North Korean Nuclear Officials Reportedly Executed

A thinly-sourced but utterly believable tale of evil.

A disturbing but potentially false report is coming out of the South Korean press:

North Korea executed its nuclear envoy to the United States as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, a South Korean newspaper said on Friday.

Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, along with four foreign ministry officials after they were charged with spying for the United States, the Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation.

“He was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping U.S. intentions,” the source was quoted as saying.

The February summit in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the second between Kim and Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over U.S. calls for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report. Previously, North Korean officials have been executed or purged only to reappear with a new title, according to media reports.

—Reuters/YahooNews, “North Korea executes envoy in a purge after failed U.S. summit: media

The report is quite plausible, given Kim’s propensity for murdering officials and even family members who displease him. Still, South Korean media outlets have an interest in ginning up such stories and Reuters has been unable to independently corroborate the story.

One presumes Reuters is relying on the Chosunilbo report “Kim Jong-un ‘Brutally Purged Officials’ After Failed Summit.” It’s clearly single-sourced. Longtime Asia hand Bob Manning speculates that it’s coming from the South Korean National Intelligence Service.

Aside from the factual issues, I find the writing style in the Reuters report amusing.

First, “poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping U.S. intentions” is hardly evidence of spying. Second, it’s impressive, indeed, to reappear with a new title after having been executed.

FILED UNDER: National Security, North Korea, Quick Takes, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Unless I’m misunderstanding something, the quote itself–“poorly reporting on the negotiations…”–is a quote from the source of the information, not the Reuters writer. And it does sound authentic for the very reason that it’s such a bizarre locution.

  2. Kathy says:

    A word to Pompeo and others involved in these negotiations, Trump rather likes to copy what other dictators do, and he’s self-confessed in love with Kim.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I think it’s awesome that someone was executed because the POTUS is an incompetent buffoon.

    without properly grasping U.S. intentions

    Who on this entire fuqing planet “properly grasps” Dennison’s intentions?

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Trump is in the process of pardoning a deranged serial killer. No doubt Kim’s murder of his lackeys will just give Trump a boner.

  5. KM says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Seriously. That was my first thought at the headline – that Trump got someone *killed* with this little asinine stunt of his. There’s reports people were sent to prison camps as well, due to “mistakes” which were really Trump being Trump and his storming out shtick. His childish, attention-whore behavior caused actual deaths and he likely couldn’t care less.

    Can you imagine being on that negotiating team, knowing what you know about Trump and the fate that awaits you for having the ill-fortune to deal with the Dotard? That there’s no way to succeed and you’ll be held accountable for his flighty inconsistency? Working for a blood-thirsty boss obsessed with appearance and sent to deal with a reality-TV star who thought this was a photo-op and newest talking point? It was supposed to be a diplomatic meeting, not a suicide mission.

  6. KM says:

    @James:
    There’s a tendency to assume “disappeared” = ” executed”. Out of sight in NK could very well mean something rather permanent happened to you. Reports aren’t always right but on this one, there’s a good chance this is true. Blame the negotiation team for the “failure” and then Kim can go about doing what he was doing, asserting he’s blameless and he tried for peace but his subordinates failed him. If they want to continue their testing, this is good cover for why the summit was such a big deal and yet nothing’s changed.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    No doubt Kim’s murder of his lackeys will just give Trump a boner.

    Which absolutely requires a quote from Stormy…

    “I lay there, annoyed that I was getting fuqed by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart … It may have been the least impressive sex I’d ever had, but clearly, he didn’t share that opinion.”

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    His childish, attention-whore behavior caused actual deaths and he likely couldn’t care less.

    Oh, I think he cares. It excites him. Just look at the way he tries to goad his followers into beating someone up, his NRA fan boys to gun down a football player, or rile up some anti-abortion religious fanatic to kill some doctors or nurses. It’s not new either. The way he went after the Central Park Five, embarking on a personal crusade (and actually spending money!!!!) to have them executed revealed the vicious and psychotic side to his otherwise clownish personality. I think that’s actually a turn on for some of his supporters too, even some of the Trumpers we have here.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Which absolutely requires a quote from Stormy

    You bring up a good point. In Trump’s case calling it a “boner” is probably inaccurate. Maybe, “Fungal Protrusion”?

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  10. Slugger says:

    Our President is sure to say something about this blatant disregard of human rights. Remember his bold actions regarding the Khashoggi dismemberment!

  11. mattbernius says:

    MIT’s Vipin Narang just had a really good take on twitter:

    “Disappeared” doesn’t mean executed….necessarily. But regardless, I think the big picture is that we underestimate how pissed Kim Jong Un was after Hanoi at our own peril.

    https://twitter.com/NarangVipin/status/1134518086969700352

  12. Gustopher says:

    I’m hoping we can figure out how to get Kim angry at his rocket scientists and nuclear engineers.

  13. Kathy says:

    @Slugger:

    We know what Dennison will say. He’ll say “he says he didn’t do it.”

  14. Richard Gardner says:
  15. mattbernius says:

    @Richard Gardner:
    Another report on the same topic.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/purged-not-purged-leading-north-korean-official-re-emerges-in-public/2019/06/03/fbb55d02-85f6-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html?utm_term=.0057cc2168b7

    Which gets to that poorly phrased last line of the original reportage:

    Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report. Previously, North Korean officials have been executed or purged only to reappear with a new title, according to media reports.