Following every successful North Korean missile launch, the nation’s state media invariably circulates photos and video footage depicting dictator Kim Jong Un celebrating with three specific men who stand out like sore thumbs.
As noted by Reuters, whereas most officials in Kim’s presence “bow and hold their hands over their mouths when speaking to the young leader,” these three are often seen smiling, laughing and even touching the despot. Moreover, two of the officials have reportedly flown with Kim in his private jet.
It is believed these three are technological experts whom Kim purposefully keeps close.
“Rather than going through bureaucrats, Kim Jong Un is keeping these technocrats right by his side, so that he can contact them directly and urge them to move fast,” said An Chan-il, a former North Korean military officer who defected to South Korea and now runs a think tank in the nation’s capital, according to Reuters. “It reflects his urgency about missile development.”
The three have since been identified as “Ri Pyong Chol, a former top air force general; Kim Jong Sik, a veteran rocket scientist; and Jang Chang Ha, the head of a weapons development and procurement center,” according to Reuters.
Ri reportedly poses the greatest threat, partly because he’s not a newcomer and has been with the administration since long before Kim assumed power in 2011 following his father’s death.
“The big potato in that trio of people is Ri Pyong Chol,” explained North Korean expert Michael Madden. “He’s been around since before Kim Jong Un was even talked about with any seriousness.”
Moreover, he serves as the deputy director of the Workers’ Party Munitions Industry Department, which manages the development of the rogue regime’s widely panned ballistic missile program and was blacklisted by the U.S. government seven years ago.
“Ri looks like the party’s guy in the missile program,” Kim Jin-moo, an expert on North Korea’s government in Seoul, told Reuters.
This isn’t to imply that Kim Jong Sik and Jang Chang Ha aren’t threats as well. Jong reportedly played a pivotal north in North Korea’s first successful launch of a rocket five years ago, while Jang has helped the nation secure overseas technology and information to boost their in-house weapons program.
All three bear close watching — and it’s a good bet the world’s security services are watching them very closely, indeed.
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