Pyongyang: CIA plotting to assassinate Kim ... sometime

If Kim Jong-un turns up dead, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security announced today, blame the CIA. In a bizarre statement, the ministry claimed that the US intelligence agency has a plan to assassinate the hereditary dictator of the last Stalinist country, using a “nano poisonous substance,” among other methods.


Does it matter that neither the CIA nor anyone else can get within miles of Kim? Apparently not:

North Korea on Friday accused the CIA of plotting with South Korea to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un, amid soaring tensions in the flashpoint region.

The CIA and Seoul’s Intelligence Services have “hatched a vicious plot” involving unspecified “biochemical substances” to kill the hermit state’s young leader during public ceremonial events in Pyongyang, the Ministry of State Security said.

For the CIA “assassination by use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance is the best method that does not require access to the target, their lethal results will appear after six or twelve months,” the Ministry said in a statement carried by state media.

That’s a pretty strange accusation, even for a regime as weird as the Kim dynasty. The Ministry for State Security has the responsibility for keeping Kim safe, along with the Supreme Guard Command; the two have a similar function as the US Secret Service in that regard. MSS is also a brutal state police force which runs North Korea’s concentration camps and suppresses any sign of dissent. An assassination of a Dear Leader would be an enormous failure of MSS, and a humiliation.


And yet, MSS now warns that the CIA may well succeed in its nano-substance plotting — but won’t admit to the CIA being able to get close enough to pull it off. Instead, they offer some weird conjecture about radioactive and poisonous substances that can be remotely applied and that won’t do the job for months on end. That doesn’t sound like a warning about a CIA plot — it sounds more like a cover-your-ass pre-emptive statement. But for what?

Perhaps it might be tied to a strange decision this week in Pyongyang to bite the hand that feeds them:

North Korea has issued a rare direct criticism of China through a commentary saying its “reckless remarks” on the North’s nuclear program are testing its patience and could trigger unspecified “grave” consequences. …

“China should no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK’s patience,” the North Korean commentary said, using the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations.”

The article was not attributed to any government agency or official; the writer was identified only as Kim Chol. Still, it’s unusual for the North to directly criticize China. Previously it has couched such criticism by referring to China only as “a neighboring country.”


And as the New York Times notes, the editorial thumbed its nose at Beijing’s attempts to rein in their pursuit of nuclear weapons:

“One must clearly understand that the D.P.R.K.’s line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken,” the commentary said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name. “And that the D.P.R.K. will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is.”

China shrugged it off by insisting that it wants only “good neighborly and friendly cooperation” with its client state. That anodyne response might have gotten Pyongyang a little spooked; they had to know how insulting that editorial was, and probably expected a public rebuke. The lack of such might mean that Beijing didn’t take them seriously — or it could have meant that Beijing took it very seriously. They might fear that China has decided that the Kim dynasty is more trouble than it’s worth, and China has lots and lots of access to Kim and his circle.

If Kim does turns up dead, MSS will be looking hard for the assassins … as long as they’re not Chinese. Hence, the CIA and its ninja long-distance assassins (plus Seoul, natch) would have to be the official explanation for both a Kim death and the MSS’ inability to prevent it. It sounds as though everyone has begun looking over their shoulders in North Korea.


Addendum: It’s doubly weird, of course, because of Pyongyang’s recent public assassination of Kim’s older brother Jong-nam. MSS credits the CIA with superhuman powers of assassination, while their own government conducted a clumsy and obvious assassination with chemical weapons in a crowded airport, losing a vital ally and path to get around UN sanctions. In a strange way, MSS offered a critique of its own regime’s abilities.

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David Strom 8:30 PM | February 22, 2024