- 연구원소식 - Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Titles [Jeju, Island of World Peace] (No.3 | April 2019)_CIA saw Moscow’s hand behind Jeju, Yeosu rebellions
Writer JPI  (admin)
2019-09-17 오후 2:52:56


US intelligence had a fundamental misunderstanding of Korean politics
during the cold war




Tim Shorrock

Washington-based Correspondent for The Nation Magazine


The 71th anniversary of the Jeju April 3rd Incident, the continuing legal fights over leftist  uprisings in Jeju and Yeosu during the Cold War, and the extraordinary series on 4.3 in the Hankyoreh newspaper have renewed public interest in the dark history of Jeju Island and led to new calls for justice for the victims and their surviving families.


As a journalist who writes frequently on Korea and has visited Jeju twice in recent years, I too have been caught up in this upsurge. I have responded by searching for US intelligence documents about the Jeju Uprising that have not seen wide circulation, and researched what they tell us about US involvement in the counterinsurgency wars that gripped the island from 1947 to 1954. My most significant findings were in a massive repository of declassified documents and reports held by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).


Since 2000, the CIA has maintained an electronic, full-text searchable system for researching documents called CREST, or CIA Records Search Tool. In 2017, as a result of a lawsuit filed by the public interest group MuckRock, the entire CREST database was put on line. This is where I found three recently declassified CIA reports on Jeju. I present them here in chronological order.


The first report is from a secret “Summary of Far East Trends and Developments” published by the CIA’s Far East/Pacific Branch during the week of October 20 to 26, 1948. It was written in the days after the so-called “Yeosu-Suncheon Incident” of 1948, defined by Hankyoreh as a “series of rebellions resulting from opposition to the far-right, anti-communist Syngman Rhee regime.”  




It began, the newspaper said, on October 19 when some 2,000 soldiers from the South Korean Army “refused to obey an order to move to suppress the Jeju Uprising,” with the government not regaining control of the area, including nearby Suncheon, until the end of the month. In March 2019, Korea’s Supreme Court accepted a petition for a retrial by families of three civilians executed by government firing squads during that time.  


In the 1948 report I found, the CIA claims that “the Republic of Korea appears to have disposed of the first serious threat to its authority with the suppression of the YOSU uprising.” The agency blames the revolt almost entirely on “Communist cell leaders” in the Korean Constabulary and their alleged Soviet overseers. According to the report, the CIA learned from “interrogations of captured insurgents” that the partisans were “told by the ring leaders” they were “merely suppressing a police ‘revolt’” or were issued arms “in preparation for a scheduled movement of the unit to Cheju-do, which it described as “historically an area of depressed tenant farmers who are hostile towards the police and susceptible to Communist propaganda.”  


The CIA report speculates that the revolt was planned “to serve two main Soviet objectives,” including showing the UN that the Rhee government was “an unpopular regime supported only by Police and the US Army,” and “to initiate a series of riots and strikes” that would weaken the regime and “pave the way” for North Korean control over the peninsula. However, it concluded that “an armed invasion of South Korea by the North Korean People’s Army is improbably as long as US troops occupy the area.” 


A second CIA report on Jeju from the same Far East/Pacific Branch is from March 1949. This was after the Rhee regime declared full martial law over Jeju and sent four Korean army battalions to join the local police and the North Korean Youth Association partisans in putting down the rebellion on the island. In a brief section on Jeju in a “summary of Far East trends and developments,” the agency reported that the ROK “has intensified its efforts to eliminate Communist-organized guerrillas bands that have terrorized Cholla-namdo and Cheju-do since the abortive Yosu revolt in October, 1948.”




Once again, the CIA adopted the language and rhetoric of the Rhee government. It notes, for example, that that Korean army units “recently have entered on more active operations including night patrols and forays into the mountainous interior of the island” without mentioning the terror tactics deployed by these forces that led residents of Jeju to call this period “the era of madness.” In true CIA fashion, the report also points out that Rhee’s “suppression of guerrillas” should be “less dependent on Security Force efficiency than on the ability of the Government to implement” reforms that would “reduce peasant discontent, adding: “the likelihood of any such reforms in the near future is slight.”

The third CIA document of significance is a summary of articles published in North Korean daily newspapers between November 1949 and January 1950 and is titled “North Koreans Contribute for Planes, Tanks Claim Popular Support for South Korea Guerrillas.” It cites a newspaper called “The Laborer, which claimed that “our guerrilla forces in Cheju-do are keeping up fierce fighting” and described a battle in October 1949 in which local fighters “wiped out some 200 enemy troops and constabularies” and captured many weapons. The CIA made no attempt to confirm or deny the report, which illustrates the depth of the violence that was then shaking Jeju to its core and would haunt South Korea for decades.




These CIA documents only scratch the surface about what the US government and US intelligence understood about Jeju and the fierce opposition to the right-wing Rhee government in South Korea in the years before the North Korean invasion of June 1950. Yet they also underscore the need for greater disclosure by the United States to help both US and Korean citizens understand this important period in Korean history.


Tim Shorrock is a Washington-based correspondent for The Nation Magazine and has been writing about Korea since the 1970s. He is best known in South Korea for exposing the hidden role of the US government in the South Korean military’s suppression of the Gwangju Uprising of 1980.