Many North Korean defectors remember the North Korean movie “Number Thirty Six’s Report.” The movie was made in 1970s, in which a North Korean spy numbered 36 who distinguished himself for intelligence work.
The spy succeeds in destroying South Korean Special Forces within the 38th parallel before they create a second front. The movie is based on a true story and the spy is South Korea-born Lee Baik Kyum.
Lee was born in Kangwha, Inchon. When North Korean People’s Army captured Seoul in 1950, he was 22 years old. A member of South Korean Workers’ Party (which was to merge with North Korean Workers’ Party to form KWP), he helped the communists to search for reactionaries (capitalist sympathizers).
He led People’s Court in Inchon area at that time. As a result, the young Lee was nominated Kanghwa District’s Deputy Chief of Administration.
After the Inchon Landing in September 1950, the People’s Army started to retreat and Lee followed them as a volunteer. He worked at a Signals Corps.
The movie starts with skirmishes between the communists and the UN forces behind the borderline in 1951. As North Korea sent its partisan troops deep in the South for guerilla warfare, the US and South Korea also tried to infiltrate Special Forces into the North.
According to the movie and Lee’s biography, his contribution is incredible.
South Korea’s National Army divided North Korea into four different tactical areas. In mid-1951 four South Korean rangers landed on Hamheung. But as soon as they were landed, North Korean guards caught them. And thanks to the POWs’ confession, North Korean armed forces could form a fake South Korean ranger team. Lee Baik-Kyum was one of them.
Lee disguised as South Korean signal officer and ranger and found out where the other SK Special Forces troops were hiding in Kapsan, and Dancheon in Hamkyung Province. All were destroyed.
Also, Lee succeeded in deceiving UN forces as South Korean rangers were still fighting in that area and in need of more supply. UN air forces enjoyed air superiority in whole Korean Peninsula during the war and easily dropped much needed supplies, for North Korean troops.
Total South Korean POWs captured because of Lee numbers more than a hundred.
The War ended in 1953 but Lee’s valor did not. Lee Baik Kyum was assigned to Kim Chaek Steel Factory, in which lots of former POWs were forced to work. He was under North Korean Security Agency’s mission to seek anti-communists among them.
In 1955, Lee discovered an escape plot among the ex-POWs of 120. He did another discovery in 1956.
Lee, still in his thirties, was promoted to Security Agency’s Yangkang provincial bureau counter-intelligence chief in 1960.
His promotion did not last long. In late 1960s when a purge against former South Korean Workers’ Party members started, Lee was ousted from the Security Agency and named lieutenant governor of Yangkang province, a nominal job. He could never be promoted again due to his lack of administrative knowledge and experience.
In early 1990s, Lee retired. Even with his success catching hundreds of spies and reactionaries, he could only receive a couple of medals, because of his South Korean origin.
After retirement, Lee resided in an apartment allocated for former servicemen and women. His daughter graduated from a college of education and became teacher, but his son did not even attend college.
Even if Lee was a decorated war veteran, former South Korean Workers’ Party member had limit in marriage and success. Although they could become public servant, they could not reach to high ranks of the Party or Security Agency.
Anyway, Lee’s children married common laborers’ children. The March of Tribulation in mid-90s was especially hard for old veterans since they were totally dependent on state rations. In Lee Baik-Kyum’s case, he did not amass enough fortune because of his lack of promotion, and could not even get help from his son and daughter.
In order to survive, Lee sold his apartment and moved to a smaller home. In autumn, Lee, along with other old veterans, collected acorns from rat holes to eat.
Lee was lucky to have survived, but, now in his eighties, is still forced cultivate a small farm on his own. No further help from the state to the once-decorated war veteran.