The Pentagon paid evangelical missionaries to spy on North Korea, The Intercept’s Matthew Cole reported on Monday.
Ken Hiramine, formerly the president of Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG), acted as a Pentagon spy from 2004 to 2006. But before Hiramine was a spy, he was an aid worker. He was not, however, a secular aid worker. Instead, he was a missionary who used shipments of donated clothing to disguise smuggled Bibles. He had to be cautious because North Korea, whose regime enforces an idiosyncratic version of communism, forbids proselytization.
If Hiramine managed to penetrate the insular state, reasoned Pentagon officials, perhaps he could smuggle surveillance equipment, too. And since it has been extremely difficult to gather any intelligence on the notoriously secretive North Korean government, defense officials were apparently open to unusual solutions.
“Hiramine, in his role as CEO of HISG, tapped Christian missionaries, aid workers, and Chinese smugglers to move equipment into and around North Korea — none of whom had any idea that they were part of a secret Pentagon operation,” Cole wrote.
Sam Worthington, who heads an international network of non-governmental organizations, told Cole that the program “violated international principles.” It may have also violated the First Amendment. These missionaries—with the exception of Hiramine—carried out their evangelistic work on the government’s dime. Thus the Pentagon may have directly funded Christian proselytization.
But that didn’t trouble the Pentagon official who created the program. During his tenure as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin created and managed the program until he retired in 2007. He now works for the Family Research Council (FRC) as its executive vice president.
Cole called the program Boykin’s “brainchild.” He used his position not only to pay Hiramine and his missionaries to spy, but to create work for his fundamentalist friends.
The Pentagon needed to hide the source of HISG’s funding, so it funneled the money through a private fund expressly created for the purpose. That fund—the New Millennium Trust—donated the money in turn to the Working Partners Foundation. Boykin appointed a “dear friend” to head the latter foundation. A Pentagon source called the project a “jobs program” for Boykin’s friends and former colleagues.
Boykin, of course, is a notable extremist. In 2004—the same year he tapped Hiramine to spy—the U.S. Department of Defense reprimanded him for sectarian speeches he made while in uniform.
He’s not so fond of President Obama. In 2013, he lamented the fact that the military cannot forcibly remove Obama from office.“People I’ve spoken to would like to see the military ‘fulfill their constitutional duty and take out the president,” he told WorldNetDaily. “Our Constitution puts a civilian in charge of the military and as a result a coup would not be constitutional. You’re not going to see a coup in the military.”
Boykin also accused Obama of plotting a “Marxist insurgency” backed by a secret military force in 2010. He has argued repeatedly that Islam doesn’t merit First Amendment protection and advocated a ban on the construction of mosques. And, like most Religious Right figureheads, he’s a firm believer in the myth of Christian “persecution.”
At one point not long ago he became enraged by reports that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Mikey Weinstein met with Pentagon officials to discuss proselytization within the ranks, and Boykin claimed that Christians would face imminent persecution as a result.
“If this policy goes forward, Christians within the military who speak of their faith could be prosecuted as enemies of the state. This has the potential to destroy military recruiting across the services as Americans realize that their faith will be suppressed by joining the military. Our brave troops deserve better. If chaplains and other personnel are censored from offering the full solace of the Gospel, there is no religious freedom in the military,” he blustered.
There was, of course, no “policy” to criticize. It has long been illegal for members of the military to proselytize their brothers and sisters in arms.
But in a twist worthy of Alanis Morissette, it’s Boykin himself who put Christians in danger. He has in effect painted a target on every Christian missionary and aid worker deployed to a hostile country. Moreover, he arguably violated the religious freedom rights of HISG employees. Most had no idea they were participating in a Pentagon-funded program. They simply believed they were performing ordinary aid work—albeit with an evangelical ethos. It’s reasonable to speculate that many likely would have objected to the prospect of working for the Pentagon.
Boykin no longer works at the Pentagon and can no longer put anyone else in direct danger. But his decision to put missionaries in harm’s way without their consent should end his career as a voice on supposed “religious freedom,” too.