A House subcommittee yesterday heard the tale of an unlikely espionage team - manned by an aging revolutionary, an anxious spy, and an ambitious grocer - who bungled a South Korean government attempt to silence a refugee critic of the Seoul regime.
In the second day of its current hearings on the U.S. operations of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, the Subcommittee on International Organizations was told of the KCIA's effort to convince Gen. Kim Hyung Wook, a former KCIA chief now living in New Jersey, not to tell Congress about covert Korean activities in the United States.
Two of those who participated in secret negotiations with Gen. Kim - the spy and the grocer - told the committee yesterday that their mission failed. Gen. Kim testified last June before the International Organizations Subcommittee, revealing considerable information about the KCIA's role in the Korean influence-buying effort in Washington.
There was a suggestion in yesterday's hearing, however, that Gen. Kim had not yet revealed all he knows about official misdeeds in the Seoul regime.
As one of the witnesses, Sohn Ho Young, described him. Gen. Kim is to the South Korean government as John Dean was to Richard Nixon. "I think high government officials are fearful of exposure of their personal affairs by Gen. Kim," Sohn said.
Sohn, who was the chief New York agent of the KCIA, was the spy in the triumvirate who tried to secure a vow of silence from Gen. Kim. Sohn broke with the Park regime in September, just after his mission with Gen. Kim failed, and has taken asylum in the United States.
On Tuesday Sohn was the chief witness when the subcommittee revealed an elaborate, written KCIA plan to purchase influence among board segments of American society. That wide-ranging document received only passing mention in yesterday's session, but the subcommittee chairman, Donald M. Fraser (D-Minn.), said his staff would continue to probe leads stemming from the plan.
Yesterday the subcommittee focused instead on the attempt to silence Gen. Kim, an effort that Fraser denounced as "unlawful activity to obstruct the work of this subcommittee."
Sohn testified that he was ordered by KCIA headquarters in Seoul to take action to silence Gen. Kim early in June of this year after Kim discussed KCIA operations in an interview in The New York Times.
Sohn said he was told to enlist the aid of Baek Tae Ha, one of the original revolutionary corps of Amry officers who helped Park Chung Hee take over the Seoul government in 1961. Back came to the United States in the late 1960s so his children could have an American education, according to testimony, and he was working as a welder in New Jersey. He was an old acquaintance of Gen. Kim.
The third member of the team was Yoo Yung Soo, a New Jersey grocer whose connection with the Gen. Kim affair was not clearly established yesterday.
Yoo appeared before the subcommittee and acknowledged that he was present at the KCIA's negotiations with Gen. Kim in June. Asked to describe his role in the covert meeting, Yoo said "I just was sort of a guest."
Yoo, an intense, talkative witness, aid he took part in the negotiations because he was "ambitious to serve the alliance between our countries."
As the grocer rambled on about his participation in the scheme, he was interrupted by Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R-Ill.), who expressed concern that Yoo might be talking himself into a felony indictment for interference with a congressional witness.
The subcommittee then urged Yoo to retain a lawyer before continuing his testimony. The grocer declined, saying, "I will tell the whole truth and everything will come out all right."
The subcommittee made public a series of cables between Seoul and Scan's KCIA New York offices here concerning the Gen. Kim affair.
The cables showed that the Seoul government, concerned that the Sohn-Baek-Yoo team was getting nowhere, dispatched a cabinet minister, Min Byung Kwon, to deal personally with Gen. Kim.
Min's mission failed, partly because he arranged to have "dried snacks" sent to Gen. Kim's house. "Does he think I can be appeased with hors d'oeuvres?" Gen. Kim asked indignantly, according to the cables. Soon thereafter Gen. Kim angrily dismissed the KCIA team, the cables say.
Among the spectators listening to Sohn, the former New York KCIA agent, at the last two days' hearings was a scholarly former State Department official who had more than passing interest in the star witness and his testimony.
The spectator was Donald L. Ranard, one of the early whistle-blowers about the influence-buying case who now runs a research institute that has been critical of U.S. aid to undemocratic regimes overseas.
Ranard was the go-between who arranged Sohn's initial meeting with the Fraser subcommittee staff in September. At that meeting, Sohn startled the staff with the news that he wished to defect and reveal what he knows about KCIA operations here.