[PART 2] The North Korean military did not kill Kim Jong Nam
In Part 1 of this analysis, it was established that neither the National Defence Commission nor the Renaissance General Bureau could have killed Kim Jong Nam. Could it have been the Operations Department?
In Kim Jong Nam’s case, two foreigner women were used, both who say that they had no knowledge of the plan. If this is true, it must mean that North Korean agents had executed the assassination after years of experience with approaching and contacting foreigners. It’s hard to believe that the military could be responsible for such a sly attack.
Military arms such as the National Defence Commission (NDC) or The Korean People’s Army (KPA) lost most of their authority since the late 1970s, once Kim Jong Il came to power. Prior to this, North Korea, like other divided countries, had been under military rule. For Kim Jong Il to properly consolidate power in the Organisation and Guidance Department, a power of transfer from the military to the Party was needed.
Through this, the KWP Operations Department’s role changed, and so did the style of North Korean provocations.
Let’s have a look at other instances where North Korea had been aggressive: the Blue House raid, Panmunjom axe murder incident, Pueblo incident, and other provocations by North Korea, until the 1970s, were all organised by the KPA.
Compare this with the Rangoon bombing, Korean Air flight explosion, and other questionable events, all of which occurred in or after the 1980s. These were orchestrated by North Korean agents. An obvious shift in provocations, from military to Party, occurred synonymously with the leadership handover from Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il.
If the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), which is not a Party Department, really wished to pose as a legitimate threat to South Korea, it would need to lead in North Korean policymaking. It would need its own supporting institutions specialising in psychological warfare designed to attack South Korea and the rest of the world. The problem is, too many ‘experts’ are giving the RGB far too much credit that it deserves.
Some may argue, however, that North Korea’s military is taking a more active role in North Korean politics. I argue that these cannot be seen as concrete changes. Instead, they should be seen moves that expand the mere concept of a military-supported intelligence bureau for infiltrating South Korea.
Take, for example, the promotion of Kim Yong-chol to head of the RGB. Normally, a leader of any KWP department would be carefully picked after talks and negotiation, but his appointment, in contrast, was much too ad hoc. The appointment of a military man into North Korean’s intelligence bureau does appear aggressive, at least on the outside. It does purport a willingness to confront South Korea face-to-face. But it does not change the system. The military, and the Reconnaissance General Bureau associated with it, is nothing more than a closely controlled weapon of the Party. It does not actually hold the authority to order assassinations.
Then what of the Operations Department? The KWP’s Operations Department is best known for securing routes and training combatants for anti-South Korean activities. It is the organ that prioritises North Korean national security in the event of war, but also carries out covert missions in South Korea and other countries. There are other departments designed to attack or gather intelligence on South Korea, but their staff are considered to have more of an administrative role, whereas the staff of the Operations Department are considered commandos.
Still – it would be inaccurate to jump to the conclusion that Kim Jong Nam’s assassination was caused by this organ. The Operations Department is more focused on infiltrating South Korea, not other countries.
Then could it be the State Security Department, as suggested by South Korean media? This is another complete misjudgment. South Koreans often think that spies are trained under the State Security Department, but this is not the State Security Department’s role. The State Security Department is an organ that protects the regime, but only in terms of internal security. It does attempt to block information coming in from China or southeast Asia, but it does not have the power to infiltrate South Korea or other countries.
If it is true that Kim Jong Nam’s death was arranged by North Korea, the clues lie in North Korea’s governmental power. To look for clues for who may be responsible for the death of Kim Jong Nam, you only need to look at what department would have been best designed for the job. North Korea knows that any mistakes during an operation overseas caused by one major organ could cause great damage to all of its subordinate bureaus. To prevent this, power is distributed in North Korea’s governmental system so that each bureau, organ and department are clearly instructed on the extent of their jurisdiction. Ironically, it is this decentralisation of power that holds North Korea’s dictatorship together, so that the organs do not ever need to compete for power.
This is Part 2 of a two-part analysis by Jang Jin-sung, editor of New Focus. You can read Part 1 here.
Analysis by Jang Jin-sung.