As we look back on the life of the brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, there are many myths and much propaganda to sort through before we find the truth about him. For starters, he wasn’t actually “Kim Jong-Il;” his real name was Yuri Irsenovich Kim.
A scratched childhood picture of Yuri Irsenovich Kim, better known as Kim Jong-il, second from left, along with childhood friends and a Soviet playmate Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP
North Korea watchers have known this, and other officially secret details about his life, for a long time – but a great summery of his real biography was posted on, of all places, Pravda:
Kim Jong-il’s official biography states that he was born in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain in Japanese Korea on 16 February 1942. Official biographers claim that his birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the mountain and a new star in the heavens. Soviet records show that Kim Jong-il was born in the village of Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, in 1941, where his father, Kim Il-sung, commanded the 1st Battalion of the Soviet 88th Brigade, made up of Chinese and Korean exiles. Kim Jong-il’s mother, Kim Jong-suk, was Kim Il-sung’s first wife. The boy was named Yuri Irsenovich Kim, according to Soviet records.
The political career of Kin jong-il began in 1961, when he joined the Labor Party of the DPRK. In 1973, he took the position of the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party. In 1974, he became a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Labor Party. In 1982, he became a deputy of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK. He also supervised the work of special forces and organized terrorist attacks.
Kim Jong-il became the supreme commander of the People’s Army of Korea in December 1991. In 1992, he ascended to the title of the Marshall of the DPRK. In 1993, Kim became the chairman of the Defense Committee of Korea. He received absolute power in North Korea in 1994.
In 2004, NPR went to the little Russian town where Kim was born to talk to people who were there when he was born (where his dad was hiding from the Japanese behind the skirt of the Red Army – they even talk to a former KGB operative who describes the training of his dad to be the Korean Stalin).
The pre-1994 Kim-organized terrorist attacks referred to in the piece were planned and orchestrated with the help of the Soviets (Pravda left that part out – shocking, I know). After the sinking of a South Korean ship last year, the late Hwang Jang Yop, the highest ranking North Korean official ever to defect to the South, “introduced the story of a meeting between Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung right after the Rangoon Bombing of 1983, when North Korean agents tried and failed to kill then-South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan but succeeded in killing a number of other high officials at the Martyr’s Mausoleum in Rangoon, the former capital of Myanmar. Kim Jong Il boasted that the Aung San terrorist incident was a success for his secret agents, but once the terrorists were caught and North Korea’s involvement revealed, world opinion turned against North Korea. Then, Kim Il Sung said “World opinion has gone bad, why don’t we say that the military did it of its own accord?” But Kim Jong Il vehemently opposed the idea.'”
On his website, Edward Jay Epstein recounts a conversation he had with former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton:
His eyes sharpened like those of a hawk when he fastened on the details of the event he was describing. It was the recent assassination of 17 South Korean officials during a state visit to Burma.
On October 9, 1983, while the President of South Korea, Chun Doo Hwan, and members of his cabinet and staff were attending a wreath laying ceremony at the Martyrs Mausoleum outside Rangoon, four powerful bombs were detonated by remote control. They had been concealed in the roof of the shrine in such a way that they had not been detected by either South Korean or Burmese security. Although President Chun escaped injury because of a momentary delay in his schedule, the explosion killed 13 of his top aides and four of his cabinet ministers. In a single well planned coup, a major part of the South Korean government had been obliterated.
The assassins were caught the next as they day attempted to leave the country. When Burmese police challenged them, the three assassins tried to kill themselves with explosives. One died and two survived badly wounded. Under interrogation, the survivors admitted that they were captains in an elite unit of North Korean military intelligence that specialized in cover actions. They further explained that they had entered Burma September 22 on forged diplomatic passports issued to them in North Korea. They said that their orders included detailed instructions on how to carry out the assassination, they received the plastic explosives through the embassy pouch, and, during the two weeks it took them to plant the explosives, they had stayed at the residence of the North Korean embassy counselor. The police investigation confirmed their story. Their personal documents that had been expertly fabricated were vouched for by the Embassy . They had access to secret communications between the South Korean and Burmese governments that could only be intercepted by a sophisticated intelligence service. The plastic explosives had been manufactured in Eastern Europe, and designed especially to fit into the roof of the shrine. The remote control detonators used state of the art electronics. And a re-examination of the surveillance of the North Korean Embassy showed that they were aided and sheltered by North Korean embassy officials in Rangoon.
“It is rare to find such a clear example of a state act” Angleton delicately said. He pointed out that states usually have the ability to hide their assassinations. “A common thug can kill someone, but it takes the talents of an intelligence service to make a murder appear to be a suicide or accident death.” Of course, Angleton’s real concern was not what had happened Burma or what would happen in Korea but the nature of the statecraft practiced by Soviet bloc nations. For him, there was still the nagging problem of what he called “the relationship.”
“It may be politically convenient to assume that Soviet bloc intelligence services act independently of the Soviet Union, especially when it concerns an assassination, but what we don’t really know, or perhaps want to know, is what is the nature of the relationship between the KGB and other Communist intelligence services.” He pointed out that the issue could not be peremptorily disposed of. Golitsyn and other defectors had described an extraordinary degree of coordination between these services, guaranteed by a systematic Soviet penetration of the top ranks of satellite services by the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate. One role assigned the satellite services, according to these defectors, was to afford the Soviet Union cover, distance, and deniability in potentially embarrassing operations. In the case of North Korea, Soviet intelligence had established, staffed, trained and supplied its service. Moreover, using a kind of a “barium test” in which intelligence was especially concocted so that it could be traced as it was passed from one intelligence service to another, the CIA had been able to determine that the Soviets passed messages they intercepted through their Pacific signals satellite concerning the location of American ships in Korean waters to North Korean intelligence. This sort of cooperation had continued, according to Angleton’s sources, up until the shrine bombing. “Remember, The North Koreans needed, and got, very exact communication intelligence.”
There were other attacks he was known to have ordered – particularly the 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, killing 115 – but the point has been made.
Fortunately, his death means one less remnant of the Evil Empire to deal with.