North Korea Hostage Freed by Trump Details His CIA Work and Torture in Prison Camp: 'I Became a Traitor Overnight'

An American citizen whose release was secured by President Donald Trump has detailed his experiences in a North Korean prison camp after getting caught spying for the CIA and the South Korean intelligence service.

Speaking with NK News, Kim Dong Chul said he spied for the CIA for around six years before being caught and sent to a labor camp, where he suffered torture at the hands of his North Korean guards.

Kim—who once lived in Virginia but was living in China before his arrest—was one of three U.S. citizens released in a 2018 amnesty secured in negotiations between the Trump administration and Kim Jong Un's regime, amid an unexpected thaw in relations between the long-time adversaries.

Kim confessed to spying at a press conference held soon after his arrest. North Korean media said the businessman was detained while "perpetrating... state subversive plots and espionage against" the secretive nation. At his press conference, Kim admitted to supplying the South's National Intelligence Agency with sensitive information.

Kim told NK News earlier this month that he had also been working for the CIA, passing along intelligence he was able to access thanks to his work at the Rason Special Economic Zone, which established by Pyongyang to encourage economic growth via foreign investment.

The businessman described the information as "very significant," and explained how he "filmed footage with a watch [equipped with a camera] and used electromagnetic wave wiretapping equipment." Kim said he was asked to behave as an "antenna" in North Korea.

He was tasked with recruiting double agents across the nation, with a specific focus on unearthing information regarding the North's military and nuclear capabilities, Kim explained.

His last mission was to investigate a suspicious vessel at the Rajin port, identified as of interest to the CIA after being spotted on satellite images. The agency asked Kim "to take very close-up photos of it and figure out what it was being used for." Kim delivered the information prior to being arrested in 2015.

North Korean authorities said he was found with a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets when he was detained in Rason, the BBC reported in 2016.

Kim detailed how his mental state and physical health quickly deteriorated under the pressure of torture and then forced labor. "I became a traitor overnight and was locked up in a forced labor camp," he said. "I hit rock bottom."

Kim was beaten repeatedly and tortured in other ways as North Korean agents sought to uncover possible networks of fellow spies and double agents. The abuse left him partially paralyzed and even drove him to attempt suicide. Regardless, "I could not die," Kim recalled.

After a one-day trial, Kim was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor at a prison camp, where he was kept isolated from fellow prisoners.

Kim was eventually freed alongside Pyongyang University of Science and Technology lecturers Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song in 2018. At that time, Trump proudly declared: "We got our hostages back."

North Korea, spy, CIA, Kim Dong Chul
President Donald Trump applauds as detainee Kim Dong Chul (second right) gestures alongside Kim Hak Song (behind) and Tony Kim (second left) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty