A conservative South Korean newspaper on Tuesday accused the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) of contributing to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development personnel, and Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said it is “taking a close look” at the news.
The Munhwa Ilbo also cited anonymous U.S. government sources which claimed the university could be added to Washington’s sanctions list, as it seems to have a core role in sustaining Pyongyang’s Byungjin policy – the parallel development of the economy and nuclear power.
PUST, founded in 2010 by a Christian Korean-American, has been operated in cooperation with the North Korean government and Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture (NAFEC). Students and professors learn and communicate solely in English.
“The PUST graduates are participating in long-range missile and nuclear development research at the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and Agency for Defense Development,” the unnamed source told the paper.
Both organizations are sanctioned by the UN and U.S. unilateral sanctions.
The report continued that some graduates work as cyber hackers and in psychological warfare under the guidance of Pyongyang’s General Reconnaissance Bureau and United Front Department, saying some unnamed sources spotted “specific circumstances” in which graduates are assigned to work on nuclear and missile programs.
“(The South Korean) government is taking a close look on the suspicions about PUST,” Cho Joon-hyuk, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told journalists on Tuesday during a regular press briefing.
PUST’s external relations official told NK News there should be evidence that can be verified to back up the sources’ “naïve” claims.
“Education in practical and scientific subjects can assist peaceful development, for the benefit of all Korean people and specifically to improve the lives of those in the North,” Colin McCulloch, Director of External Relations said.
“All of our faculty are careful to operate within the boundaries set out by the various sanctions; and our faculty with the U.S., Canadian and ROK are particularly sensitive to take care to avoid anything that might be misused,” he added.
A rumor about PUST students being trained as hackers, as told by defector activists Jang Se-yul and Yi Chol, circulated last year. They said that training institutions affiliated with the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces dispatched students to the university for the purpose of training.
University chancellor Park Chan-mo previously revealed the full list of the school’s courses, consisting of math, science and computer-related skills, saying the school does not teach hacking skills.
Even though learning hacking may involve some knowledge about computer engineering, experts said closing PUST will not be a fundamental solution to stop Pyongyang’s hacking attempts.
One day before this news, South Korean companies and police administration claimed North Korea stole documents from South Korean conglomerates SK and Hanjin, as well as confidential military information, including the blueprint for an advanced U.S. F-1 jet.
The newspaper Munhwa Ilbo previously reported that North Korea provided directives to South Korean civil organizations in protest against the government textbook policy last October, also based on information from an anonymous source.