In a piece penned by well-known military reporter David Axe for The Diplomat it is claimed that American special forces and their South Korean counterparts regularly send reconnaissance teams into North Korea to monitor underground installations, such as airbases built into the sides of mountains, artillery emplacements, and (gasp!) tunnels that span the Demilitarized Zone. The report goes on further to describe some pretty interesting technology that is brought to bear in such operations, including battery-less radios that rely on wireless power transmission, and special hi-tech surveillance devices.
This story came originated from a special operations convention held in Florida that David Axe attended as a journalist, and specially from a talk given by US Army Brigadier General Tolley, the commander of US special forces in South Korea. Quite a controversy has arisen since story broke in The Diplomat which came to a head when even the Department Of Defense accused Axe of fabricating the quotes. David has continued to blog at length about the issue on his website and has defended his position well. He claims he heard the general in question say exactly what he reported and has shown his notes to support his position. Further, it seems that other journalists attending the conference heard the same basic information as Mr. Axe and no transcript is being made available from the event which seems odd as apparently one was promised originally.
Frankly, I find it odd that so many within the media think that the idea of regular reconnaissance missions into North Korea executed by US and South Korean special forces is so unbelievable. At no time did David Axe say that these soldiers, who supposedly parachute in to enemy territory, were armed or had any sort of direct action objectives. In other words, these soldiers could be sent into North Korean territory without weapons of any kind, knowing full well that if they are caught they will probably be tortured to death, or even worse, spend the rest of their lives in gulag. Further, the CIA is surely active even in demented North Korea. There would be safe houses for these men and other contingencies put in place to aid in their survival should such an observation mission go terribly awry.
So what is so strange about sending in intel gatherers to keep an eye on North Korean happenings around key installations, especially for those installations that cannot be monitored from space or from the air? What do people think all those special forces aircraft and commandos are for? We do not spend billions developing special forces insertion, extraction and operating techniques and technologies just to show them off during corny air show demonstrations and base open houses. Are we really to believe that North Korea has never sent spies south to reconnoiter key American and South Korean military installations? Give me a break! Furthermore, some claim that such activities would constitute an act of war. Really? I think if that were true America would be fighting a continuous world war at all times since the end of the second one.
Some pundits have posited that the general was probably speaking hypothetically and Mr. Axe totally missed the conjecture of his comments. Sure this is possible but it surely is not probable. The reporter in question is well-respected and has sacrificed for his trade enough that he would know that making up or spinning stories is the least thing he needs. Do not get me wrong, I do not always agree with Mr. Axe’s assessments on key topics and events but none-the-less the DoD should not throw him into the fire just because one of their folks spoke out of turn in a setting where clearly press were present and eager to report new information, that is why they call it the news business for goodness sake! Events like these, where military brass talk just a bit to candidly about capabilities or current operations, are nothing new. We see them from time to time in the military journalism world. Who could forget the incredible rant by a USAF Colonel a few years back about not just America’s own capabilities as seen during a Red Flag training exercise but also those of participating counties, most notably the French and the Indians? This happened in a similar setting and was posted on YouTube for the world to see. Which begs the question: do we only accept video or recorded evidence put forth by even respected members of the media that something was said at a briefing or related event? Are a journalist’s pen and pad no longer an accepted form of documentation?
Check out the original post and David’s blow-by-blow account of the fallout surrounding it by clicking on the following links: