Mystery solved? Spy agency says Kim Jong Un had ankle surgery

After all of the delicious rumors swirling around this story for months on end, it will come as as a rather anticlimactic conclusion if it turned out that Kim Jung Un just had a rather advanced case of cankles.

South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday it has solved the mystery of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s 6-week public absence, which set off a frenzy of wild speculation around the world.

The National Intelligence Service told legislators that a foreign doctor operated on Kim in September or October to remove a cyst from his right ankle, according to Park Byeong-seok, an aide for opposition lawmaker Shin Kyung-min. The aide said the spy agency also told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that the cyst could recur because of Kim’s obesity, smoking and heavy public schedule.

This shouldn’t be taken as a given. As the report indicates, South Korea’s spy network has a spotty track record of keeping tabs on what their neighbors to the north are up to. That’s not entirely an indictment of their capabilities, though, because it’s not as if the United States has the exact pulse of what’s going on in the secretive regime. In fact, this could still turn out to be yet another propaganda dodge by the power structure. Kim doesn’t have to look invincible to keep his position. He could probably pull off a bit of the sympathy vote (not that they actually vote in a meaningful way) by looking like he’s working so hard to protect his citizens that his legs are giving out.

More and more, though, it seems obvious that Kim Jong Un has no real power in North Korea. While his family name is revered, the real power lies with party leaders behind the scenes who we rarely see. The problem is, they probably need Kim as much as he needs them to maintain his opulent lifestyle and sense of self importance. Without that popular figurehead, distrust and unrest could spread. So the ankle story may be entirely true, or perhaps he was taken aside by his senior advisers who want to keep him on a short leash. We may never know.