The beginning of May 2017 was marked by a series of high-profile statements published by the DPRK media on the unmasking of an alleged attempt to topple the country’s top leadership. On May 5, the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK made official statements to this effect. Then on May 11, Deputy Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol stressed that the DPRK Prosecutor’s Office shall “seek the extradition of all criminals involved, including the organizers and instigators of this state terrorism act, based on the laws in force in the country.” The criminals referred to in this statement included former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and former Head of the Special Services of the Republic of Korea Lee Byoung Ho. A little later, the North Korean web portal Uriminzokkiri published a 23-minute YouTube video showing a man admitting to masterminding an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un.
Sifting through the North Korean official narrative is difficult enough, but if we leave out the threats of the “Korean-style anti-terrorist attack aimed at wiping away the conspiracy plots of the intelligence organizations of the United States and South Korea from the face of the earth,” certain facts become more or less understandable. In June 2014, certain individuals, most likely agents of the CIA and South Korean Intelligence “bribed the ideologically unstable” citizen of the DPRK Kim Seoung-il, who at that time was working as a logger in the Khabarovsk Territory of the Russian Federation, and “turned him into a terrorist full of enmity and revenge against our (DPRK) top leadership,” providing him with USD 20,000 and a satellite phone. The rendezvous was facilitated by Director of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees Doe Hee-jun, who managed to get closer to Kim, bribing him with the money and other niceties.
As Kim explains in a video, after he met Doe Hee-jun on the Internet, the latter began drawing his attention to the human rights crisis in the DPRK, telling him about how the Citizens’ Coalition was encouraging North Koreans to flee the DPRK for China or a third country and transporting defectors to South Korea, as well as garnering public global opinion on the human rights violations in the DPRK. Kim would not believe these reports, but Doe Hee-jun promised to send him a Samsung tablet through which they would be able to communicate freely on applications like Telegram or Kakaotalk. In mid-September, on being tipped by Doe Hee-jun, Kim Seoung-il met with Sergei Kim who lives in the northern part of Khabarovsk and received the tablet on which he began tuning in to Radio Free Asia and other programs of this kind.
I would note here that Doe Hee-jun is a real, existing person who calls himself professor and often appears in Russia or Uzbekistan on missions in which he conducts lectures on the inhumanity of the DPRK regime.
In mid-August 2015, Kim Seoung-il met with a certain Khan, who introduced himself as the leader of the South Korean National Intelligence Service mission in the area, and discussed details of the attempt with him. This meeting took place in the Amursky Park of Khabarovsk under the intermediation of a certain wood merchant. Khan claimed to be working together with the CIA, and said that he needed information on the sources of the furniture, food, transportation, etc. used by the top leadership so that they could be effectively poisoned. Khan also hinted that Kim’s family would not go unpunished should he fail to complete the assignment.
During the following years, when Kim was already in the DPRK (he has lived in the capital since 2016), these people went out with him for contact (only four times in 2016, and in total, Kim received more than 80 instructions), transferring new amounts of money or the necessary equipment like a satellite phone through which communication would be maintained. Then, with the participation of Kim, the preliminary work was carried out, including a discussion on the assassination options and the type of substance that would be used to liquidate the leader of the country. Equally important were recommendations on the recruitment of supporters, the bribery of the person who would become the next direct executor, and the creation of an agent network. Kim had to pass on to them any information on the organization and protection of mass events during which it would be possible to commit the act of terrorism. He was also mandated to establish channels of communication and the supply of equipment for terrorist attacks, for which he received additional USD 100,000.
The attempt was planned to be carried out at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the tombs of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are located. It was to take place during one of the mass events or during a military parade. The assassination weapon would be some type of a “biochemical toxic substance of radioactive or nano-technological nature” capable of killing the victim within 6-12 months after coming in contact with it. There were several options: the use of a poisonous substance and a device for spraying it, poisoning with polonium; bookmarking the poison in the air conditioner, so that at the right time, it would be turned on using a remote control system that recognized the voice. However, on November 18, 2016, the planners settled on filling the chair of the DPRK leader with a contact or radioactive poison agent. To this end, Khan told Kim to collect more information about the place where large festivities usually take place, as well as what material and thickness was the chair and balcony balustrade on which the Supreme Head would appear.
The idea of bringing in special means (the composition of which, according to Khan, was known only to CIA experts) into the DPRK was planned in early May 2017. However, on March 5, 2017, campaign materials and devices for the establishment of a communications center were intercepted at a customs post in Hsinchu. Kim was then detained. He now claims that he had been “fooled by hostile propaganda against the republic, and had got involved in a terrible crime.”
The frames of the video show the instructions being relayed, as well as a smartphone and a tablet that were supposedly provided by South Korean special services and “used for ideological processing” by Kim Seoung-il. It also notes that a correspondence between a North Korean official and representatives of the South Korean special services was found on the phone, although the text did not include any reference to CSEs. Only the “firm” and its “boss” were mentioned, from which the Ministry of State Security concluded that this refereed to the chief of the South Korean intelligence service, Lee Byoung Ho, who had allegedly personally praised the terrorist as “a very valuable cadre for the whole nation and for the intelligence service of our country.”
Several names were mentioned: field agent Cho Guy Chol, and the man he planted in China Xu Guanghai, General Manager of Qingdao NAZCA Trade Co. Ltd., which played the role of a communications and supply center. According to CPAC, in March 2017, Cho and Xu met on the territory of the People’s Republic of China in Dandong with Kim’s assistant under the pretext of conducting commercial negotiations, giving him USD 50,000 and a new satellite phone.
For those who are fans of pre-blaming the DPRK for falsifying and blaming innocent people, let us recall the recent incident involving “the destruction of bronze statues.” Then, statements that the South Korean agents were planning to bomb the statues of Kim Il-sung using drones with explosives (in order to create the illusion that there is a Christian resistance in the country that needed to be helped, “following the Syrian example”) also took into account fantasies based on identifying bad operatives. However, the confirmation of exactly such a plan came from an unexpected place – it was not planned by South Korean intelligence, but by the Fighters for a Free North Korea Organization, whose leader Park Sang-hak had complained in an interview that attempts to launch the operation from Chinese territory had failed.
As for polonium or some other “biochemical substance”, if some are willing to admit the assassination of Kim Jong-nam using the classic VX, why not believe an attempt to assassinate the other Kim using similar means? And as for the poisoned chair or the device that produces poison for a certain voice, one can recall the attempts of the CIA on Fidel Castro, when very exotic methods and rare poisons were used, including a substance that could cause complete baldness before death (the Cuban leader was supposed to be destroyed morally first, depriving him of his famed trademark.)
However, when on June 28, North Korea “in-absentia” sentenced South Korean ex-President Park Geun-hye and South Korean intelligence chief Lee Byoung Ho to death on charges of masterminding an assassination attempt on the Leader of the DPRK and demanded that they be extradited to the court “in accordance with international laws on state terrorism”, the author had to repeatedly answer paranoid questions about how soon the DPRK would execute a terrorist attack on Seoul using its notorious weapons of mass destruction. After all, after officially sentencing Park Geun-hye to death, they would certainly try to deliver the long promised blow!
But how much of all this could be true? In the opinion of the author, although the top leadership of the Republic of Korea might not have had anything to do with it, there are quite a handful of activist organizations with good connections with the intelligence. It is true that the official Seoul, as we recall, had thoroughly worked out the liquidation of Kim in the course of a possible conflict or a preemptive strike. The Republic of Korea allegedly has a separate pool of liquidators with personnel trained by US intelligence, and during the last few military exercises, the commandos of the two countries began working out operations to eliminate the top leadership of the North, including its leader.
Also known is the fact that US troops recently deployed high-precision AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile) cruise missiles at the base in Gunsan. These installations allegedly come with the best tactical and technical parameters for use in operations to destroy the senior leadership of the enemy. At the same time, it is reported that South Korean and US intelligence agencies have recently begun actively collecting information on Pyongyang residential complexes housing the North Korean top brass.
We will not forget the bogus stories that circulated in June from the Japanese Asahi Shimbun referring to “a source well informed on the policy on the DPRK during the period of President Park Geun-hye.” The newspaper claimed that at the end of 2015, Park Geun-hye signed a document that provided for various options for the removal of Kim Jong-un from the post of Leader of the DPRK. As stated by the anonymous author, “various ways of eliminating Kim, including a camouflage assassination in an accident on a trip by car, on a train, during his water skiing trips and others” were studied. However, due to the tight security protecting the leader of the DPRK and the complexity of the operation as a whole, this had to be abandoned.
Information on the secret order was denied both by the intelligence service and officials of the South Korean presidential administration. Some ideas about regime change in North Korea could be heard at meetings, “but there did not appear to be a separate document or a specific policy”. On June 30, 2017, Seoul even made official statements criticizing the “groundless messages that are capable of destroying inter-Korean relations”.
More interesting in this is another part, which coincides with what is known to the author through unofficial channels. This concerns an intelligence, not some shamans, that was responsible for the president having an impression of instability in the DPRK and the idea of an easy regime change: “The intelligence clearly demonstrated that Park Geun-hye is very fond of talking about the instability (of North Korea) and the elimination of Kim, and she would like very much to believe in it. They thus began reporting the appropriate content to her.” It should also be recalled that the former intelligence chief Won Sei-hoon even failed to succeed Park Geun-hye as president (during the “conservative offensive”, he was acquitted), and therefore, the rogue operation version should by no means be discounted.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (History), leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.