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Seoul denies NIS, CIA targeted North’s leader

May 09,2017
South Korean government officials denied Pyongyang’s claim last Friday that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency tried to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with a chemical weapon, calling it a “make-believe story” by the State Security Ministry to regain traction.

The ministry, North Korea’s equivalent to the South’s NIS, said in a statement released through the state-run Korean Central News Agency last week that the NIS and CIA infiltrated North Korea “to commit state-sponsored terrorism” against Kim Jong-un, but were “recently detected” before accomplishing the mission.

The statement continued that the intelligence authorities “ideologically corrupted and bribed” a North Korean citizen surnamed Kim, who had been working in the timber industry in Khabarovsk, Russia, in June 2014, when he was “turned into a terrorist full of repugnance and revenge” against the North Korean leadership.

The agent was allegedly instructed to commit “bomb terrorism” targeting Kim Jong-un during a high-profile event at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun or at a military parade, the statement added.

At one point, the State Security Ministry said it would carry out a “Korean-style anti-terrorist attack” from this moment to “sweep away” the CIA and NIS. “It’s just really poorly sewn together and preposterous,” a South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo. A source from the South’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korea relations, said, “ordinary people are completely without access to Kim Jong-un” during his public appearances, and that even if the leader were to be present on such an occasion, attendees would have to undergo stringent security clearance. A defector who had worked in a senior position at the North Korean government echoed this sentiment, saying the “story didn’t match” for Pyongyang to say that a timber worker would try to go after the heavily fortified leader.

The State Security Ministry’s struggle to climb back up the political totem pole dates back to late last year, according to South Korean intelligence officials, when the ministry arrested a senior official in the leadership of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. The party official was said to have died in the hands of ministry interrogators who tortured him during the probe.

The ministry falsely reported this to Kim Jong-un, only to be caught when the Workers’ Party gave true accounts. Infuriated, Kim ordered the firing of then-Minister Kim Won-hong and execution of five deputy minister-level workers, according to the South Korean sources.

Kim Won-hong was absent from North Korean media for weeks, until he reappeared on April 15 during a military parade in Pyongyang celebrating the 105th birthday of the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung. It was not certain whether he had returned to his former post. Four stars were on his uniform that day, which suggested he did.

A South Korean government official who has deep knowledge of North Korean affairs told the JoongAng Ilbo on Saturday that Kim Won-hong was recently appointed the first deputy director of the Organization Department under the Korean People’s Army’s General Political Bureau, which is a newly formed department.

The role is considered so significant in the North that it was “safe to say he has been reinstated” to power, said the Seoul official.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG, LEE SUNG-EUN AND KO SOO-SUK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]