Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un who was assassinated in Malaysia in 2017, told a Japanese reporter before his death that he was in contact with the US Central Intelligence Agency.
The Japanese reporter, who asked for anonymity, told the Financial Times that Kim had claimed on multiple occasions during meetings in China that spanned several years that he was “in contact” with CIA operatives.
The claims came ahead of the publication on Tuesday of The Great Successor, a portrait of Kim Jong Un by Anna Fifield, a Washington Post reporter, that says the deceased Kim was an informant for the CIA. The Wall Street Journal on Monday also said he had been a CIA source.
Kim was the eldest — and at one point reportedly favourite — son of Kim Jong Il, the former North Korean leader and father of Kim Jong Un. After falling out of favour in the early 2000s, he went into exile and spent most of his time in the former Portuguese colony of Macau where he was assumed to have financial backing and implicit support from Chinese intelligence.
According to the Japanese reporter, Kim told him that he was aware of the risks of travelling to Malaysia — where Chinese and US intelligence operatives would have more trouble protecting him — in February 2017 but that he needed the money. After his assassination with VX nerve agent at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian authorities found $124,000 in his bag. The CIA declined to comment.
A few months after his death, Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that Malaysian authorities believed Kim had met several days before his demise with a US intelligence operative. In her book, Ms Fifield also said Kim was an “informant” for the CIA who would meet his handlers from the US intelligence agency in Singapore or Malaysia.
The claims about Kim come one year after US President Donald Trump held a historic summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un. While Mr Trump has praised the North Korean leader to the point of saying that the two leaders “fell in love”, US intelligence agencies believe that Kim Jong Un ordered the assassination of his half-brother in Malaysia.
US intelligence also believes Kim Jong Un ordered the killing of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of the two half-brothers, who analysts said was very close to Kim Jong Il. One person familiar with the relationship said Jang was also close to Kim Jong Nam, which may have contributed to his demise.
The CIA has long taken a keen interest in North Korea, particularly as Pyongyang has conducted nuclear tests and developed intercontinental ballistic missiles that many experts believe have the theoretical range to reach the US.
But the north-east Asian nation has proven to be one of the most difficult intelligence targets because of the reclusive nature of the regime, particularly before Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, who died in 2011.
The CIA has also played a role in trying to build channels to Pyongyang. The FT reported last year that in 2012, Michael Morell, then CIA deputy director, went on a secret mission to North Korea to try to create a pipeline that would help generate intelligence on Kim Jong Un.
Under the Trump administration, the CIA created a new mission centre to focus on North Korea. And Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, relied heavily on Andy Kim, a Korean-American former senior CIA officer, in the early talks with Pyongyang that led to the Singapore summit.
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