US Interrogators Go For Kim Jong-un’s General


11 April 2016


US interrogators have been working over a North Korean general. No water boarding.  No white sound. No hood. No extraordinary rendition. This one was a walk-in. This was a two-star North Korean general who defected from his Dear Leader last year.

The word in Washington and Seoul is unanimous. The man is no has been looking for a  a never empty rice bowl. On the day he jumped the general was head of overseas Intelligence gathering for North Korea’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance. He was the officer who signed off spy operations against South Korea including US force capabilities in the south.

So, what have the interrogations produced? There are four main phases of interrogation for the two-star.

Firstly and immediately he needs checking out. Is he who he says he is? Why has he come over? It has to be understood that this man did not simply climb over the fence one dark and stormy night. Why now? Why not before? Why not next year? It took a lot of planning and nerve and a need for reassurances before he jumped. Was his move pure Le Carre? Did he come in from his northern cold? Who were his handlers from day one?  What promises of protection and comfort were made?

Secondly, the first phase of practical interrogation is tactical questioning. His interrogators South Korean and American started list building. Names of senior people. Their jobs. What is everyone working on now?

Immediately and importantly, he has handed over a list of all the North Korean spies and wiring diagrams of spying operations by his people in South Korea.

The general has also given what he thinks he knows about key tactical plans by North Korea: test firings, power demonstrations, readiness states of forces, senior personnel changes. This phase is on-going. The general is now having to do a daily reading of  the North. What does this action mean? Who is this person we have not seen before? Etc.

The third stage is strategic intelligence. For example, he has been asked about Kim’s personal standing among senior generals – thus what chance a palace revolution.

The longer look interrogation has included power levels of general officers, state of mind of The Dear Leader, military capababilities and matching intentions (if any known) plus the all-important routines of North Korean leaders – Kim is not the only authority in the state. The interrogators have established and in some cases confirmed what they were not sure about and raised questions about what they thought was true.

Who meets, when they meet, under whose chairmanship, to whom they report has two-fold significance: it suggests power levels and confirms patterns that are indicators of events about to happen.

They key question on the interrogation list it seems could not be answered with any certainty. The general revealed information and confirmed what is already thought about what is going on in North Korea. However, although he said what he believes about capabilities he could not get far with the intentions of Kim Jong-un. Put simply, he said that this is what the leader has but the general had not idea what he intends to do with it.

There has apparently been an important uncertainty in the interrogation. Officers have had to spend time deconstructing the answers from the general.  There has been a suspicion that sometimes he simply told the Americans what he thought they wanted to hear – to make himself more important.

The two main assets the general has brought south are one practical and two theoretical: He has given the South Koreans and the Americans the names and operations of North Korean spying operations and plans. He has also given his thinking on what the United States has long believed to be the only practical solution beyond warfare to relations with North Korea: the possibility of a palace revolution.

We have the answer to the last question: if there was chance of a palace revolution and the replacement of Kim Jong-un by his own people then why would the general have defected?

Moreover it is understood (whoever that can mean in this situation) that he feared his loyalties were being questioned and that would mean execution. However that is read, the Americans are assuming the Dear Leader is there for the long term.

They now need the general to give a running explanation of every move from now on. British Intelligence will nod to that one. It is a game they too have played.

In 1985 a Soviet KGB colonel Oleg Gordievsky who had worked for British Intelligence was brought back to the UK.  He spent years after that telling British governments, including that of Margaret Thatcher, exactly what the USSR was up to.

Taken as precedent, that should be a comfortable day job for the two-star general.




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