As spy resumes go, Evan Carl Hunziker is no James Bond.
Hunziker, a divorced 26-year-old, has kicked around Alaska and Washington state most of his adult life, working on crab boats and doing odd jobs, drinking too much and using too many drugs, according to his father. During a 100-day stint in an Alaskan jail last year on a drunk-driving conviction, Hunziker became an evangelical Christian who peppers his conversations with "God bless," his father said.
But according to North Korea, Hunziker is a spy working for South Korea. The North's Communist government arrested Hunziker in August when he crossed the Yalu River from China into North Korea. They have charged him with espionage, which can carry the death penalty.
Officials in Washington and Seoul call the charges against Hunziker "ridiculous." The White House, the State Department and the United Nations are involved in trying to win the release of Hunziker, a young drifter suddenly at the center of a growing diplomatic row between the United States and the most reclusive nation on Earth.
"It's a big joke," said Hunziker's father, Edwin Hunziker, 65, of Parkland, Wash., reached by telephone today. He said he is shocked that his son is suddenly in the news, but not at all surprised at North Korea's actions.
"Knowing the North Koreans as I do," said Edwin Hunziker, who served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War, "they'd have a 2-year-old kid up on charges of spying if he was an American. They haven't changed one damn bit since 1950."
U.S. troops have remained stationed in South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953 to help defend it against the Stalinist North. In the last two years, relations between Washington and Pyongyang have improved, but they soured again last month when North Korea sent armed commandos to South Korea aboard a submarine. Officials believe the charges against Hunziker are a retaliation for international condemnation of North Korea over the sub incident.
"It would be outrageous and indefensible should the North Koreans try to link the submarine incident with this unfortunate young man," State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Tuesday.
U.S. officials believe North Korea wants to use Hunziker as a bargaining chip to draw Washington into bilateral talks with Pyongyang, which South Korea strongly opposes. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord and other top U.S. officials are flying to Seoul this weekend to discuss Hunziker and other recent events on the peninsula.
Hunziker's whereabouts have not been disclosed. But his father said State Department officials told him his son was under house arrest in a hotel about 15 miles from the Chinese border. The U.S. officials said he was "doing pretty well," was getting three meals a day and had a television to watch, his father said. A Swedish envoy, on behalf of the United States, met with Hunziker last month while he was in captivity.
"I think that was for show," his father said of the hotel accommodations. "I think as soon as the envoy left, Evan was put back in a cell under lock and key."
Several of Hunziker's family members said North Korea's allegations of spying were laughable. For starters, they said, he has two serious drawbacks for an undercover South Korean agent: He speaks only a few words of Korean, and even though his mother is a South Korean native, he does not look Korean.
He is 6-foot-3, weighs more than 200 pounds, and, with a father of Swedish descent, he "doesn't look Asian," said his cousin, Mijung Sherrod, in a telephone interview from Hunziker's mother's home in Anchorage, Alaska. Any outsider would stand out among farmers in the tightly sealed North Korean countryside, especially one who is part Swedish.
Sherrod said Hunziker left for South Korea in August without telling anyone. She said the family believes he went to do Christian missionary work in South Korea. His father said Hunziker also planned to teach English there.
Hunziker's family said they have no idea how he ended up in China or why he crossed into North Korea. Hunziker's mother, Jong Nae Hunziker, said she learned that her son had left the United States when she read of his arrest in the newspaper.
"He was trying to do good, I guess," his father said. "He probably thought that he was going to do those people a favor, teach them the Gospel or something. It was a challenge. He knew what he was doing, but he wasn't any spy. He probably knew better, but he said, I'm going to find out what these people will do to me.' Now he's finding out."
Sherrod and Hunziker's mother would not discuss Hunziker's personal problems or the details of his conversion to Christianity. "Everybody has problems in their life, including the president," Sherrod said. "Evan is not a spy. He's a good son, and he has a kind heart. We don't know how he ended up there, but we want him home."
Hunziker has been to South Korea twice before, his father said. About three years ago, he went there and was married to a South Korean woman, but they quickly divorced. Then Hunziker spent 10 days in South Korea about a year ago, his father said.
Edwin and Jong Nae Hunziker met when he was a U.S. Army soldier stationed in South Korea and she worked on the base. Edwin Hunziker said he fought in the Korean War in 1951-52, then remained stationed in South Korea on and off for the next 14 years.
Hunziker was born in Tacoma, Wash., in 1970. After his parents were divorced in 1973, he was raised by his mother in Alaska until he returned to Washington to attend high school, his father said. He wrestled and played football, and earned an athletic scholarship to a community college near Yakima, Wash., then transferred to another community college near Seattle, but did not graduate. "He started doing drugs in college, and he got himself in trouble," his father said.
Hunziker then moved back to Alaska and worked on crab and shrimp boats for a while. Sherrod said Hunziker also did maintenance work for his mother, who is in the hotel business. "We have a lot of family in this town, and we take care of each other," Sherrod said.
The Hunzikers are awaiting word about their son's fate. His father said he has been in touch with his congressman's office, but little information has been available. Edwin Hunziker said he believes the North Koreans are using his son as a "pawn" following the submarine incident, but he is confident Evan will return from his ordeal.
However, he said, "I'd say he'll be a little bit different when he comes back." CAPTION: Evan Hunziker, shown with his father this year, is charged with espionage.