially information as to specific Communist targets in the ROK.
FOA, or its successor agency, consider the advisability of taking over supervision of the U.S. Advisory Group to the National Police (in order that the group will not be disbanded should KCAC be abolished) and augmenting that program by providing logistical support either through grants in aid or on a reimbursable basis.
President Rhee be apprized by the highest ranking U.S. military and civilian officials of the purposes of the proffered training programs and United States limited logistical support. Unless the President’s concurrence is obtained and implemented by his directing ROK agencies to cooperate jointly with the United States, any U.S. program will fail to achieve its objectives. President Rhee’s full cooperation is considered to be essential for the success of any effort to improve internal security in the ROK.

[Page 80]

Enclosure 2


The AC/S, G–2, Eighth Army (Forward) does not agree that an increased level of U.S. assistance to improve the capabilities of ROK police-type forces against Communist subversion is necessary. Its position in this respect is summarized as follows:

ROK police-type agencies have handled and are handling the Communist subversive effort effectively. The Communist subversive potential within South Korea has declined in the post-Armistice period.
It is agreed that North Korean subversive assets in South Korea are limited (pages 3 and 4) and that the popular anti-Communist sentiment is high (page 3). The experience of the Korean people with Communism makes them a poor field for Communist exploitation. ROK police-type forces are considered adequate to meet the Communist subversive threat as it appears likely to develop.
Inefficiency should not be confused with ineffectiveness. The inefficiency of ROK police-type forces is admitted; nevertheless, they are effective due largely to their great numbers, the extensive network of regular and casual informants, and the stress which the Administration puts upon the anti-subversive effort.
The political control of police-type forces, rather than weakening the anti-subversive effort, insures that under the Presidency of Rhee the ROK will keep the Communist effort in check. Under Rhee’s successor, the key question will be not what is the capability of these forces but rather in what direction will their efforts be directed. Creating a more efficient police force does not necessarily mean a more effective anti-Communist effort under Rhee’s successor.
Political control of police-type forces will limit the extent to which the program under study can be made effective.

If the majority contention for the need of greater assistance to ROK police-type forces is accepted, Eighth Army (Forward) then concurs in the report’s conclusion that the National Police provides the best field for development and in the recommendations as made.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 795B.5/4–3055. Top Secret.
  2. Circular telegram 559 instructed Chiefs of Mission “to have the country team, including representatives from FOA, MAAG (or service attachés), [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] prepare a report on the possibilities and requirements for U.S. assistance in increasing the effectiveness of police-type forces to deal with communist subversion and, in those countries where communist subversion has reached the stage of actual or potential large-scale insurrection, increasing the effectiveness of the regular armed forces to deal with communist subversion and insurrections.” (Ibid., 700.5/3–2355) The purpose of the exercise was to provide the OCB with information necessary to formulate a concept for U.S. assistance in the development of forces adequate to provide internal security in countries vulnerable to Communist subversion.

    Circular telegram 560 pointed out that the problem of combating Communist attempts to subvert friendly governments had already received preliminary study by the OCB. Since country team assessments would weigh heavily in the formulation of an NSC decision which could affect future U.S. foreign and defense policy, the 20 Missions addressed were instructed to assign their best officers to prepare the reply, which was to include points of disagreement as well as agreement. (Ibid.)

    The country study on the internal security situation in the Republic of Korea, produced by an interagency working group for the OCB on November 16, is printed as Document 99.

  3. Top Secret.
  4. The Kyungmudae is the Executive Mansion. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. Top Secret.