North Korean leader's brother was CIA informant, book claims

Washington (AFP) –


Kim Jong Un's estranged half-brother was an "informant" for the US Central Intelligence Agency before his assassination in 2017, according to a new biography of the North Korean leader published Tuesday.

Kim Jong Nam met with his CIA "handlers" in Southeast Asia before he was poisoned with a nerve agent in 2017 in Malaysia, journalist Anna Fifield said in her book "The Great Successor."

"Kim Jong Nam became an informant for the CIA, an agency with a track record of trying to bring down dictators it didn't like," she writes.

Living in virtual exile, Kim Jong Nam may have met with officers of the US spy agency just before he was killed allegedly at the order of Kim Jong Un, who saw the older Jong Nam as a rival for power, according to Fifield.

"His brother would have considered talking to American spies a treacherous act," wrote Fifield, who has reported on North Korea for years as a Washington Post correspondent.

Just before his death in the Kuala Lumpur airport, she wrote, "security camera footage showed him in a hotel elevator with an Asian-looking man who was reported to be an American intelligence agent."

"Kim Jong Nam's backpack from the airport contained $120,000 in cash," she said, positing it could have been payment for spying -- or money from his gambling business.

The Wall Street Journal reported separately on Tuesday that it was told by an unidentified source knowledgeable about the matter that "there was a nexus" between Kim and the CIA.

Citing former US officials, The Journal said Kim "was almost certainly in contact with security services of other countries, particularly China's."

- Cold War-style -

Kim Jong Nam died after having his face smeared with the outlawed VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017 in a Cold War-style assassination that shocked the world.

Two young women, one Vietnamese and one Indonesian, were arrested and charged with the murder. They insisted they were tricked by North Korean agents into carrying out the hit and thought it was a reality TV show prank.

Malaysian prosecutors eventually dropped the murder charges against them earlier this year, and both were released.

Once seen as the natural successor to his father and then-leader Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Nam apparently fell from grace after being deported from Japan in 2001 for trying to enter on a forged passport to visit Disneyland.

Since then he lived outside of North Korea, mainly in the southern Chinese enclave of Macau.

- Gambling websites -

Fifield said he ran gambling websites and "lived in the shadows amid gamblers, gangsters and spies," while keeping some links to the regime.

However, she said, he was also wary of the possibility of being murdered by Kim Jong un, to eliminate a potential family rival to the "throne" of North Korean leadership.

Kim Jong Nam had spoken to Japanese and other overseas media with surprising candour on various occasions and in 2011 he told a Japanese newspaper that he opposed the idea of the North's dynastic power transfer.

"Several former US officials said the half brother, who had lived outside of North Korea for many years and had no known power base in Pyongyang, was unlikely to be able to provide details of the secretive country's inner workings," the Journal said.

The newspaper report and the book come with talks deadlocked between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

Kim Jong Un met US President Donald Trump for a historic first summit in Singapore one year ago but their second meeting in Hanoi in February this year collapsed when they failed to agree to a deal on denuclearization.

Pyongyang has never admitted to killing Kim Jong Nam -- it claims the dead man was a North Korean citizen named Kim Chol and that the accusations were a smear campaign