In 1987, North Korea Tried to Destroy the Olympics

    Sebastien Roblin

    History, Asia

    By taking down a jetliner.

    Near midnight on November 28, 1987, a young woman and an older man board a 707 airliner on the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport. South Korea Flight 858 is bound for Seoul with layovers on Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. The couple seats itself on seats 7B and 7C, pausing to stuff a bag in the overhead compartment.

    Most of the 104 passengers are South Korean construction and oil workers returning home after years working on projects in Iraq. But the young lady’s passport indicates that she is a Japanese woman named Mayumi Hachiya, while her companion is Shinichi Hachiya, her father. Since November 12, the two have spent the last few weeks on a whirlwind tour of Moscow, Budapest, Vienna and Belgrade.

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    Flight 858 is heading back to a country on the brink of a dramatic transformation. In just two and a half weeks, the Republic of Korea will hold its first free and fair election after decades of authoritarian rule in which hundreds of political activists have been arrested or killed. And in three months, Seoul will host the 1988 Olympic games, a momentous event for a nation which just twenty-five years earlier numbered amongst the poorest in Asia. After a decades of Cold War boycotts, this Olympics finally promises to reunite most of the Eastern and Western teams.

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    1987 is also the year film The Living Daylights came out in which James Bond teams up with a deadly female Communist agent. The passengers on Flight 858 would have only had to look at seat 7B to see the genuine article, for Mayumi’s real name was Kim Hyon-hui, a spy for North Korean intelligence. The daughter of a diplomat and a budding actress, she had been whisked away at age 19 by North Korean intelligence due to her Japanese language skills and striking appearance.

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    The National Interest




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