Weeks of discussion have been needed to get him to agree to an interview, and he is still nervous about who might listen in. Only two of our team members know what we believe is his real name, and he wears dark glasses for the camera.
North Korea’s spy agency officials had to work for Mr Kim for 30 years before he reached the top of the ranks. As the leader’s “eyes, ears, and brain”, the agencies were tasked with collecting information.
A man has been accused of keeping secrets, organising assassinations, and even creating an illegal drugs laboratory to raise “revolutionary” funds.
Usually, such an officer from Pyongyang would not do an interview with a major broadcaster, but this is the first time.
The most intense red was Mr Kim, he says in an exclusive interview. His loyalty was unwavering.
The safety of North Koreans is not ensured by rank or loyalty.
In 2014, he fled for his life and had lived in Seoul since then.
Using instruments like drug deals and weapons sales, he paints a picture of a desperate North Korean leadership that makes cash at any cost. In addition to detailing the secretive country’s spy network and cyber warfare capabilities, he spoke about Pyongyang’s decision-making strategy, its attacks on South Korea and claims the regime’s cyberattacks can reach all corners of the world.
In addition to verifying his identity, we have located corroborating evidence wherever possible to support his claims.
The ‘terror task force’ in North Korea
The experience of Mr Kim in the top intelligence unit of North Korea during his last few years is an interesting window into the career of the current leader, Kim Jong-un. Throughout his narrative, he conveys the image of an eager young man with a desire to prove himself a fighter.
While Kim Jong-un was being groomed to become the next leader of North Korea, the Reconnaissance General Bureau was established in 2009 by North Korea. North Korea’s most trusted aide, Kim Yong-chol, led the bureau as its chief.
In May 2009, a command order was sent down the chain of command to form a “terror task force” in order to assassinate a North Korean defector.
According to Mr Kim, “the act was performed as a means to please the supreme leader (his father).”
I personally directed and carried out the assassination of Hwang Jang-yop with a ‘Terror Force’ secretly formed.
Hank Jang-yop once held a position of high authority in South Korea. The North Korean policy was crafted by him. He was never forgiven for defecting to the South in 1997. The Kim family sought revenge after he had criticised the regime in Seoul.
It appears, however, that the attempt to assassinate Theodore Roosevelt failed. Majors Kim Song-dong and Kim Khal-guk are incarcerated in Seoul for ten years, being charged with the plot. Pyongyang always denied involvement, claiming the attempt had been staged by South Korea.
According to Mr Kim, the evidence suggests otherwise.
He says that Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un use terrorism as a political tool to protect their dignity. Keeping the gift as a token of loyalty to his great leader was the successor’s intention.
Further developments were to follow. Following a torpedo hit in 2010, the Cheonan, a naval vessel belonging to the South Korean navy, sank. A total of 46 people died. Despite claims that Pyongyang was responsible, the ship sank.
Several North Korean artillery shells then found their way onto Yeongpyeong, a South Korean island. Four people were killed, including two soldiers.
Several theories have been advanced regarding who ordered the attack. Despite not participating directly in operations on Cheonan Island or Yeonpyeong Island, Mr Kim said RGB officers were “proud of their accomplishments, which were treated proudly”.
He explains that those operations would not have occurred without top-level orders.
The sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeongpyeong Island are not things that subordinates in North Korea could accomplish. Even the building of a road requires the direct approval of the Supreme Leader.
It is an achievement that Kim Jong-un designed and implemented this kind of military operation.
‘Spy in the Blue House’ of North Korea
The development of strategies for dealing with South Korea was one of Mr Kim’s responsibilities in the North. “Political subordination” was the goal.
It was necessary to keep our eyes and ears open.
He claims that I have ordered spies to perform operative missions through them in south Korea on many occasions.
One intriguing example is all he provides, though he doesn’t elaborate.
The agent worked for six years for the Blue House (South Korea’s Presidential Office), after which he returned safely to North Korea and worked at the 314 Liaison Office of the Labor Party. This took place in the early 1990s.
North Korean operatives have heavily influenced South Korean civil society organizations and institutions.
The world’s poorest and most isolated country may have a 6,000-strong army of hackers, but previous defectors have revealed Pyongyang has created this army of hackers.
Kim Jong-il, in the 1980s, ordered that information technology personnel be trained “in advance of cyberwarfare.”
A student at Moranbong University would receive six years of special education from all over the country, he says.
In 2017, the NHS and other organisations globally were crippled in part by a cyber-attack conducted by the North Korean Lazarus Group, according to British security officials. In 2014, a high-profile hack was carried out against Sony Pictures by the same group.
Mr Kim said that the office used to be called the 414 Liaison Office.
Our internal name for it was Kim Jong-il’s Information Centre.
North Korean leader was directly reached by telephone through this line, he claims.
The office works with North Korean spy agents to communicate with each other, which is not discussed. People claim these agents operate in China, Russia, and Southeast Asian nations.
Drugs for dollars
Korea was recently declared a “crisis”, and Kim Jong-un called for a third “arduous march” in April, alluding to the famine of the 1990s under Kim Jong-il.
Mr Kim was in the Operations Department when he was given raising ‘revolutionary funds’ for the Supreme Leader. Drug dealing was part of that task.
During Kim Jong-il’s Arduous March, North Korea‘s drug production peaked. When the revolutionary funds had run out in the Operational Department, the Supreme Leader had run out of money.
“I assigned three foreigners to the task, created a production base in the 715 partnership office, which is responsible for liaison with foreign nations and made drugs with their help.
I cashed it in for dollars, then presented them to Kim Jong-il.” “It was crystal meth (ICE).”
Indeed, he was dealing drugs at that time based on his account. In North Korea, heroin and opium are the most common drugs produced. During the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2019, The Yong-ho, another former North Korean diplomat in the UK, said the country was engaged in state-sponsored drug trafficking and trying to deal with its domestic drug addiction epidemic.
What happened to the drug money? Asked to Mr Kim. Did it become cash for the people?
To clarify, the North Korean leader owns all the money in the country,” he explains. This money would enable him to build villas, buy cars, eat, wear and enjoy luxurious lifestyles.
There was a prolonged food shortage in North Korea during the 1990s that caused several hundred thousand and over a million deaths.
In September, a new cruise missile, a train-launched ballistic missile, a hypersonic missile, and an anti-aircraft missile were all tested.
Technological advancements are increasing steadily.
The North Korean leader also described Pyongyang’s sale of weapons and technology to countries fighting long civil wars. Recent accusations against North Korea by the United Nations place it in the same category as Syria, Myanmar, Libya and Sudan as a supplier of weapons.
According to the UN, Pyongyang’s weapons will inevitably find their way into many troubled corners of the world.
North Korea: ‘A loyal servant betrayed’
In North Korea, Mr Kim enjoyed a privileged lifestyle. According to him, Kim Jong-un’s aunt provided him with a Mercedes-Benz automobile, and he was able to travel freely abroad to raise funds for his uncle. A suitcase containing millions of dollars would then be brought back into the country after selling rare metals and coal.
This is a life that few can imagine, let alone live, in an impoverished country where millions suffer from food shortages.
Through his marriage, Kim was able to move between intelligence agencies because of his powerful political connections. He and his family were also placed at risk as a result of those connections.
He purged his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, shortly after ascending to the throne in 2011. As Kim Jong-il’s health began to deteriorate, Jang had been seen as the de facto leader of North Korea.
Kim Jong-un’s name was less well-known than Jang Song-thaek, according to Mr Kim.
He says that’s the moment he felt Jang Song-thaek wouldn’t last long and that he would go to the countryside.
State media in North Korea then announced the execution of Mr Jang in December 2013.
Kim says he was appalled by the attack. “I was more than surprised; it was a fatal blow.” Immediately I felt in danger of my life, and I knew North Korea was no longer a place for me.”
A newspaper article about Kim’s execution reached him while he was abroad. The family decided to flee to South Korea, so he made a plan to leave.
He says leaving his country, where my ancestor’s grave and family is, and escaping to South Korea, a foreign country at the time, was the worst emotional decision he has ever made.
Even behind his dark glasses, he could be having trouble remembering things.
Our many meetings, and long hours of discussion, leave me with one question: why is he speaking right now?
I have no alternative but to do this,” he says. In the future, I will participate more actively in freeing my Northern brothers from dictatorship and enabling them to enjoy true freedom.”
The number of defectors in South Korea exceeds 30,000, and the media rarely interviews defectors.
The South Korean government is also sceptical about the lives of defectors. After all, how can their testimony be trusted?
It was a very unusual life that Mr Kim led. North Korea’s story can be understood as a whole, not as his particular account.
The North Korean culture, its society, and its thinking all believe that ultimate obedience to the Supreme Leader is a guiding principle. These principles make it possible to cultivate loyal citizens over generations.
This interview takes place at an exciting time. According to Kim Jong-un, if certain conditions are met, he is likely to talk to South Korea.
Yet, he offers another warning here as well.
The North Korean government has not changed much in the years since he came here, he says.
We are continuing our strategy. Remember, North Korea hasn’t changed a single tenth.”