Green Room

Kim Chong is Ill…

posted at 11:03 am on July 8, 2009 by

Kim Chong-il, now 67-ish, is not in good health.

This despite having access to the best medical care he can afford.

All the living high on the hog while the rest of the country developed new recipes for grass and tree bark certainly hasn’t done him a whole lot of good.  His parties at the Magnolia Pavilion inside the Korean Workers Party compound in P’yongyang are the stuff of legend…and all of it true, nonetheless.  His having North Korean diplomatic missions abroad providing massive volumes of Courvoisier and other expensive treats to satisfy his high-end tastes in food and drink consumed massive amounts from the foreign affairs treasury as well as the overall national treasury.

Officially, the Korean Workers Party is still making sure every office, factory, and home has one of the official portraits of the Dear Leader in the most prominent place.  Usually at least a foot higher than any other object on any given wall or room.

And then there is this most recent video capture…

and this one from a few months ago…

And, there is this one…first time available on the internet…from my private collection…the Dear Leader in 1992, on his 50th Birthday…

Yep…he has aged poorly in the past decade or so.

A dying tiger can be a most dangerous animal.

Recently in the Green Room:

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Yep, Kim the younger is not looking good.

Worse, he’s apparently named a very young successor – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8078324.stm his youngest son.

If the old, dying Kim doesn’t start something, the long knives his young son will have to face may cause something unintended – and worse, we’ll then have a relative n00b running an impoverished nuclear power.

What could possibly go wrong?

Mew

acat on July 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Maybe he’ll strap himself to a nuke and hit Hawaii.

Tazz 55 on July 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Tazz 55 on July 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM

You mean something like this?

What could possibly go wrong?

Mew

acat on July 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM

There may already be trouble in the Workers Paradise over succession…the youngest son, presently heir apparent, is not at all well-liked by his two older siblings.

And the oldest, Kim Jong Nam, who we used to call “Cute Leader” based on a photo of him in Zurich sporting an earring and spiked hair, has a penchant for being outright nasty to any with whom he disagrees. So much so that after he was asked to leave Switzerland by Swiss authorities for all sorts of antics, he was sent to Moscow and then the Russians asked that the hooligan go home…and it was a bit of a diplomatic problem for North Korea at the time…seems there were those inside North Korea (to include family members) who did not want him back home, either.

And, Kim Jong Nam, may be looking toward defecting to China. He is presently in Macau.

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 11:32 AM

cw, what are the odds that North Korea, if it tried, could hit anything it aimed at with a ballistic missile, and do we have any evidence that the Norks have mastered turning their nukes into warheads? Haven’t their nuclear tests been bombs – more in the Hollywood sense than the military one?

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 11:44 AM

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 11:44 AM
—-
Nothing happens in isolation. The Iranians have some decent SCUD derivatives, no? (the SCUD being descended from the V2, IIRC)

Mew

acat on July 8, 2009 at 11:52 AM

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 11:44 AM

From what I have seen of their long-range missile launches they have a long long way to go to get an effective CEP. They are firing ballistic missiles…post-launch guidance seems to be a weak area for them. (Missile guidance, not Guidance from the Dear Leader, which has the effect of law.)

Second, they are essentially kit-bashing (for non model builders and model rail fans, kit-bashing is a common way of trying to use pieces of several different things to make something new.) And in kit-bashing, the North Koreans have to finese a lot more than if they were able to build a system in toto from the ground up. Physics, engineering, avionics and such can’t just be tossed into a pot and pieces drawn out with any sort of success.

Next, their long-range missiles are not weapons…yet. They are liquid-fueled…and on average have taken from several days to a week or longer to fuel up. [The Iranians are working on solid-fuel systems. More mobile, easier to stop, spot, and fire than a liquid-fuel system. Cheaper, too, in the long run. Should Iran decide to give this sort of thing to North Korea, the entire game changes.]

Warheads. A problem. The longer the range the smaller the package. Getting to that smaller package so far has been a tough row to hoe for the North Koreans.

To hit us with a missile…a targeted missile…still seems a long way off. A random shoot, a Hail Mary play, perhaps not so long a way off.

One of the most effective means to deploy a weapon to South Korea or Japan may not be a missle at all. An Il-28 Beagle or An-2 Colt might be as good of a targeted weapon the North Koreans need to muster. Each has very good nap of earth capabilities (under the radar) and each can carry a pretty significant weight for their size. North Korea has these in abundance. It’d be a one-way flight. But practically undetectable until the weapons goes off over target, or on target with a very dedicated pilot.

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 12:03 PM

acat,

Last I checked (the book I just reviewed in a recent Green Room post), the distance between managing a nuclear detonation and turning it into a predictably deliverable warhead is a lot further than a walk in the park.

grrrr

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 12:04 PM

acat on July 8, 2009 at 11:52 AM

The SCUD system is a liquid fuel rocket. They normally use a unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), which has been known to explode just for the heck of it, and is highly corrosive. Put it in a fuel truck longer than overnight…and you need a new fuel truck. Same as fueling a SCUD..fuel it fire it. Do not fuel it and wait for a dsay or two or try to un-fuel it. Dangerous in the extreme.

[BTW, the first SCUDS obtained by North Korea were not given to them by the Soviets. Got their first batch from Egypt. Many years ago. NK reverse-engineered them and built their own SCUD derivatives from these intitial airframes.]

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 12:08 PM

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 12:04 PM
—–
CK,

Agree, but one must remember that we’re playing defense – and close counts in nuclear bombs just as in horseshoes.

A “near miss” on, say, Oahu, will likely just hit the water… and what effect several tons of vaporised and irradiated water coming down as rain would have …

A “near miss” on, say, Istanbul, would have a far higher chance of hitting something important just by way of it being on land somewhere…

Mew

acat on July 8, 2009 at 12:11 PM

cw – if the Norks built a bomb – say a Hiroshima-like device – and tried to transfer it to an airplane, aren’t the odds pretty good that it would be detected? If Dear Sicko was planning to go out with a bang, aren’t there any number of Little Sickos who might prefer to linger among the living and powerful for a while, and thus be more likely to stop, sabotage, or even sellout the effort than just salute and praise Marxism-Leninism-Kimism?

I think he’d be a lot more likely to be smothered with a pillow by a Korean Pretorian than get off a pointlessly mass murderous and regime-suicidal nuclear Hail Mary, and, as weird and decadent as he may be, he knows it.

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 12:17 PM

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 12:17 PM

Reason and rationality have never been one of the Dear Leader’s strong points.

If you are loyal, you get rewards…even if that loyalty involves a huge personal risk. The Rangoon Bombing, the KAL flight downed over the Indian Ocean, and a lot more in between carried out at the behest of the Dear Leader.

If you are a foreign affairs officer and sent to Bumjumbura or Vienna…your spouse, or one or all of your kids, stays home in P’yongyang. You screw it up, they die, or spend the rest of their short lives making small rocks from big rocks by hand.

Each year, every NK officer over the rank of Colonel makes a personal loyalty oath to the Dear leader…a pledge of money, a completed project, or other enhancements for the Dear leader. Same for all upper level NK officials, especially those allowed to go overseas. Same as the entire membership of the Military Commission and National Assembly. One pledges on their life annually to over-produce, out produce or produce something new and exciting for the Dear Leader, especially something that brings in foreign currency, and a lot of it.

In return, the Dear Leader provides “love gifts” showing his love for his loyal subjects…these can be as basic as aspirin…or as lavish as a new house on the Taedong River in P’yongyang, a new Mercedes or permission to travel abroad.

Therein lies your answer…

Are there willing subjects of the Dear Leader who, in order to keep their family members, siblings children, alive, would follow an order, “Melt Tokyo!” without hesitation?

Nothing rational at all among those who are most loyal to the Dear Leader. He has even demoted, sent to the provinces, or imprisoned his own family members and close cousins over the years for not showing enough “loyalty.”

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 12:30 PM

“if the Norks built a bomb – say a Hiroshima-like device – and tried to transfer it to an airplane, aren’t the odds pretty good that it would be detected?”

Ever visit GoogleEarth? Almost as good as the overhead we worked with back in the 80′s and 90′s.

North Korea has dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of underground facilities, many interconnected. In looking at NK airfields on can see there are openings to underground hangers well off from the airfield itself, taxiways/roads leading from the apron over a mile to a sudden stop at the side of a hill. The physical transfer of a cased weapon and placing it on the aircraft is relatively easy, and yes, quite undetectable.

Movement of that weapon, if uncased, might be detected. But a cased weapon? Unless the NK’s were foolish enough to have a several-dozen vehicle security convoy for the weapon. But, they do not need to do that. One vehicle, perhaps two. No threat of a couple armed trucks being intercepted by the locals. One or two trucks is very common on North Korean roads and highways. More than ten vehicles on any mile-long stretch of road outside of P’yongyang…that would immediately be a red flag to any imagery analyst.

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 12:44 PM

Let me put it this way, then, cw – even flying nap-of-the-Earth wouldn’t an airplane leaving Nork airspace be somewhat detectable? In other words, we might not have a 100% certainty, even in a most heavily surveilled region of the world, of detecting such a plane, but could a Nork planner have high confidence that it would actually reach its target? Given the technical problems the Norks have encountered with their nukes even under carefully controlled circumstances, and given the fact that, as far as we know, they’ve never been able to test their designs, could the Nork in question have high confidence that the bomb would even work?

I still think that, regardless of loyalty oaths and love-gifts, you have to presume an unrealistically high level of simultaneous mass murderous/mass suicidal psychosis to imagine such an utterly pointless project – a cause of war and an invitation to internally or externally originated decapitation from the moment of inception – being put into effect.

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 1:16 PM

I still think that, regardless of loyalty oaths and love-gifts, you have to presume an unrealistically high level of simultaneous mass murderous/mass suicidal psychosis to imagine such an utterly pointless project – a cause of war and an invitation to internally or externally originated decapitation from the moment of inception – being put into effect.

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 1:16 PM

December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 had just such characteristics of “mass murderous/mass suicidal psychosis,” unrealistic or not. Not to mention that the North Koreans grow up under such a level of indoctrination and under a system so alien to us that trying to guess their reactions in given situations is a sketchy proposition at best.

hillbillyjim on July 8, 2009 at 1:57 PM

hillbillyjim – both 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 made sense politically for the originators. That doesn’t mean that their plans worked, just that they made sense, the former as a low-odds gamble combined with perhaps willful underestimation of the enemy (us), the latter as a “normal” act of terrorism by a non-state movement/group that believed itself on the rise and aimed to expose the vulnerability of the US.

The particular plot we’re assessing requires the Norks, ignoring all dangers even of making the attempt and the near-certainty of their destruction whether or not finally successful, to sneak a bomb that may not work onto a plane that may not reach its target for no purpose other than to kill some thousands of Koreans or Japanese.

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 2:13 PM

To repeat myself,

trying to guess their reactions in given situations is a sketchy proposition at best.

Granted, it is an unlikely scenario, but it is far from out of the realm of possibility. Realistically, the possibility of this and a hundred other “unlikely” scenarios must be treated with dead seriousness. It is unwise to overly credit such a regime with what we consider rational thought processes given the circumstances and the stakes.

hillbillyjim on July 8, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Maybe, hillbillyjim, but, even if the Norks have turned themselves into human aliens – unconcerned with their own futures or survival, or with dynastic concerns in the case of Kim, or with anything but some kind of psychotically-aggressive Jonestown syndrome – and the attack was successfully brought off, it would be a huge tragedy for whoever happened to be killed by the bomb, and an even bigger tragedy for some number of bystanders too close to the targets of whatever retaliation, but the direct impact on the US and its interests would likely be minimal. The indirect impacts might be significant, but so would a thousand other things that might happen somewhere in the world at any moment.

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 2:32 PM

One of the scenarios I’ve been bouncing around has todo with this past 4th of July weekend and the apparent North Korean hacking a good number of US government systems.

How many did they try to hack? Which ones? In which sequence? And what was their level of success? 50%? 30%? Perhaps less than 10%?

We are vulnerable as more and more government systems are accessible from the outside. Used to be nearly 100% of military sites were controlled by DefLink, and one had to be a “member” to gain access. A good number of government systems are presently accessible from the outside…for convenience of customers, clients and those who need to gain legitimate access outside of DefLink or other controlled or bigoted systems.

If the NK’s were more successful…if they had an ability (aided by the Chinese, since most of their net traffic is routed through China) to hit more sites/systems or hit sites/systems on demand, could they not cause serious problems with our government systems first, or simultaneously, and then carry out some sort of mischief elsewhere?

Their understanding of how our government works is not all that sophisticated. Their understanding of how our internet comms work, and other systems connected to the net as well, seems to be lacking in many respects. But, the mere fact they tried…that suggests something larger. They are probing.

I remember a couple senior members of Congress, and a few members of the then Administration, in the way back, the 90′s, suggesting that North Korea would no longer be a problem since the USSR dissolved and China had “turned West.” They believed that North Korea would very soon dry up and blow away. They were wrong, then. Those who still believe such are wrong today.

When you have a captive population, wherein less than 1% of the population has complete control over the other 99%, it makes planning a lot more simple. A very high-level NK defector in the 90′s stated that the NK’s really didn’t need to actually have a battlefield nuke capability…they only had to convince their soldiers that they did, tell them that they had a nuclear umbrella, to be used if they got bogged down heading South. The troops, assured that if they got in a jam would be rescued with the vaporizing of the ROK Army or the US Second Infantry Division, would be more prone to hit hard. A few hundred thousand dead soldiers meant nothing. They do have the third or fourth largest army in the world, insofar as manpower goes. And the highest percentage of military service members as a portion of the population anywhere in the world.

They control the message domestically…which is why they tend to arrest and jail outsiders who facilitate outside information coming in, or inside information going out, as the recent episode involving two American journalist attests.

They may be the “Mouse that Roared” in many ways…but given the chance, or pushed to the wall, they will roar…rational or not.

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 2:45 PM

cw, the conventional explanation is that Little Kim & Co. are trying to hand off as “strong” a position as possible to Itsy-Bitsy Kim and the support structure. All of this flailing would be meant to demonstrate actual and potential threats and deterrence, making everyone else wary about pushing too hard or taking advantage. There might be more to it than that, but it seems to me a better explanation than trying to go out with a bang.

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 3:18 PM

CK MacLeod on July 8, 2009 at 3:18 PM

Yes, the doom and gloom thing does get old…but is still a viable (wrong word, I know) option for the Kim Dynasty…should it look like the end of the Dynasty is approaching. More than once Kim Chong-il has referenced a ring of fire demise for Japan and South Korea. He wants to be recognized on par with his father. Going out quietly, and having the regime fall apart, does not an epic hero make.

Little itsy-bitsy Kim [Kim Jong-un] apparently has been placed in charge of the Ministry of Public Security…the national police…not an intelligence assignment, but he does have access to the provinces and can establish his own network of personally loyal officials, if he plays his cards right. The former Minister of Public Security, Paek Hak-nim, started out as a Kim Il-sung appointee right after the Korean War and kept the job well into this decade…even the Great Leader was reluctant to dismiss him. Under the MSS is the border patrol forces, a paramilitary outfit, and at least one brigade of special service troops…and a cop in every village and hamlet, factory or organization, in the country.

I’d say this low profile assignment (for the West) might be what Kim Jong Un, itsy-bitsy Kim, might need to establish himself in his own right. But, time is slipping away…and the little Kim doesn’t seem to have the time to establish that necessary personal network.

Thus the loyalty of the military is paramount, even above the loyalty of the Korean Workers Party. Saber rattling for the sake of building the military’s image, spending money on them, making them current-day heroes in the eyes of the rest of the country serves to help them think about assisting the young Kim as the next transition takes place.

And yes, showing the Koreans that North Korea is still a force to be reckoned by the rest of the world with makes that transition a bit less dangerous…for the Kim Dynasty.

In any case, and your hypothesis is very valid, and logical, kim Chong-il is looking at far fewer days remaining than he had planned. He has a fractured family, more so today than a decade ago, and the new Military Commission includes a few long-term Kim Chong-il loyalists who could gain quite a lot for themselves if they were to turn on the youthful Kim Jong-un once Dear Leader has shuffled off his mortal coil.

Thus, the generally dismissive attitude by the West toward North Korea that consumed most of the 90′s and this past near-decade needs to be refocused…we’ve been at war with them since June 1950, for goodness sake. Assuming anything about North Korea separate from anything else about North Korea gets one in trouble and fast.

Their recent enhanced ties with nations such as Burma, Laos, and sub-rosa ties to the Russians (a very large number of North Korean workers are in Siberia, doing jobs that Russians won’t do) and China’s reluctance to sanction North Korea, as well as solid ties to Iran, lesser with Syria, and a host of other problem nations, makes them still a force to be reckoned with, not dismissed.

coldwarrior on July 8, 2009 at 4:14 PM

They all look pretty bad in that photo. And… I thought it was Philippinos in Russia doing jobs that Russians won’t do. Perhaps the NK’s are doing the jobs Philippinos won’t do or the other way around. Things have changed a lot–there used to be no job at all that a Russian wouldn’t do.

jeanie on July 8, 2009 at 5:18 PM

Coldwarrior,

Enjoyed the great analysis. I’m still thinking of ways to send a message to Kim Chong -ll. I don’t thing there are enough C-RAMs available to protect Seoul. The NK artillery problem is the long pole in the tent, AFAIC.

Looked at North Korea uncovered. http://www.nkeconwatch.com/north-korea-uncovered-google-earth/

Could we drop a concrete small diameter bomb, labeled in Korean” From an unhappy US of A” right into one of the elite’s swimming pools? Without causing a wider war? There can’t be many pool repair people in NK.
Piss off the leaders, and cause more resourced devoted to leader comforts. I get the feeling that the country is extremely poor, and the more we make them waste, the safer the world could be. All actions would be disavowed by the Secretary of State, of course. No one would believe that our current president would do such a thing.

NaCly dog on July 9, 2009 at 2:08 PM

NaCly dog on July 9, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Excellent site, by the way, have visited it a number of times…pretty solid. Nice use of imagery to augment the commentary.

As a diversion, we used to watch the arrival of oil (from Iran, normally) into Nampo, sometimes on the upper east coast) and then view the nighttime overhead and see a smattering of lights go on in Nampo or elsewhere (the oil facilities and refinery) and then watch the trail of lights extend across the country into P’yongyang. At times, the only lights visible from overhead are those of P’yongyang. The rest of the country is as dark as the central Sahara.

As the opil fired power plants ran out of oil, the string of lights would go out, almost in sequence.

OK…we really should have gotten out more…but it was an educational diversion nonetheless.

The largest drain on the NK economy is the military and will be for the near term. Then there is the drain of the elkites…less than 1% of the population.

Along the China border, things were rather loose for a while, have really tightened up after the Ling affair. But, NK’s along the border can see China, and many still have relatives in China, right across the river. At some point, as thigns get worse, more military spending, more moiney going to buy off the elites, and less and less being seen by the 99% of the people who have nothing to begin with…the rod will break.

Even more of the elites are starting to break and more openly. For example, KCI’s oldest son is living in Macau, with a following. Plenty of casinos for his tastes, and access to Hong Kong with a fake ID, so to speak. China tries to keep a close eye on him.

But the true revolutionaries, those who at one time espoused chuche and cholima and the Three Revolutions and all that nonsense are being found less and less. It is coming down to “what can I get for myself, and who do I have to step over to get it” among the elites in the past few years.

Kim Chong-il is deathly sick…I’d give him the end of summer at best…won’t see Christmas.

As for Seoul..had a very senior US Army officer a few years back tell me that we’d know we were at war with North Korea about ten minutes after the first barrage of incoming hit Yongsan Compound…that is about the best forewarning they could hope for.

As for Dear Leader, he looked pretty fit on his 50th B-day…such a rapid decline, has to be more than just a stroke, there has to be something else going on. Wouldn’t rule out an STD.

coldwarrior on July 9, 2009 at 3:35 PM

CW,

Thanks.

NaCly dog on July 10, 2009 at 4:24 PM

Scooped FoxNews online.

Is FoxNews getting their leads from the Greenroom?

coldwarrior on July 10, 2009 at 5:31 PM