SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean lawmaker says North Korean hackers may have stolen highly classified military documents that include U.S.-South Korean wartime “decapitation strike” plans against the North Korean leadership, according to South Korean media reports.
The United States, meanwhile, staged another show of force meant to deter any North Korean aggression by flying two B-1B supersonic bombers Tuesday night from an air base in the U.S. territory of Guam to the South for drills with South Korean jets. Such flights by the powerful aircraft based in Guam incense the North, which claims they are preparation for war; Pyongyang has threatened to send missiles into the waters around Guam.
If confirmed, the reported hacking attack by the North would be a major blow for South Korea at a time when its relations with rival North Korea are at a low point. The South has taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward the North’s belligerence amid back-and-forth threats of war between North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump. North Korea’s possession of secret war plans would require a major overhaul of how South Korea and its ally Washington would respond if there’s another war on the Korean Peninsula.
An unusually aggressive approach to the North by Trump, which has included rhetoric hinting at U.S. strikes and threatening the destruction of North Korea’s leadership, has some South Koreans fearful that war is closer than at any time since the Korean War ended in 1953 in a shaky ceasefire, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war.
Rep. Lee Cheol-hee, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Party who sits on the National Defense Committee, cited unidentified defense officials as saying the hackers stole the U.S.-South Korean war plans last year, according to news reports Tuesday. Lee did not respond to attempts to confirm the stories. Defense officials refused to comment Wednesday.
Among the classified plans allegedly stolen from the South were said to be blueprints for targeted attacks by Seoul and Washington to eliminate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if a crisis breaks out or appears imminent. Outside governments and international human rights organizations say Kim rules as a tyrant over a largely malnourished and abused population while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle backed up by a weapons program nearly advanced enough to viably target the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles. But Kim, the third generation of his family to rule, is officially revered in the North, and any suggestion of removing him from power is taken extremely seriously in Pyongyang.
The South’s Yonhap news agency quoted Lee as saying that 235 gigabytes of military documents were taken. While nearly 80 percent of the documents had not yet been identified, they reportedly included contingency plans for South Korean special forces and information on military facilities and power plants, it said.
Yonhap said South Korean defense officials said in May that North Korea may have hacked a crucial South Korean military online network but didn’t say what was stolen.
Seoul says North Korea has repeatedly staged cyberattacks on South Korean business and government websites. North Korea routinely denies responsibility.
Not long after the news of the alleged cyberattacks broke, two B-1B bombers few from Guam to conduct drills with two South Korean fighter jets Tuesday night, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.
The U.S. bombers staged simulated air-to-ground missile striking drills off the peninsula’s east coast before flying across the country accompanied by the two South Korean jets. The aircraft then conducted similar simulated air to ground striking drills off the peninsula’s west coast, the official said.
North Korea has yet to comment on either the bombing drills or the hacking claims.