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”.