An assassination that started off like James Bond may have turned into The Man with One Red Shoe. ABC News reported this morning that Malaysian authorities have caught up with one of the super-spies that took out Kim Jong-nam in the airport yesterday. How did they find her? They looked for the shirt with “LOL” on it. No, really:
Malaysian police arrested a woman Wednesday in the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s exiled half brother who South Korean spies say once begged his sibling to spare his life. …
Also Wednesday, Malaysian police arrested a woman carrying Vietnamese travel documents bearing the name Doan Thi Huong at the Kuala Lumpur airport budget terminal, where Kim Jong Nam was attacked. It was not immediately clear whether the passport was genuine. She was identified using earlier surveillance video from the airport, police said.
Still photos of the video, confirmed as authentic by police, showed a woman in a skirt and long-sleeved white T-shirt with “LOL” across the front.
Let’s parse this out a bit. Clearly, someone wanted Kim dead so badly that they were willing to stage the assassination in public. Perhaps that was even part of the intent — to send a message pour encourager les âutres in the North Korean defector community. That job would go to the most adept and capable covert-ops personnel available, presumably. Given the nature of the venue — an airport, with tons of security and surveillance cameras all over the place — even an amateur would look for ways to blend into the background and ensure that she provided no visual reference that could identify her later.
This suspect, if she’s the actual assassin, literally LOL’d at such precautions. She may have provided a potential windfall to Pyongyang’s enemies because of her wardrobe choice. If they have the right woman, Malaysian intelligence officials and those of their allies have a golden opportunity to interrogate a North Korean agent and roll up her network, and perhaps glean more insight into the NK intelligence operation’s personnel and capabilities. Hope assassinating one ne’er-do-well, bumbling scion of a dynasty was worth it. Next time, send an assassin wearing a #YOLO sweatshirt.
Speaking of which, why did Kim go to such lengths to take out Jong-nam? The Associated Press thinks a recent South Korean newspaper report of an alleged desire to defect may have pushed the dictator over the edge:
The spotty South Korean intelligence community ascribed the North’s motivation in killing Kim Jong Nam, without any elaboration, simply to Kim Jong Un’s “paranoia.” There is a more intriguing possibility floating around Seoul, however: The tipping point in North Korea’s bloody calculations may have been a largely ignored South Korean news story from last week.
A national daily, the Kyunghyang Shinmun, reported that Kim Jong Nam tried to defect to South Korea several years ago and had served, in the 2000s, as a middleman between disgraced current South Korean President Park Geun-hye and officials in North Korea.
Kim Jong Un may have clenched his teeth and carried on when he heard reports of his half brother’s exploits in Macau casinos, and even when Kim Jong Nam, often photographed in an expensive, untucked, button-down shirt and newsboy cap, questioned in 2010 the need for a third generation of the Kim family to rule in Pyongyang.
But public reports in rival South Korea of alleged close dealings between a direct relative of North Korea’s ruling dynasty and high officials in Seoul — and possible attempts to defect to the South — could have represented a serious challenge to a leader who portrays his family as the only legitimate power on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim’s other brother, Jong-chol, hasn’t been seen since 2015. If he’s still alive, he’d better keep a low profile, too.