On Monday, North Korean authorities allowed Kim Dong-chul to be interviewed by CNN. According to Pyongyang, the 62-year-old is an American citizen who has been held since October on charges of espionage.
CNN says that North Korea also provided a copy of Kim’s American passport.
"I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and 'scandalous' scenes," he said during the interview. "They asked me to help destroy the [North Korean] system and spread propaganda against the government.
"I’m asking the US or South Korean government to rescue me," he said.
Kim told CNN that he began an international trade business in a special economic zone near the Chinese border. In 2013, he began spying for "South Korean conservative elements," bribing locals to "gather important materials."
In two years of spying, Kim said he only made $5,300 before being detained by North Korean authorities, who had allegedly been monitoring his activities since 2009. One of Kim’s accomplices, a 35-year-old former North Korean soldier, was also arrested.
Kim also maintained that he never worked for the US government.
Kim assured reporters that he is being treated well, and also gave his thoughts on last week’s purported nuclear test.
"Seeing that this H-bomb test has succeeded, now is the time to abandon hostile policies and work to help North Korea," he told CNN. "The US needs to find a way to reconcile with North Korea. I think the main way to do that is with a peace treaty."
He stressed that his statements were not pre-scripted by authorities in Pyongyang, and that Western media is guilty of "misunderstanding" North Korea’s policies.
In 2014, Pyongyang released Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, two other American prisoners. If Kim’s claims are true, he will be the only US citizen currently held by North Korea.
The US State Department has not yet verified the situation, telling CNN that "speaking publicly about specific purported cases of detained Americans can complicate our tireless efforts to secure their freedom."
Tensions are high following last week’s nuclear test. South Korea has resumed propaganda broadcasts along the demilitarized zone, and on Sunday, a US B-52 bomber escorted by a South Korean F-15 flew out of an airbase in Osan, South Korea.