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.


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.


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]

North Korean defector’s role at London embassy

Besides being the deputy ambassador, North Korea’s number two diplomat in London, Thae Yong Ho, was the man appointed to spy on embassy colleagues and report signs of disloyalty to the feared secret police.

Thae said in an interview that one of his jobs was to report to the “bowibu”, North Korea’s Stasi-like State Security Department, on everyone in the embassy, including the ambassador. But he told his embassy colleagues about the reports and made sure they were positive.

“In the London embassy, I was in charge of this kind of surveillance,” the 54-year-old said.

“I had to write back if they had any ideological changes or if they met any British or South Koreans in secret,” Thae said of his colleagues. “But I always reported good things”.

Thae first came to London as a North Korean diplomat in 2004, when he spent four years as counselor under ambassador Ri Yong Ho, now North Korea’s foreign minister. His two sons went to local London schools, but returned with Thae and his wife to Pyongyang after his first posting there.

In 2013, Thae returned to London with his family, the same year Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle by marriage, was executed in a brutal purge that included extended members of Jang’s family and business contacts.

“It was a huge nationwide purge,” Thae said, adding it prompted him to plan an escape. “I had to leave the system”.


North Korea sacks head of secret police amid signs of ‘crack in elite’

North Korea has dismissed its minister of state security, a key aide to the reclusive state’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, South Korea said on Friday, in what a high-profile defector said would be another sign of a “crack in the elite” in Pyongyang if true.

Kim Won Hong was removed from office as head of the feared “bowibu”, or secret police, in mid-January apparently on charges of corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuses, Jeong Joon-hee, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman, said, confirming media reports.

“There is always a possibility that purges continue as part of constantly strengthening power,” Jeong told a briefing, adding punishment for Kim could be more severe depending on the outcome of the investigation, but he had been dismissed and demoted from the rank of general to major general.

Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials.

Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to London who has defected to the South, told Reuters he was not surprised by the news. “I cannot confirm if the reports are true or not, but this kind of power struggle is quite normal in North Korean history. Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un’s style of control is always one of collective surveillance that checks the power of each organization.

“Kim Jong Un has killed too many high officials and there are a lot of complaints and dissent amongst the high elite because of it. If the demotion of Kim Won Hong is really true, then that’s another sign of a crack in the North Korean elite group.”


Diplomat: “I’ve known that there was no future for North Korea for a long time”

The decision that North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho made to defect from a regime he had spent his whole life defending did not happen overnight. His misgivings had been simmering for two decades, even as he went around Europe espousing the superiority of the North Korean system.  “I’ve known that there was no future for North Korea for a long time,” Thae told The Washington Post.

In the 1990s, as a relatively young diplomat, Thae Yong-ho was posted to Denmark, where his youngest son was born, and after that to Sweden. In Scandinavia, home to the flagbearers of European socialism, Thae’s eyes began to open. “During my first foreign posting in Denmark, I came to doubt and question whether North Korea could say that it was a true socialist or communist system,” he said.  “North Korean society doesn’t have the concept of comparing,” he said. “The more time you spend in the outside world, the disbelief in your system grows more and more.”

During this second stint in London, in the second year of Kim Jong Un’s regime, Thae’s concerns started to become unbearable. “Not only me but other North Korean elites were hopeful that because Kim Jong Un had studied abroad and was young, he might change the policy direction and modernize North Korea,” he said. But his doubts heightened after Kim had his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, executed at the end of 2013. Although executions are not rare in North Korea, there was something disturbingly arbitrary about this one, Thae said.

Still, he continued his duties in London, voicing the idea that North Korea was a “people’s paradise” with free housing, health care and education. But at home, Thae’s youngest son, who was still in high school and hoped to study computer science at a top London university, was asking why North Korea doesn’t allow the Internet, why North Koreans are not allowed to watch foreign films, why North Koreans can’t read any books they want. “As a father, it was hard for me to tell lies, and it started a debate within the family,” Thae said.

Last July, after much preparation and as the end of his posting was approaching, Thae defected with his wife and both their sons.

[Washington Post]

The only way to change North Korea’s destiny is to change its leader

The only way to change North Korea’s destiny is to change its leader, says Thae Yong Ho the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect in almost 20 years.

“As long as Kim Jong Un is in power, there’ll be no chance for the world to improve the human rights issue” or cancel “the nuclear program,” he says.

Thae’s initial hopes that Kim’s youth and overseas studies would make him a reformer were soon destroyed as he saw more and more of his fellow high-ranking officials being executed, almost, he says, on a whim.

“If Kim Jong Un decides to kill someone, if he thinks that he is a threat or he scared him, he just wants to get rid of him, that is the present reality of North Korea,” he says, adding that he knows more elites will defect.

A South Korean think-tank affiliated with the country’s intelligence agency (INSS) assesses at least 340 people have been ordered to be executed since Kim took power in December 2011.