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Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, who was assassinated in 2017, was working with the CIA, according to multiple new reports.
Kim Jong Nam traveled to Malaysia in February 2017 to meet a CIA agent, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. On his way back, he was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by two young women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face.
The U.S. and South Korea publicly blamed North Korea for the attack. Pyongyang has always denied its involvement.
Kim Jong Nam, who lived mostly in the Chinese region of Macau, was also working with the Chinese government to provide them with information on the North Korean regime, said the source speaking to the Journal.
Before he left for Malaysia, Kim Jong Nam told a Japanese reporter that he was aware of the dangers of the trip, which would make it more difficult for the CIA and Chinese agents to protect him, according to a report in the Financial Times.
But, he said, he was willing to take the risk because he needed the money. According to Malaysian officials, he was carrying approximately $100,000 in cash when he was killed.
“Without a diplomatic mission to the country, the U.S. has long suffered from a lack of definite knowledge about the country, its leadership, economy, and military.”
Kim Jong Nam died on his way to hospital after the two women, who later claimed they believed they were taking part in a reality-TV show, smeared the toxic nerve agent on his face. The pair were arrested, but the murder charges against one of them, an Indonesian named Siti Aisyah, were withdrawn. The other, a Vietnamese woman named Doan Thi Huong, was released from prison last month after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of “causing injury.”
Kim Jong Nam's role as a CIA informant is also mentioned in a new book about Kim Jong Un that was published Tuesday. In “The Great Successor,” the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief Anna Fifield says Kim Jong Nam usually met his handlers in Singapore and Malaysia, citing a source with knowledge of the intelligence.
For seasoned North Korea watchers, however, the revelations come as no surprise. North Korea is a highly secretive regime, and detailed information about its inner workings are immensely valuable to intelligence agencies.
“Without a diplomatic mission to the country, the U.S. has long suffered from a lack of definite knowledge about the country, its leadership, economy, and military,” John Hemmings, Asia director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News. If the reports about Kim Jong Nam are true, Hemmings said, the CIA has — like many other regional intelligence agencies — turned to high-level defectors to “fill in” the gaps.
Even though he has was long-estranged from the regime, Kim Jong Nam would have been a critical source of information for the CIA.
“He was a member of the Kim family himself, and you cannot get any more direct to the workings of the country than that,” Tom Fowdy, a North Korea analyst, told VICE News. “Due to the opacity of North Korea and extreme inability to access its inner political workings, the CIA has not been able to gain as many sources as they have for other countries.”
At the time of Kim Jong Nam’s assassination, tensions were rising between the U.S. and North Korea. Washington’s condemnation of his death exacerbated them.
“The move was instrumental in Washington's justification to relist the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism, which further provoked aggressive responses from Pyongyang,” Fowdy said.
The reports of Kim Jong Nam’s links to the CIA emerged on the one-year anniversary of the first summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump in Singapore. Trump declared that summit a success, but in the year since, relations between the two countries have deteriorated as Pyongyang has shown no indication it is willing to denuclearize. A second summit in Hanoi in February ended in failure when Trump walked away from the negotiating table.
On Tuesday, North Korea called on the Trump administration to “withdraw its hostile policy” toward Pyongyang or agreements made in Singapore might become “a blank sheet of paper.”
Cover: A TV screen shows a picture of Kim Jong Nam, the older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Malaysian officials say a North Korean man has died after suddenly becoming ill at Kuala Lumpur's airport. The district police chief said Tuesday Feb. 14, 2017 he could not confirm South Korean media reports that the man was Kim Jong Nam, the older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)