Like much of what goes on in North Korea, little is truly known about Kim Yong Chol — the former spy chief who plans to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York this week.
But observers of the reclusive North, including the Wilson Center’s Jean Lee, believe “Kim Yong Chol is the man who whispers in Kim Jong Un’s ear. Not only does he advise him on strategy, but he also conveys the leader’s demands.”
Kim Yong Chol’s numerous titles and positions in North Korea make him one of the country’s most powerful individuals. His duties include director of intelligence and chief of South Korean relations.
He was previously head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency. Seoul has accused him of masterminding the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010, drowning 46 sailors.
The United States believes Kim was responsible for an alleged 2014 North Korean cyberattack on Sony Pictures in response to the comedy “The Interview,” about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un.
The North denied both incidents.
The United States targeted Kim Yong Chol with sanctions. He would need a travel waiver to come to New York.
The North Korea Leadership Watch website described Kim Yong Chol as sarcastic, hard to work with, and somewhat independent because it said he is “not properly deferential to his superiors.”
The website also described him as a highly intelligent, competent and uncorrupt manager.