CIA Director met high-level North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho

CIA Director Mike Pompeo discussed the potential for fomenting an insurrection against the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea with a high-level defector, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The meeting between Pompeo and Thae Yong Ho, one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to defect to South Korea, took place during the CIA director’s visit to South Korea earlier this month. Thae worked as a senior diplomat in the North Korean embassy in London and defected in the summer of 2016.

During the session with Thae, Pompeo discussed whether conditions inside North Korea were ripe for an uprising against Kim by the military, security, or political officials, according to intelligence officials familiar with the meeting. Thae responded that he believed conditions within North Korea were conducive to such an insurrection.

In January, Thae, the defector, told reporters in Seoul the Kim regime is “crumbling” and efforts to control outside information from penetrating the closed system were failing due to official corruption and growing discontent.

Thae advocates using information to break the North Korean regime’s control of outside news to help ordinary citizens overthrow the regime.

Bruce Bechtol, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, said Kim Jong Un’s hold on power is weaker than that of his father, Kim Jong Il, who in turn did not have the same grip on power his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. “Because of Kim’s weaker hold on power than his predecessors, and the powerful internal security services, it is most likely that any insurrection is going to come from members of the elite—not from the bottom up,” he said.

[Washington Free Beacon]

How Kim Jong Un has tightened his grip on power

Since succeeding his father in 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has impressed and confounded with his rise from political novice to adept operator.

He has done a remarkable job of consolidating his power and remodeling the country in his own image, says Choi Jong-kun, associate professor at Yonsei University’s Department of Political Science and International Studies in South Korea. “He has reformed the economy far greater than his father, and hugely advanced the country’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” Choi tells CNN

Nick Bisley, executive director at La Trobe University in Melbourne, says security in the form of the nuclear program is a prerequisite to any serious attempt at North Korean economic reform. “Only when they feel confident that they have their nuclear weapons and the security they have with that will we see economic reform,” he says. “The most optimistic (outcome) is that it follows the China model — once secure it follows a China-style economic reform but (even in that case) we won’t see any political reform.”

Consolidating his power has been key to Kim’s rise, and much of this has been done in a brutal, bloody manner. One report from South Korean think tank, the Institute for National Security Strategy, claims he has ordered the executions of at least 340 people since he came to power in 2011 — 140 of whom were senior officers in the country’s government, military and ruling Korean Worker’s Party.

Of all the killings, few have the notoriety of his execution of his uncle by marriage, Jang Song Thaek in 2013. His abrupt removal was a sign Kim was removing the last vestiges of the old guard. With state media declaring Jang a “traitor for all ages,” Kim made sure there was no dissent to the decision.

The reported execution of five deputy minister-level officials in February of this year, who were working under disgraced state security chief Kim Won Hong, suggests that the purges may be still ongoing.

[CNN]

UN urged to bring North Korea before International Criminal Court

A veteran investigator urged the United Nations to appoint an international legal expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea’s leadership for documented crimes against humanity.

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean accountability during its current session. His call came amid an international furore over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors, recommended North Korea be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.

“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison camp, with over 100,000 of them?” Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean human rights, said.

Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N. investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for prosecution, Darusman said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”

[Reuters]

Diplomat defector compares North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to Roman emperor Nero

The senior North Korea diplomat who defected to the South from Pyongyang’s embassy in London described Kim Jong Un as a “21st century Nero” in a recent interview.

In an interview with South Korean newspaper Kukmin Ilbo, Thae Yong-ho said Kim Jong Un is a despot who cannot tolerate those who disagree with him.

Thae then provided an anecdote about Pyongyang Folklore Park, which he ordered destroyed after assassinating his uncle Jang Sung Taek, who managed the park.

“After [Kim Jong Un] killed Jang Song Taek, he said he kept seeing Jang’s face each time he passed the areas surrounding the folklore park and recruited military units to have the park destroyed.”

Thae compared Kim Jong Un to the Roman emperor Nero, who according to historical records began a fire in Rome to make room for a new palatial complex.

Thae said Kim Jong Un lacks trust in others and his existence was completely unknown to most North Koreans until 2009. The former diplomat also said Kim is not well rooted in North Korean society because he grew up in Switzerland, a background that amplifies his distrust of people in the regime, according to the report.

[UPI]

South Korean Intelligence concludes North Korean government killed Kim Jong Nam

South Korean intelligence officials announced that officials from North Korea’s secret police and Foreign Ministry were involved in the killing of the estranged half brother of the country’s leader.

Speaking in a closed-door parliamentary hearing, Lee Byung-ho, the director of the National Intelligence Service, said that four of the eight North Koreans identified as suspects by the Malaysian authorities were agents from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security, the country’s secret police.

Mr. Lee said that two other suspects worked for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and another was affiliated with Air Koryo, the North’s state-run airline company.

Mr. Lee, the South Korean intelligence chief, was quoted by the lawmakers as saying that the eight North Koreans, working as two four-member teams, converged in Kuala Lumpur to carry out the Feb. 13 assassination. Malaysian authorities have said that the North Koreans had hired and trained two women, one from Indonesia, the other from Vietnam, to attack Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Hyon Kwang-song, a senior diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and three other North Koreans worked as a support team, Mr. Lee told the lawmakers. Mr. Hyon and the Air Koryo employee, Kim Uk-il, remain at the embassy in Malaysia.

[New York Times]

Kim Jong Un “MacBeth with nukes”

Malaysian authorities arrested the second of two women in connection with the death Monday of Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who died on his way to a hospital after an unidentified woman covered his face with a cloth containing an agent of some sort.

North Korean diplomats unsuccessfully tried to prevent an autopsy and obtain the return of Kim Jong Nam’s body.

Jong Nam in recent years lived under Chinese protection. Beijing apparently wanted a Kim in reserve to possibly serve as a China-friendly leader of a successor regime in Pyongyang. Jong Nam, often called a playboy, appeared to harbor no desire to do so and exhibited little aptitude for such a demanding role. In reality, Jong Nam posed virtually no threat to his half-brother’s rule, but that did not mean Jong Un did not try to kill him. (There was also an assassination attempt in 2012.)

Ordering a hit on a Kim, in a society where family members were once considered divine and where regime legitimacy rests on bloodline, is an especially heinous act. It is also a desperate one. The execution of a family member can intimidate others in the short term, but it erodes support and undermines regime credibility. The murder could even be interpreted as a last resort.

The killing of his Nam Jong is not the only sign of instability in Pyongyang this month. Two weeks ago, for instance, the world learned of the demotion of the minister of state security, General Kim Won Hong. On Sunday, the chief of North Korea’s strategic missile forces did not witness the launch of the Pukguksong-2 intermediate-range missile, indicating instability at the top of the Korean People’s Army.

Whether Kim Jong Un is deeply insecure or suffering from a “delusional disorder”—the diagnosis of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service—the international community faces a North Korean supremo who now exhibits a low threshold for risk, largely because he feels he has so little to lose.

Kim has long-range missiles—three that can reach the western U.S.—and a stockpile of enough plutonium and uranium to fashion about 16 to 20 warheads. His technicians have almost certainly learned how to mate a nuclear warhead to his intermediate-range missiles and within, say, four years will have mastered the ability to strap on nukes to his intercontinental-range missiles as well. So call his murderous family drama “Macbeth with Nukes.”

[The Daily Beast]

North Korea’s long history of assassinations

If two North Korean female agents are responsible for the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, it would be the latest in a long history of planned assassinations and attacks by the secretive state.

Kim Jong-Un, the younger brother of Kim Jong-Nam, has overseen a purge of various “traitors” perceived to be a threat to his regime since he came to power in December 2011. If it was an ordered hit by the younger sibling on his elder brother, it would not be the first time North Korean operatives have targeted defectors, South Korean leaders or members of the Kim clan.

:: In December 2013, the North Korean leader’s uncle was branded a “traitor” and executed by machine gun for “attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods”.

:: Yi Han-Yong, a nephew of Kim Jong-Nam’s mother was shot dead in February 1997 outside his home in Bundang, Seongnam. The two assailants were never caught.

:: South Korean diplomat Choi Duk-Keun was bludgeoned to death in Vladivostok, a port city in Russia, in October 1996. South Korean media reports said he was killed to avenge the deaths of 25 North Korean commandos who died when their vessel ran aground in the South.

:: Korean Air flight 858 was flying from Baghdad to Seoul on 29 November 1987 when it exploded over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 people on board. One of the two bombers … confessed the bombing had aimed to hamper the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

:: North Korean undercover agents killed 21 people including four South Korean cabinet ministers in a bomb attack in Rangoon, Myanmar, in October 1983, which was intended to kill then South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan.

:: In January 1968 a team of 31 North Korean commandos attempted to assassinate then South Korean president Park Chung-Hee, but were stopped some 100 metres from the presidential Blue House. … There was a further failed attempt to kill Mr Park in 1974.

[Sky News]

North Korea purged and executed thousands after Jang Song Thaek was killed?

North Korea may have ordered a sweeping massacre of about 1,000 people after the execution of Jang Song Thaek, claims a defector activist in South Korea.

Kang Chol-hwan, president of the North Korea Strategy Center, said in addition to the mass slaughter a total of 20,000 people were purged under Kim Jong Un, South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported.

“In connection to the case of Jang Song Thaek, 415 cadres in the Korean Workers’ Party, more than 300 people in affiliated organizations, and 200 officers in the state security department were shot to death,” Kang said.

There have been previous reports in South Korea media that Jang’s death sentence in 2013 triggered the executions of other senior officials. But Kang’s assertions on Friday mark the first time an analyst has said the state executed 1,000 people in the case of Jang, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law. Relatives were reportedly purged or sent to prison camps because of Jang, the activist said.

Kang said his information was drawn from the testimonies of six North Koreans who recently escaped the country, including statements from former diplomat Thae Yong-ho.

The North Korea Strategy Center, a non-profit organization that seeks to aid defectors with development programs and international support networks, is planning to bring the Jang Song Thaek case before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

[UPI]

North Korean leader’s brother Kim Jong-nam killed at Malaysia airport

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, has been killed in an attack in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian police say he was waiting at the airport for a flight to Macau on Monday when a woman covered his face with a cloth which burnt his eyes.

Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat confirmed that the victim was indeed Kim Jong-nam, as well as adding these details: “While waiting for the flight, a woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid. Following this, the man was seen struggling for help and managed to obtain the assistance of a KLIA [Kuala Lumpur International Airport] receptionist as his eyes suffered burns as a result of the liquid. Moments later, he was sent to the Putrajaya Hospital where he was confirmed dead.”

“So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads,” Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters news agency separately.

The late Kim Jong-il’s eldest son is thought to have fled North Korea after being passed over for the leadership. Kim Jong-nam became one of the North Korean regime’s highest profile critics, openly questioning the Stalinist policies and dynastic succession his grandfather Kim Il-sung began crafting in 1948. Following his father’s death, Kim‘s comments about his younger brother … singled him out as Kim Jong-un most vocal, and high profile, critic.

The results of an autopsy on his body have not yet been released.

[BBC]

The hidden North Korean human rights issue

Excerpts of an interview with Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation:

 Q: We are constantly seeing news out of North Korea, that is—for lack of a better phrase—bizarre.

 Scholte: This regime is sadistic and cruel. Just talking about recent events, Chang Sŏng-t’aek, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle, devoted his entire life to that regime and was successful in helping the regime and then all of a sudden he falls out of favor and is basically publicly humiliated and then brutally killed. It just shows the level of cruelty that this regime represents. I do not believe he was fed to dogs; that report came out of China. … Part of the problem with reporting about North Korea is that we cannot go and see the political prison camps. … So it’s difficult to try to corroborate some of the stories. … One interesting thing about the defectors is that there’s a self-policing among them. They know that they were doubted, and therefore their credibility is always on the line. So they’re very careful, the defectors that I work with, they’re very careful to make sure that if we have a witness that comes over, that they’ve been vetted, and they’re really telling their true story.

Q: Why do you think governments and Western journalists have put so much focus on the nuclear issue and not the human rights threat for the citizens of North Korea?

The policy of George W. Bush was the same as Bill Clinton’s: we have to reach a deal on the nuclear issue first, then, we can talk about human rights. That has been a horrible mistake. During all the talks whether Four Party talks or Six Party talks, millions of North Koreans have died. And, not talking about the human rights atrocities fed into the lie that the North Korean people tell their own citizens, which is we hate them. North Koreans are told by the regime that Americans are Yankee imperialist wolves that occupy South Korea, and they want to destroy them, and so we have to build these nuclear weapons, because the United States is ready to attack us. … We fed into that lie because we didn’t talk about these human rights issues.

The Obama Administration has been very careful to keep the focus on human rights and the nuclear issue and give them equal importance. During this period the North Korean defectors kept telling us, “They will never give up their nuclear weapons. They only use negotiation to extract aid.” Hwang Jang yop (highest ranking North Korean defector and author of juche ideology) said that in 1997 when he defected, “Human rights is their Achilles heel. Human rights is what you have to talk about. They’re killing their own people. They’re using you in these talks. …At least we’ve come to that point now where we realize that.

[Acton Institute]