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Kim Jong-nam was CIA informant: Report

June 12,2019
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Kim Jong-nam
Kim Jong-nam, the estranged older half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who was killed in Malaysia in 2017, was a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informant, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

A person knowledgeable about the matter told the newspaper that Kim Jong-nam had a “nexus” with the CIA and met with agency operatives on several occasions.

Kim was said to have “traveled to Malaysia in February 2017 to meet his CIA contact,” the source added.

Kim was killed in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13, 2017, after two women smeared his face with the deadly nerve agent VX. The young women, Vietnamese and Indonesian nationals released from prison by Malaysian authorities earlier this year, claimed they thought they were performing a prank for a TV show and were duped by North Korean agents. South Korean and U.S. authorities pinned North Korea as behind the assassination, but Pyongyang has denied involvement.

The source told the paper that U.S. intelligence officials “first felt relief” that the CIA’s interaction with Kim wasn’t exposed in the immediate aftermath of his killing.

Yet Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun in May 2017 reported that while in Malaysia, Kim met with a Korean-American that Malaysian officials suspected was a U.S. intelligence officer.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that Kim, who mainly resided in Macau, had “almost certainly” been “in contact with security services” of China and other countries, citing several former U.S. officials. Yet Kim was believed to have no power base in Pyongyang and was unlikely to provide details on the “inner workings” of the regime.

Anna Fifield, The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Beijing, in her new book “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un,” also described Kim Jong-nam as an “informant” for the CIA, “usually meeting his handlers in Singapore or Malaysia.”

Fifield wrote that the North Korean leader “would have considered talking to American spies a treacherous act,” noting that the CIA has “a track record of trying to bring down dictators it didn’t like.”

Kim Jong-nam is described as having maintained links to the North Korean regime throughout his time in quasi-exile and “remained particularly close to his uncle,” Jang Song-thaek.

Jang, also the uncle and once-powerful political mentor of Kim Jong-un, was executed in December 2013.

She also wrote that Kim Jong-un “always resented Jang for favoring his older half brother” to inherit the North Korean leadership.

Jang and Kim Jong-nam were described as having “shared similar ideas about China and economic reform,” which made Kim Jong-un “suspicious.”

Fifield described that Kim, for at least the past decade before his death, ran gambling websites across Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, citing a former business associate turned friend, an internet security specialist who began working with Kim in 2007.

Fifield’s contacts also included Kim Jong-nam’s cousin, a “woman who essentially became his sister and stayed in touch with him long after her defection and his exile” while living under a new identity for the past 25 years.

At one point, Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011, was widely considered the heir apparent of his father, but he fell out of favor by the early 2000s. His mother was Kim Jong-il’s first wife Song Hye-rim.

In 2001, Kim Jong-nam made headlines when he was detained in Japan in a failed attempt to go to Tokyo Disneyland with his family using a fake Dominican Republic passport.

His son Kim Han-sol, through a video clip released last month, thanked the leader of Free Joseon, a North Korean dissident group, for helping him take refuge after his father was assassination in 2017.

The clip completes a former video clip of Kim released by Free Joseon on YouTube in March 2017.

The group, formerly called Cheollima Civil Defense, claims to be behind the raid on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid in February.

Kim Han-sol’s current location is unknown: He is believed to have grown up mainly in Macau and has been one of the most outspoken members of the Kim family.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]