Catastrophic work of intelligence agencies in relation to Kim Jong Un

CIA, FBI, MI6, BND, all these agencies are presented in movies as almighty powers that can do pretty much about anything, yet in reality each of them fails to reveal whether some fat narcissistic dictator is alive or not and instead we depend on what some random media from South Korea says or some defector who became a MP in south Korea, who was supposedly told by someone that Kim is dead ( )

This is a shame for all of those intelligence agencies, imagine if Kim or anyone else actually wanted to organize an attack on western soldiers or civilians and they had to figure it out, even though they can’t figure out if he’s even alive or not.

Sure, there might be a chance they do know if he’s alive or not, but if so, what would be the point in keeping that a secret?

What you see in movies has very little bearing on reality, so that’s a red herring.

Where do you expect these agencies to get their information when dealing with secretive dictatorships like N. Korea? Do you think this information magically appears just because we want to know?

Having worked with US Intel agencies for a number of years during my career, I have no doubt that they have a really good idea of what’s going on with li’l Kim. I also have no doubt that there are valid reasons why they don’t share everything, the very least of which is “need to know” - not to be confused with “want to know.”

Collaborators, double spies, satellites. I have an example from my own country, from 1993 to 1998, at a time when Serbia was under western sanctions, when it was demonized by the west and when the west supported and sponsored Albanian rebels, the chief of the general staff was a general called Momcilo Perisic, he was in that position for a large part of the wars in Bosnia and Croatia and partly during the Kosovo war and he leaved the post a few months before the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. In 2000 a pro-western revolution happened and Perisic was appointed as a vice-president of the new government, 2 years later, Perisic was arrested for being a collaborator to CIA during a meeting with it’s agent, who also served as a diplomat and selling documents incriminating the country to the “diplomat”, Perisic’s trial never happened due to a series of lucky events for him, so details of his doings are not known up to today.

I don’t know if its identified from what year he started collaborating, whether while he was the chief of general staff or later, but even in the last function, he was the vice president of the country.

The point is, if CIA can turn a vice president or maybe even a chief of general staff, pretty much the most important position in the army, into a collaborator, then who is to say that they haven’t done it in North Korea as well? A nuclear country that is far, far more dangerous and important than Yugoslavia was back then. Especially today when tech is way more developed than during the 90’s/early 2000’s and when communication can be even more secret.

It’s possible, even if extremely difficult. Either way, they’re not going to tell you about it.

From the movie Clue:

No, no no. You got this completely backwards.

The point of the intelligence community is to inform decision makers (usually high ranking government officials, civilian and military). If you are not a decision maker for this topic, they do not have a duty to inform you of anything.

Actually, informing everyone is usually counterproductive because it is more likely to reveal sources.

Lots of times in the past they’ve been caught by surprise by important events in foreign countries you might have thought they’d have at least an inkling of, or thought they knew things that were wrong. Too many cases to name. So it’s perfectly plausible IMO they’d just don’t know what the story is now with Kim. That said, if US (or less unlikely, the ROK’s) intel service actually has good human intelligence in Kim’s inner circle it would be silly to risk burning it by coming out with specific and certain sounding statements about Kim’s situation, especially if there’s actually nothing much going on with him.

But it’s very difficult with that regime. Only a few people in North Korea know his whereabouts and plans at a given time. If as seems likely none of them is a US/ROK mole, then it’s down to much less reliable multi-hand rumors, or reading tea leaves of indirect evidence from technical means like satellites, etc.

  1. Intelligence agencies are not magic - unlike movies in which they can summon up just about knowledge of anything on command.

  2. Even if they know, they have no reason to reveal it to the public. We aren’t decision-makers who need to know Kim’s pulse; any such information would be merely for our entertainment.

Although the CIA has never had a particularly good record as a human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering agency, North Korea is such a closed off society it is difficult to see how any intelligence agent could successfully recruit a high level source, and given the frequency that the Kim regime goes through military and political leaders, it is doubtful that any source would survive for very long. This leaves interpreting signals intelligence and satellite/overflight surveillance as primary sources for information (as well as scrutinizing propaganda releases and looking at imports as a means of divination for what is going on with the regime) and these are of necessarily fragmentary and sporadic.

The country of North Korea is industrially and technologically backward as a whole but has received a lot of assistance from China, which has a well established counterintelligence and counterserveillance apparatus, so it is unsurprising the lack of detail the CIA and other western intelligence agencies have on North Korea. Hell, during the height of the Cold War, the CIA had little information (and much of it inaccurate) over what was going on in Kremlin politics to the point that they weren’t sure whether Andropov was dead for several weeks.


All intelligence work is imperfect guesswork. You assign probabilities based on the best evidence you have, but until we develop clairvoyance they will always be probabilities. This is true even in the movies, even in silly ones. Nick Fury had no idea Alexander Pierce was a Hydra mole, even though they worked in the same building.

How on earth is an intelligence agency supposed to know for sure if Kim Jong Un is alive or dead? Getting someone to defect from NK is very difficult. And then you would have to vet them to see how trustworthy they are. Does the OP have a suggestion for how it could be done?

If he’s all the way dead we’ll find out before long. He may be mostly dead, and he could stay that way for a while, but if he’s not heading in the direction of less dead before long that will become obvious too. If he was only a little dead he’d probably have done something to prove he was alive by now.

So my money is on ‘mostly dead’.

And yet you are certain you know the general truth? No chance of that being what “they” want you to know?

As for North Korea, if the official word is that Kim is fine, then there is absolutely no good reason for any external intelligence agency to give NK any insight into their level of knowledge.

Suppose the CIA had discovered that he is dead. Who would they tell. Certainly not blabbermouth-in-chief who would chortle all the way to the nearest TV camera. Not any of the toadies in the cabinet. So probably the joint chiefs who would have no reason to say anything. In fact, they wouldn’t want the orange menace to know they had kept mum.

The pictures on the news today did not look like him to me.

Not that I would want to unequivocally defend the record of Western intelligence agencies in any sphere, but there’s presumably a difference between being able to figure out if one particular guy is dead or alive; and being able to spot large numbers of troops and tanks and supplies for same being moved into position for an invasion. To some extent, at least, you can use satellites (and perhaps reconnaissance aircraft like the U-2, or drones) to try to glean intelligence on large-scale military maneuvers and preparations; spotting the one maybe-dead, maybe-alive guy in a country of millions of people and tens of thousands of square miles is much harder, even if that guy is the Dear Leader and God, Son of God, Grandson of God, etc.

This suggests to me that we are already living in a military dictatorship. Probably the case since GWB, likely back to at least Reagan (who may have taught them the lesson), and certainly Trump. They certainly wouldn’t let Congress know anything.