By James Zumwalt
During my last trip to South Korea, I was taken to a location outside of Seoul, to a site where were some rather strange activities were underway. While I personally observed much of the evidence described below, it is difficult to assess whether or not the search will result in a successful conclusion (or even whether, in fact, what is sought really exists). In any event, I thought you might find this rather extraordinary story of interest — with the final outcome to be determined at some future date.
It all started in June of 1999. Strange things began occurring in Hwa Sung — a largely agrarian community located 70 kilometers northwest of South Korea's capital of Seoul. Residents experienced events bordering on the bizarre. Occasionally, a slight depression mysteriously appeared on the ground. A long-used spring, located at a depth of 100 meters, suddenly and inexplicably went dry for a few days. When the flow returned, it was intermittent and the water brownish in color from soil contamination. And, there was this strange but ever constant noise. Sounding miles away, it was faint and indistinguishable at first. But as weeks passed by, the noise became slightly clearer. Later, a definite pounding sound was discernible.
As the noise continued, local residents came to realize something else — the sound was not emanating from far off in the distance as originally thought, but rather from somewhere beneath them!
Alarmed, Hwa Sung residents reported their observations to the authorities who said they would investigate, but never did. So, they reported what they saw and heard to Nam Gul Sa (NGS), an organization similar to the UFO Society. Both organizations search for life of another world. But while the UFO Society's focus is on life of an extraterrestrial nature, NGS's is on finding life in the subterranean world. NGS felt confident it knew what was going on at Hwa Sung, for some of its members had long been involved in searches for subterranean activity of this nature.
Using heavy equipment, NSG, along with the help of local residents, began digging a large hole in the earth's surface, to a depth of eight meters. It then began drilling a series of smaller holes inside the larger one that were forty centimeters in diameter and an additional ten meters deep. These were dug in a straight line believed to parallel the axis along which the pounding noise was emanating. Listening devices were placed into the smaller holes and sound recordings made. Clear vibrations in the ground were detected.
Unable to discern the various sounds heard, however, NGS engaged an independent company to filter out the various noises. They made an audiotape of the sounds recorded on November 8, 2002. On this tape, human voices are clearly discernible. One of the speakers seemed to be suffering from a cold, as intermittent coughs and sneezes were heard. Another speaker made reference to the inability of the Internet to work properly. And the pounding noise, NGS determined, was as it had feared — an operational tunnel-boring machine (TBM).
But who — and why — was a tunnel being bored under Hwa Sung? To NGS, the answers to these questions were obvious. One had only to look at a map of the region. Access to Hwa Sung put one in close proximity to a number of strategic South Korean and US military bases, including one of the biggest air bases in the country. And, as to who would undertake such an activity, the answer to NGS was even more obvious — North Korea.
It is well established that North Korea is a firm believer in the use of tunneling as a means of achieving military surprise over an enemy. The late leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, is quoted as saying in September of 1971, “blitzkrieg-like tactics are the only means to enable North Korea to liberate South Korea, and one tunnel must be regarded as effective as ten nuclear weapons.” It is known North Korea has practiced what Kim Il Sung had preached, having already constructed a number of tunnels under the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas.
These tunnels start in the North and stretch into the South, far behind the DMZ — an open entrance on the North side and an unopened one on the South — with the latter to remain that way until war actually erupts. As to where the tunnels on the South end will open up and North Korean troops emerge, easily infiltrating the South, is unknown.
How is it known these tunnels exist? Evidence of North Korean tunneling activity first came to light in 1974. A joint US-South Korean patrol found just such a tunnel, originating from the north and extending into South Korean territory, about eight kilometers northeast of Korangpo, near the DMZ. The tunnel sloped down towards the north, so that underground water would flow in that direction, where it could be drained in North Korea, outside of the South's observation. The patrol also found several pieces of equipment of Soviet and North Korean origin, indicating the tunnel had been dug by North Koreans. Since 1974, three additional tunnels have been discovered, the last in 1990. It is feared many more are yet to be discovered.
Reports from defectors suggest perhaps as many as twenty such tunnels still exist, ready to serve as a covert conduit into the South for North Korean troops — many of whom will be dressed in uniforms of the South Korean army and police forces to confuse local citizenry and defense forces. And, while the US has sophisticated equipment for locating these tunnels, it appears the North Koreans have learned to dig them deep enough so as to foil such technology and avoid detection.
One North Korean defector shared with South Korean intelligence officers how he was trained in the construction of these tunnels. Using agents in South Korea, the North Koreans would have them map out an overland route, providing distances and directions so the tunnel diggers would not encounter problems in built-up areas with underground cables, etc. They were taught also to lay out a course, whenever possible, that closely paralleled railroad tracks or a river, so that the noise from these would drown out the noise generated by the TBM. The tunnel route apparently being dug at Hwa Sung was being constructed with this guideline in mind as its perceived axis appeared to parallel a railroad track situated nearby. However, unbeknownst to the North Korean tunnel architects, this particular track had fallen into disuse two years earlier. Therefore, local residents had been able to hear the faint sounds of what was now believed to be the TBM.
What was most surprising to NGS tunnel experts about the Hwa Sung tunnel, however, is that, if it in fact exists, it would represent the deepest known penetration by the North into the South — for Hwa Sung is located more than 60 kilometers from the DMZ. And, for the tunnel diggers to have taken the most direct route from North Korea, it is believed they would have had to bore under a relative shallow part of the nearby West Sea, whose waters are shared by both Koreas.
Despite concerns of North Korean tunnel activity, NGS and the local residents of Hwa Sung have received no help from the South Korean government on a project they started which is dedicated to exposing the existence of a tunnel. They believe they know why. For the term of his presidency, which ended in late February, South Korean president D. J. Kim has blindly embarked upon a foreign policy approach towards North Korea known as the “Sunshine Policy.” This approach seeks the peaceful, non-confrontational engagement of Pyongyang. Therefore, the discovery of such a long range tunnel being dug by North Korea at this particular time, under the very noses of the South Korean government so committed to a peaceful approach towards the North (a commitment now being continued under the country's new president as well), would demonstrate the abject failure of the policy.
The fact too that a South Korean government investigation is currently underway due to recently discovered evidence that ex-president D. J. Kim secretly paid North Korea millions — and possibly billions — of dollars to help promote this policy, further supports NGS's rationale for the lack of interest exhibited by the South Korean government in assisting in a project that might reveal the existence of such a tunnel. As a result, the responsibility for uncovering any tunnel that might exist in Hwa Sung, as well as the high costs associated with doing so, have fallen squarely on the shoulders of the NGS and the local residents.
The project these people have undertaken is a very ambitious one, as depicted by the landscape above the suspected North Korean tunneling activity in Hwa Sung. A battlefield, clearly bearing the telltale signs of subterranean warfare, has emerged as an above ground band of South Koreans have committed themselves to proving the existence of some allegedly very creative underground tunnel diggers. Large, gaping holes in the ground attest to the commitment of the South Koreans' resolve while, contemporaneously, their failure to uncover evidence of such a tunnel to date may be indicative of a corresponding resolve on the part of an as yet unseen enemy.
The battle began on October 14, 2002 with the digging of a large hole, initially eight meters deep. After identifying the underground activity through listening devices and recordings, the South Koreans continued to dig additional smaller holes in an effort to penetrate the tunnel itself. This process consisted of drilling a hole to a combined depth of eighteen to twenty meters and then inserting a steel pipe into it. As they endeavored to make a successful tunnel penetration in this manner, the South Koreans met with some strange results.
Extracting materials from one hole, rocks began coming up that were clearly not of local origin. They were different from the subsurface rocks known to be in the region and contained something nonexistent in a natural state — cement dust. Apparently, as the South Koreans were digging to expose the tunnel, the tunnel diggers, they believed, were backfilling the tunnel to prevent them from doing so. At one point, as the South Koreans attempted to insert a steel pipe into a pre-drilled eighteen meter deep hole, penetration inexplicably could not be made beyond a depth of sixteen meters, apparently due to blockage by a large solid object
Repeated efforts to lower the pipe were unsuccessful. It was believed further penetration into the tunnel was prevented by the diggers who had inserted an iron beam across the hole now located in the roof of the tunnel. At another location, a pipe was successfully inserted into yet another hole, but when efforts were made to remove it to use elsewhere, it could not be extracted by the South Koreans. As continued efforts proved unsuccessful, a 50-ton crane had to be brought in to try and extract the pipe.
The crane had better luck, finally extracting the hard steel pipe which, to the surprise of the South Koreans, came out badly bent. The hole was then enlarged enough to allow a man to crawl down. While a backfill of rocks blocked his advance beyond the eighteen meter point, he did find and bring back to the surface a broken piece of cable. An examination of the cable by NGS revealed it had not been manufactured in South Korea and was probably used by the tunnel diggers to secure the pipe in place in an attempt to prevent it from being extracted, thus causing the need for the 50 ton crane.
All the sounds that had been heard emanating from the ground in the previous months have now stopped. NGS believes this has occurred for two reasons: first, their efforts to uncover the tunnel has undoubtedly spooked any further activity; second, the tunnel diggers were probably very close to their termination point anyway as access to the Hwa Sung area would enable the North Koreans to achieve their objective of access to critical military targets in the South in the event of a surprise attack.
But NGS and Hwa Sung's local citizens have not lost their resolve in proving a danger to South Korea's national security lurks beneath them. They are continuing to dig at the initial site and have started a second dig less than a kilometer away. They are unsure as to when they will be able to penetrate the tunnel as a lack of funding has slowed down their operation. But at some point in the near future, they hope to be able to dig to a depth of twenty meters at the first hole. That will place them at the optimum depth from where they will then be able to start digging in a lateral direction into the side of the suspected tunnel.
If found actually to exist, this tunnel will reveal an incredible commitment by both sides — the North Koreans in digging it and the South Koreans in exposing it. And, also if found, it should cause South Korea to seriously reassess its Sunshine Policy; for discovery of such a tunnel would clearly demonstrate Pyongyang's manipulation of this policy to camouflage its true intentions as to the South.