Intelligence Research Observatory
Kim Yo Jong, An OSINT Profile
[Photo Courtesy of Stars & Stripes, Via AP]
Background & Analysis
Kim Yo Jong, is the sister of Kim Jong Un Supreme Commander of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. It is thought Yo Jong is in her 30s, and was born in 1988. Her Parents are Kim Jong Il the late leader of North Korea and his consort, professional dancer Ko Yong Hui. It is uncertain if Yo Jong is married, however some sources believe she is married to Choe Song, son of a powerful official in the North Korean hierarchy. Choe Song is rumored to work for the intelligence unit known as Office 39, alternatively it is speculated he is an elite military body guard that provides security for the Kim Jong Un. Yo Jong attended school in Switzerland with her brother Kim Jong Un, using secret identities. It is during their time in Switzerland that analysts believe Yo Jong & Kim Jong Un developed a powerful bond and learned to trust each other with complicity. Between 2000 & 2007 there are gaps as to the whereabouts and activities of Kim Yo Jong. Kim Yo Jong graduated from university in Pyongyang with a degree in political science, commenced activity in the Workers Party of Korea in 2007 and became her brother’s political ally in 2008. The first time Yo Jong made a public appearance was at her father’s funeral, Kim Jong Il in 2011. Her existence was barely known to the wider world until the funeral, when she was seen standing right behind Kim Jong Un on state television, looking tearful and ashen-faced. Kim Yo Jong is now seen as one of the most powerful women in North Korea. Her portfolio includes, Head of the Propaganda Department of the Workers Party of Korea, and a member of the countries Politburo (North Koreas Communist Party). Her responsibilities include, policy, high level intelligence briefings, and logistical support for her brother’s public profile events. Kim Yo Jong is known as the “Gatekeeper” to her brother Kim Jong Un. She is Kim Jong Uns closest aid and is one of his top 20 officials. Kim Yo Jong took charge of North Korea in 2014 when Kim Jong Un was reported as ill with gout or diabetes. Yo Jong found her voice in 2020, in her first public statement she insulted South Korea “as a frightened dog barking” after South Korea condemned North Korean military live fire drills, and called North Korean defectors spreading anti-Pyongyang leaflets “human scum little short of wild animals and mongrel dogs,” threatening South Korea for allowing the leaflets to be disseminated. Yo Jong has demonstrated her power and authority when she recently ordered the North Korean military to deploy troops to two joint economic projects with South Korea — the Mt. Kumgang tourist area and the Kaesong Industrial Zone. In a show of force in June of 2020 Kim Yo Jong ordered the department in charge of inter-Korean affairs to “decisively carry out the next action” which resulted in the explosive demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex. It is now quite clear that Kim Yo Jong is a powerful and influential leader, capable of running North Korea with a firm hand and decisive actions. It remains to be seen who will step into the shoes of Kim Jong Un in the event of his death, however it appears Kim Yo Jong has the aptitude, intelligence and ruthlessness required to continue the Kim family dynasty.
Who is Kim Yo Jong?
- Kim Yo Jong was born in 1988, and is likely in her 30s, according to North Koreas Unification ministry (Hindustan Times, 2020)
- She is the daughter Kim Jong Il & his consort Ko Yong Hui, Yong Hui was a professional dancer
- Kim Yo Jong is the sister of Kim Jong Un Leader of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (Business Insider, 2020)
- In keeping with the secrecy shrouding North Korea’s leaders, it is not known whether Kim Yo Jong is married (Hindustan Times, 2020)
- Other sources say, she is married to Choe Song, he is believed to be the son of Choe Ryong Hae, “one of the most powerful officials in [North Korea’s] formal hierarchy” (Time, 2020)
- Choe Song is believed to work for Office 39 , alternatively Song may be working for a military unit guarding Kim Jong Un (CNBC, 2020) [Office 39 is a North Korean Intelligence Unit that counters international sanctions, through facilitation of clandestine revenue sources, such as smuggling, counterfeiting and illegal arms trade. The mission of Office 39 is generate revenue for the Kim Regime]
Early Life, Education and Activities of Kim Yo Jong
- Yo Jong was partly educated in Switzerland at the same school Kim Jong Un attended, she returned to North Korea in 2000 after completing the US equivalent of the sixth grade (North Korea Leadership Watch, 2009)
- It’s completely unclear where she was or what she was up to between 2000 and 2007 (North Korea Leadership Watch, 2009)
- Kim Yo Jong completed her university education in, Pyongyang with a degree in political science
- Yo Jong then became active in the Workers’ Party of Korea in 2007 and emerged as a political ally of her brother during 2008-2011 (The Cipher Brief, 2020)
- Her first public appearance was in 2011 at her father, Kim Jong Il’s funeral
What is Kim Yo Jongs Role in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea?
- Kim Yo Jong is the head of the propaganda department of the Workers’ Party of Korea since 2017 (Business Insider, 2020)
- Yo Jong was promoted to the country’s Politburo, the senior body of North Korea’s communist party, as an alternate member in 2019
- Kim Yo Jong has taken on more responsibility, dealing with policy, receiving intelligence briefings and acting “almost like a White House chief of staff would” (CNN, 2020)
- According to North Korea Leadership Watch, she is a close aide of her brother’s “and since his accession manages his public events, itineraries and logistical needs, among other tasks”
- She is now among her brother’s top 20 officials, and is seen as something of a gatekeeper to the leader, according to some analysts
- Kim Yo Jong’s role in the North Korean regime is not just ceremonial; she’s actually working, protecting the image of her brother Kim Jong Un and making sure that everything runs smoothly (Business Insider, 2020)
Why is Kim Yo Jung a Trusted Confidant of Kim Jong Un?
- “She’s (Kim Yo Jong) probably one of the most influential people on Kim Jong Un himself, precisely because he has very few people he can trust,” said Balbina Hwang, visiting professor at Georgetown University and founder of the National Committee on North Korea (CNN, 2020)
- Analysts say the siblings living together for a number of years in the same place outside their home country has fostered close ties between the two and that is now manifesting in the younger sister’s elevation on a political level, what we’re seeing now is essentially a reflection of a partnership that she has with her brother. It looks like there is this kind of power partnership between the two that became more visible (CNBC, 2020)
[Photo Courtesy of YouTube, Screen Shot]
What Evidence is There, That Kim Jong Un Finds His Sister Kim Yo Jong Trustworthy?
- Kim Yo Jong once briefly took charge of the country while her brother was reportedly ill with gout or diabetes in late 2014 (CNN, 2020) (Business Insider, 2020)
- During a summit with the USA, Kim Yo Jong switched out the pen that was provided for the summit with her own ballpoint pen. It is speculated that she did this for security reasons, indicating she is serious about protecting the life of her brother Kim Jong Un
- Analysts say, Yo Jong is seen as a gatekeeper to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un (CNN, 2020)
- Kim Yo Jong is one of her brother’s most trusted advisers and among the most powerful women in the isolated regime (Hindustan Times, 2020)
- In April 2018, she played a crucial role in the peace talks between the two Koreas. Leaders from the two nations met at the Demilitarized Zone, and Kim Yo Jong was notably the only woman at the table
- In October 2019, North Korean media released strange photos of Kim Jong Un riding a white horse atop a mountain with historic and symbolic significance, Kim Yo Jong rode a horse at his side (Business Insider, 2020), some analysts believe this to be emblematic
What Actions Indicate Kim Yo Jong is a Political Power in North Korea?
- Because of tensions with South Korea, Yo Jong ordered the North Korean military to deploy troops to two joint economic projects with the South — the Mt. Kumgang tourist area and the Kaesong Industrial Zone (Nikkei Asian Review, 2020) (The Korea Herald, 2020)
- In March 2020, Kim Yo Jong made her first-ever public statement, insulting South Korea as a “frightened dog barking” after the country condemned one of North Korea’s live-fire military drills
- Kim Yo Jong later released another statement deriding reports of North Korean defectors who spread anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border. She called them “human scum little short of wild animals” and “mongrel dogs,” and threatened that South Korea would “pay a dear price” if they allowed the leaflet-spreading to continue
- Given these recent developments, it’s clear that Kim Yo Jong’s power has grown tremendously in recent years, fueling speculation that no other family members besides her could take over (Business Insider, 2020)
[Photo Courtesy of, The Print Via YouTube Screen Shot]
Why is Kim Yo Jong a Serious Contender for Leadership of North Korea DPRK?
- Leadership has always been a family affair in the North, and she is now one of the most prominent members of the “Paektu bloodline” — a Northern term for Kim Il Sung and his descendants, who have led the nuclear-armed country since its foundation
- “She is, as best we can tell, a very capable and high-skilled member of the North Korean leadership—and is not one to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination,” Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Washington D.C- based think tank the Center for the National Interest (Time, 2020)
- Experts have agreed that Kim Yo Jong’s recent tactics have cemented her reputation within North Korea as a strong and decisive leader who could replace her brother if necessary. “As she leads the offense against South Korea like a general, it silences those old hard-liners in the Politburo who may think she cannot be the leader,” Sejong Institute analyst Lee Seong Hyon told The New York Times (Business Insider, 2020)
- Kim Yo Jongs public profile is mounting rapidly and she has been mooted as a potential successor (Hindustan Times, 2020)
Why Might Kim Yo-Jong Not Succeed as the Next Leader of DPRK?
- “It’s definitely possible that she would face some serious challenges to her legitimacy and power if she took over, even with the Kim family name,” Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who specialized in the Korea’s (Time, 2020)
- Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells TIME that since the recognized line of succession in the Kim dynasty is father-to-son, Kim might serve “as a sort of regent and de facto leader in the absence of a viable successor” (Time, 2020) (North Korea Leadership Watch, 2009)
- Although details about Kim Jong Un’s family are closely guarded, some believe that Kim Jong Un may have a young son who could take over when he is old enough
- Another possible successor is Kim Pyong Il, who is Kim Jong Un’s uncle (Kim Il Sung’s son and Kim Jong Il’s half-brother). Despite spending 40 years overseas as a foreign diplomat, he reportedly remains popular in the country owing to a resemblance to Kim Il Sung
- Lami Kim, a former South Korean diplomat and fellow at the Wilson Center says that there is much speculation over why he returned to North Korea last year. “One scenario is that Kim Jong Un has been concerned about his own health and what would happen to his family and the regime should he die,” she says. “So perhaps he recalled his uncle either to succeed him, or to help Kim Yo Jong run the country” (Time, 2020) (CNBC, 2020) (North Korea Leadership Watch, 2009)
Meet North Korea’s most powerful woman, Kim Yo Jong: Kim Jong Un’s 30-something sister who’s sending fiery threats to South Korea and could eventually take over as leader-Business Insider-Michelle Mark (2020) https://www.businessinsider.com/kim-yo-jong-kim-jong-un-sister-life-bio-photos-2018-2#given-these-recent-developments-its-clear-that-kim-yo-jongs-power-has-grown-tremendously-in-recent-years-fueling-speculation-that-no-other-family-members-besides-her-could-take-over-39
Kim Yo Jong bolsters military credentials leading charge on South-Asia Nikkei Review-HIROSHI MINEGISHI (2020) https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/N-Korea-at-crossroads/Kim-Yo-Jong-bolsters-military-credentials-leading-charge-on-South
Kim Yo Jong: North Korean leader’s increasingly powerful sister-Hindustan Times- Shivani Kumar (2020) https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/kim-yo-jong-north-korean-leader-s-increasingly-powerful-sister/story-1mxo2Ip5jumt8wWbWyBKzN.html
Kim Yo Jong: The most powerful woman in North Korea-CNN-Angela Dewan & Sheena McKenzie (2018) https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/27/asia/kim-yo-jong-profile-intl/index.html
Who is Kim Yo-jong? The Cipher Brief-KENNETH DEKLEVA (2020) https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column_article/who-is-kim-yo-jong
Kim Jong Un’s Sister Is in the Spotlight. But Could a Woman Ever Lead North Korea? Time-Amy Gunia (2020) https://time.com/5827767/kim-yo-jong-woman-north-korea/
The Kim Family- North Korea Leadership Watch, An Affiliate of 38 North-No Author Noted (2009) http://www.nkleadershipwatch.org/kim-family/
Who is Kim Yo Jong? The North Korean leader’s little sister could be moving to bigger things, analysts say-CNBC-Huileng Tang (2020) https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/19/north-koreas-kim-yo-jong-may-be-moving-to-bigger-role-analysts-say.html
Korea could redeploy artillery, armoured units to border areas: experts-The Korea Herald-By Yonhap (2020) http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200617000729
Image-Header Cover Courtesy of Twitter.com, Screen Shot YouTube (2020)