[PART 1] No, the North Korean military did not kill Kim Jong Nam

Tuesday 28th February, 2017

A better understanding of how power is distributed across North Korea’s governmental system will show that it is highly unlikely that Kim Jong Nam was killed by North Korea’s military agency. 

This is Part One of a two-part analysis by Jang Jin-sung, editor of New Focus.


A great number of media outlets have reported that Kim Jong nam’s death was ordered by a North Korean military agency, known as the Reconnaissance General Bureau of the People’s Army (RGB), but this is highly improbable.

Kim Jong Il may have introduced the songun or military-first policy in the 1960s, but this does not necessarily mean that the RGB has greater political influence than the Korean Worker’s Party (hereafter KWP or the Party). It is the Party that is North Korea’s first priority and greatest value, and so, its political influence will penetrate all foreign and inter-Korean issues also.

The Reconnaissance General Bureau

The RGB is known as North Korea’s prime intelligence organ, which has been framed for clandestine operations overseas and in South Korea.

In 2009, some parts of the the National Defence Commission were reorganised. Some departments, especially those that handled inter-Korean issues or anti-South operations, were merged into the RGB. This, however, should not be seen as giving more power to the RGB. Rather, it should be seen as an attempt to make the RGB’s appearance bigger, its presence stronger, and seemingly more threatening to South Korea. But the KWP has never stepped down from its original role, nor lost its jurisdiction in foreign and inter-Korean affairs.

That being said, Bureau 35, the External Liaisons Department, Operations Department, and United Front Department – all institutes of the KWP – remain the true sources of power in North Korea when it comes to dealing with people overseas and across the border.

I have explained how the KWP yields more authority than the RGB and NDC, but what does this have to do with Kim Jong Nam? Keeping this background in mind, it only makes sense that Kim Jong Nam’s death is the work of Bureau 35 and the External Liaisons Department. A major hint is the arrest of Ri Jong Chol, who had a licence in pharmacy, and was living in Malaysia with his family.

What is Bureau 35?

Bureau 35 is would best be described as a government body for elite North Korea expats, as well as an undercover spy agency. There have been elite-level defectors coming directly out of this bureau, living in South Korea right now. What spies from Bureau 35 all have in common is that they are all experts of some kind – doctors, software designers, and of course, pharmacists.

Further, on the day of Kim Jong Nam’s death, four North Korean suspects were reported to have left Malaysia, taking several connecting flights, much to the annoyance of Malaysia’s investigating police. They are now safely arrived in Pyongyang. Such a feat would not have been possible without the close instruction of North Korea’s External Liaisons Department.

The External Liaisons Department

This is the department particularly focused on securing visas for expats, as well as networking with governments and non-government agencies of foreign countries. To avoid suspicion, the Department doesn’t simply use ordinary illegal methods, like forgery of official documents, or espionage, or identity fraud. It uses perfectly legal methods as well, by sending its most skilled workers (and their families) to countries where they are needed.

And even if foreign authorities do find them suspicious, they’d have to wade through years of counter-evidence. These departments of North Korea are especially well-trained in slipping through the hands of the law and securing the safety of its citizens overseas.

From routes, finances, and networking, the External Liaisons Department is the KWP’s favourite foreign institute. It is also their greatest weapon.

Read Part 2 here.


Analysis by Jang Jin-sung. 

Read in Korean.

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