n female spy
, born on Jan. 27, 1962 in Kaesong
, North Korea. She spent her early youth in Cuba
where her father was a diplomat
At the age of seventeen she started her studies at Kim Il Sung University, then transferred to the Pyongyang Foreign Language College to major in Japanese. Being a good student who was also beautiful, a leader amongst her peers and politically reliable, the following year she was chosen to be a spy.
Her training lasted for three long arduous years at the Kimsung Military Institute. She was given a new name - Kim Ok Hwa and only allowed to see her family once in that time. Her training consisted of martial arts, firearms, political indoctrination, demolitions and anything else you could imagine in a James Bond movie (probably because Kim Jong Il is both a Bond fan and a shameless micromanager) . Along with Japanese (taught to her by an abducted Japanese woman,Yaeko Taguchi), she also learnt English and Chinese. Kim also went on two training trips overseas, first to Austria and France, then to China and Macau. These trips were designed to familiarise herself with foreign culture, but also to test how her political orientation would fare surrounded by the affluence outside North Korea that was evidently contrary to what she had been taught about capitalist societies. Indeed, in the final exams she thought that writing a candid self-criticism about her experiences was more difficult than the physical test of running a marathon in a mountain range.
In 1987, Seoul was preparing for hosting the Olympic Games and an annoyed Kim Il Sung wanted to respond with a terrorist attack. According to Kim's autobiography, Kim Jong Il selected the target to be a Korean Airlines flight flying from Baghdad to Seoul (back then, many Korean labourers worked in Iraq). Kim Hyun Hee was sent to Hungary with an older veteran spy Kim Sung Il suffering cancer who was unhappily brought out of retirement. The pair impersonated a Japanese father and daughter on holiday with the assumed names of Shinichi and Mayumi Hachiya.
The mission didn't go to plan. Firstly, the North Korean embassy in Budapest was unaware of their arrival. They belatedly sent a driver to pick them up, who was himself new to Hungary and ended up getting lost. They were then taken by another agent across the border in Vienna, where another agent dropped airline tickets in a rubbish bin for them at a park. Their next destination was Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and from there they flew to Baghdad. A surly Kim Sung Il commented how their bosses had a concocted a ridiculously complicated plan that involved smuggling explosives into Iraq, then at war with Iran. Even North Koreans understand the virtues of K.I.S.S..
In Baghdad the pair were given a bomb disguised as a Panasonic radio. On November 28 they boarded flight KAL 858 from Baghdad to Seoul via Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. Kim Hyun Hee set the bomb at Baghdad airport before planting it on an overhead luggage compartment. They disembarked at Abu Dhabi and immediately boarded another flight to Bahrain, from where they would wait for yet another flight to take them to Rome. Unfortunately for them, as KAL 858 carrying 115 passengers and crew disintegrated over the Bay of Bengal hours later, they were still waiting in Bahrain - the flight was delayed due to congestion at Rome airport.
Within a few hours of the explosion, terrorism was suspected and the world was searching for the bombers. Passengers who had emplaned at Abu Dhabi were being rounded up and investigated. Sure enough a trail led to the Hachiyas. Tired of waiting, the pair tried to board a flight to Jordan, but a watchful immigration officer was suspicious of their circuitous itinerary - why didn't they originally book a direct flight to Rome ? On close inspection, their passports were discovered to be fake. At that point Kim Hyun Hee and Kim Sung Il bit their cyanide capsules secreted in some cigarettes.
The older spy died instantly. Kim Hyun Hee survived. After receiving medical treatment a South Korean security detachment escorted her to South Korea. One astute Korean Central Intelligence Agency agent noticed her index finger had the same kind of callouses as somebody who had extensive experience with small arms. Not to mention a physique honed by carrying rocks up mountains on starvation rations. Clearly this Japanese girl didn't spend her youth reading Miss Kitty manga.
For several weeks under interrogation she claimed she was Chinese, but could not corroborate her knowledge of China correctly.
Eventually she broke down and delivered a full confession. She expressed remorse - something that saved her neck when after her trial in 1990 she was sentenced to death then subsequently pardoned by the government the halo effect from her looks probably helped too. She has become a minor celebrity of sorts, considered more a victim than a mass murderer, and later married one of her interrogators.
She (or her KCIA ghostwriters) wrote an autobiography: The Tears of My Soul