July 27 marked the 60th Anniversary of the Armistice ending the Korean War. It has been described as a series of intelligence failures, most notably the failure to predict the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, and failure to fully recognize the potential Chinese intervention in the war. In honor of the Armistice, the following is a story of one of many successful intelligence operations during “The Forgotten War.”
When North Korean forces invaded South Korea in late June 1950, the U.S. Army had little in the way of an intelligence organization in Korea; only a small Korean Liaison Office had been maintained there since the end of World War II. In Japan, however, the 441st Counter Intelligence Corps, or CIC, Detachment was the largest single intelligence component within the Far East Command, with operational control of all CIC detachments in Japan.
By early July, the 441st had sent enough personnel and equipment to Korea to constitute five CIC detachments attached to the Eighth Army and its divisions. By the end of September 1950, the 441st had sent 14 CIC detachments, amounting to almost 240 personnel. Given widespread guerilla activities, these detachments devoted most of their energies to the collection of Human Intelligence.
Back in Japan, the 441st played an indirect role in the success of key combat operations, particularly the Inchon landings in September 1950. Even prior to the war, 441st personnel were targeting Japanese subversive elements. CIC Agents were particularly interested in Korean nationals living in Japan, due to their susceptibility to indoctrination by Communist sources.
As Gen. Douglas MacArthur prepared the United Nations, or U.N., Forces for the surprise landings, CIC agents in Japan monitored the activities of Korean nationals, many of whom favored the North Korean regime. Efforts to maintain secrecy of the upcoming surprise landings, code named Operation Chromite, netted several Korean espionage agents in American base areas and in staging areas. Just a week prior to the invasion, the 441st scooped up nearly 200 enemy agents of several interlocking spy rings and arrested the head of the main North Korean spy ring.
These arrests severely curtailed the transmittal of information to North Korean authorities. A key component of the operation was Capt. Leroy Newland’s compilation of a Korean-Japanese-English language transliteration system which allowed CIC agents to identify more readily suspected enemy agents. Another key figure in the operation was Lt. Col. Gero Iwai, executive officer of the 7th District, 441st CIC Detachment in Tokyo. Iwai accurately evaluated, correlated and edited large volumes of intelligence reports related to the North Korean Espionage Ring.
The breaking of the North Korean spy ring in Japan was not the only intelligence operation supporting Chromite. The Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Navy relied on South Koreans to reconnoiter the port and confirm that the landing approach was practicable and that the port itself was secured by a small North Korean force.
Perhaps the real security of Chromite, however, was the unexpected audacity of the plan itself. Although North Korea knew the U.N. was assembling a strike force for a sea landing somewhere in Korea, Inchon was deemed too risky a location for a U.N. landing.
As a result of successful intelligence operations, MacArthur’s surprise landing at Inchon proved a critical event that drastically changed the early course of the war, at least prior to the Chinese intervention. The North Korean’s stretched supply line was broken, allowing U.N. forces to push them completely out of and recapture the South Korean capital, Seoul.