On my last trip to North Korea (the 3rd trip I had taken), I was grilled about having been to South Korea in the intervening time. I denied it. They were insistent that I had been there. I denied it. I told them emphatically that I had not been there and had never been to South Korea…not once. They insisted I had. I was even more emphatic. It got a bit testy but I was certain and did not back down.
Despite our disagreement, they were gracious hosts – let me arrive, showed me around, and let me leave. I was grateful for the opportunity to visit their country again.
It was only sometime later in thinking about the inquiry, that I remembered something. I was not trying to deceive the North Koreans — I had just completely forgotten something. I would not have been dishonest with them.
In the intervening time (between trip #2 and trip #3 to North Korea) I had gone to Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on an Air Force plane. Her trip included a journey to Viet Nam which I did to go on. I was on her Air Force flight out of Afghanistan and the flight to Viet Nam refueled in Seoul, South Korea.
As was the plan, I jumped off her plane in South Korean Air Force base…jumped in a car that was waiting for me…and had less than two hours to make it to the Seoul commercial airport an hour away to make a flight back to Washington, DC. We were so late getting into Seoul, so I was in a rush.
I was so short of time on the ground when the plane refueled that I had to leave my bags on the Air Force plane (to retrieve when it got back to the USA several days later.) I didn’t even have 10 minutes to wait for my bag to be offloaded.
I was in South Korea for less than 2 hours — all in a car traveling quickly from one airport to another. I just changed planes. Had I even remembered it when I was being questioned by the North Koreans, I would not have considered changing planes (and airports) as being in South Korea.
I saw nothing of South Korea – just the highway between two airports. I talked to no one in South Korea — other than to buy an airline ticket, go through security and board a plane (I even slept all 13 hours back to DC!) I travel so often and change planes so often that I never consider it being some place when I am simply in transit, changing flights.
The only reason that flight has ever stuck in my memory is because I showed up at the airport in Seoul to 1/ buy a one way ticket; 2/ an international flight; 3/ with zero baggage; and 4/ with a passport that had as its last two stamped entries Pakistan and Afghanistan. I had all the earmarks of a terrorist, right? And yet it was the easiest flight I had ever boarded – no one asked me one question.
As it turns out, I was somehow being watched….
I did not lie (I would not.) I just forgot.