The List

Next of Kim

Meet the next generation of North Korea's ruling family -- while you still can.

In the mid-18th century, Korea was ruled by King Yeongjo, who governed according to austere Confucian principles. One day, he began to hear reports that his son, Crown Prince Sado, was addicted to wine and women; more worryingly, Sado would wander the streets at night, randomly committing murder. There were even rumors that Sado sought to overthrow the king and seize power. Fearing for the safety of his kingdom but unable to order the death of his own son, Yeongjo ordered him placed outside in a box used for the storage of rice. Most Koreans know what happened to the "rice box prince," as Sado later came to be known -- he died of starvation and suffocation, as those in the palace heard his cries for help.

Fast-forward 250 years later, and we're back asking the same question: Is blood really thicker than water? Ordering the execution of one's uncle, as Kim Jong Un did on Dec. 12, is brutal in any culture, but especially so in a place like North Korea, where even decades of totalitarian rule have not worn away strong Confucian traditions of filial piety. It's important to remember that Jang Song Thaek, who was long thought to be the second most powerful man in North Korea, married into the Kim family. But Kim still violated a serious taboo by having him killed.

As the dust begins to settle on Pyongyang's most public display of raw power in decades, the next big question is what will happen to the rest of the Kim family. Will one of his sisters grow increasingly influential? Will one of his brothers attempt to scamper away to Seoul in search of political asylum? And will anyone choose to stay and fight against the regime, under the threat of that midnight knock on the door?

Here are Kim's five most important extant family members, and their likelihood of survival.

Name: Kim Kyong Hui
Relation: Aunt
Likelihood of survival: Very Good

Kim Kyong Hui married Jang in 1972 (decades before he was accused of "thrice-cursed treason" and declared "human scum"), but they had reportedly been estranged for some time. Some suggest she was irked by Jang's alleged womanizing; others say that their daughter's 2006 suicide strained the marriage. In any event, it makes sense for Kim, who holds the rank of four-star general and is a secretary of the ruling Workers Party, to distance herself from her disgraced husband. It seems like she has succeeded in doing so, at least for now: On Dec. 19, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that Pyongyang had included Kim Kyong Hui's name on the list of a funeral planning committee for a deceased party official. "By placing Kim Kyong-hui's name on the list, North Korea officially confirmed that she is alive and well," Lee Soo-seok, who is affiliated with South Korea's Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security, told the newspaper. (It's important to note that this, like almost everything written about the North Korean elite, is speculation.)

While the 67-year-old Kim Kyong Hui did not appear in footage of the Dec. 17 commemoration of the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death, this is not necessarily a sign that she has lost favor with her nephew: She is thought to be in failing health, which could have prevented her from attending.

Of all the relatives, Kim Kyong Hui is the most protected by her family position. Kim Jong Un's own legitimacy comes from the bloodline he shares with his father, Kim Jong Il, the deceased former leader of North Korea, and his grandfather, the deceased founding leader Kim Il Sung. In August, Chosun Ilbo claimed that North Korea had revised the Ten Fundamental Principles of the Korean Workers Party, an important party text, to legitimize hereditary succession by adding the phrase: "North Korea and the Workers Party will be kept alive forever by the Baekdu bloodline." This bloodline is named after the sacred Baekdu Mountain on the Sino-Korean border, where Kim Il Sung reportedly launched his anti-Japanese guerilla campaign and where North Korean propaganda claims Kim Jong Il was born (pssst, he was actually born in Russia). The addition of the phrase seems to suggest an increasingly non-Marxist emphasis on family bloodline, rather like "the Divine Right of Kings," as the basis for regime legitimacy in North Korea.

As the premier surviving member of the Baekdu bloodline, Kim Kyong Hui is probably very safe. It would be a surprising move indeed if Kim Jong Un were to gun down the last surviving child of his dynasty's founder.


Names: Kim Sul Song and Kim Yeo Jong
Relation: Half-sister and Sister
Likelihood of survival: Good

Like his father, Kim Jong Il, who relied on his sister Kim Kyong Hui for support and advice, Kim Jong Un may be giving increased responsibility to his sisters. The 38-year-old Kim Sul Song, a favorite of Kim Jong Il, was rumored to be one of the "masterminds" behind the Jang purge, according to an unnamed source quoted by Hankyoreh, a South-Korean newspaper. Almost nothing is known about her, but there's also little reason to think she'd be executed.

The first public image to appear of Kim Yeo Jong was at the December 2011 funeral of her father Kim Jong Il. In the video, she stands tearfully, dressed in a black hanbok, Korea's traditional dress for women, just behind her elder brother Kim Jong Un. As a possible sign of his confidence, Kim Yeo Jong is entrusted with "protecting and managing the affairs" of the daughter of Megumi Yokota, the most famous of the citizens abducted from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Japan Times. The fate of the abductees is probably the most important issue for Japan's bilateral relationship with Pyongyang, so Kim Yeo Jong's role would be symbolically important for both sides. It is unclear what Jang's purge means for these two women, but Kim Jong Il trusted his sister -- possibly because he didn't see her as a threat to the throne -- and Kim Jong Un may see fit to do the same.


Name: Kim Jong Chol
Relation: Brother
Likelihood of survival: Excellent

North Korean defector Lee Yun Keol claimed the 32-year-old Kim Jong Chol was the chief executioner of Jang's purge. This is somewhat surprising, given that Kim Jong Il reportedly passed him over for the throne, identifying him as "too effeminate" to run North Korea. Lee, who runs the private research organization North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, also claimed that Kim Jong Chol "personally led" a team of soldiers "hand-picked" from Kim Jong Un's bodyguards to arrest Jang, and that he was personally "armed with a pistol" when he went to arrest his uncle. No one in Pyongyang would dare call Kim Jong Chol a sissy now.

He also reportedly now runs the "Pongwhajo," or Torch Group, a group of elite youth to which Kim Jong Un formerly belonged. Kim Jong Chol is showing himself to be useful to his younger brother -- and that they're from the same birth mother, Ko Young Hui, may give them an even closer relationship.


Name: Kim Jong Nam
Relation: Half-brother
Likelihood of survival: Not Good

Being the eldest male in the family would normally have made the 42-year-old Kim Jong Nam the top choice for succession. But in May 2001, his arrest at Tokyo's Narita Airport -- as he attempted to enter Japan on a forged Dominican Republic passport -- publicly embarrassed Kim Jong Il. (Kim Jong Nam had wanted to take his son to Tokyo Disneyland.) Kim's chances were further worsened by the stigma of his mother Song Hye Rim, of whom his grandfather Kim Il Sung reportedly strongly disapproved.

Partially because of this, and because Jang had no male heir, he and Kim Kyong Hui reportedly played a large role in raising Kim Jong Nam. Kim Jong Nam, therefore, probably has strong feelings about his siblings gunning down his father figure. And Kim Jong Un may see his half-brother as a threat.

Though he hasn't said anything publicly about the execution, Kim, who is thought to currently live in exile, shuttling between Singapore and China, needs protection. In 2012, Seoul arrested a North Korean agent who confessed to having been instructed to kidnap Kim Jong Nam on orders from Pyongyang.

Possibly because of his link to Jang, who was the regime's point man on its relations with Beijing, Kim Jong Nam may be a Chinese favorite. South Korean media have speculated that Beijing sees him as a contingency plan if things go badly in Pyongyang. If Kim Jong Un were to successfully kidnap his brother and bring him back to Pyongyang, he probably wouldn't imprison him in a rice box. But his future would be grim.

Kyodo via AP Images

The List


5 CIA operations that went south -- spectacularly.

The Associated Press yesterday revealed that Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, was working for the CIA when he disappeared on Iran in March 2007. But perhaps more surprising than Levinson's ties to the CIA was the reckless way in which the operation was carried out: He was sent to Iran's Kish Island, a smuggling hub in the Persian Gulf, by a team of analysts who had no authority to run intelligence operations, and who would eventually be accused by CIA investigators of hiding the fact that they were running an off-the-books spy mission from top officials at the agency.

The fiasco caused a behind-the-scenes uproar in Congress and the CIA, which eventually forced three veteran analysts to leave the agency. Meanwhile, the White House, FBI, and State Department continued to publicly state that Levinson was a private citizen when he disappeared. The U.S. government urged the AP for years to avoid publishing news about Levinson's CIA ties, and paid a $2.5 million settlement to his family to avoid a lawsuit that could have revealed the truth.

The Levinson saga, however, is far from the first time that a CIA operation not only failed, but failed so badly that outsiders were left wondering how officers for America's premier spy agency could be so rotten at their jobs. Here are just a few of the most spectacularly botched operations in the Agency's history.

Hezbollah rolls up CIA's Pizza Hut spy ring

Lebanon has long been a playground for spies from across the Middle East. But in 2011, it appeared that U.S. intelligence services were getting badly outplayed by their rivals. More than a dozen informants recruited by the CIA were reportedly captured by Hezbollah and Iran, after the groups learned where the American spies were meeting their agents.

The CIA officers made Hezbollah's job easy by employing shockingly sloppy tradecraft. According to current and former U.S. officials, two Hezbollah agents posing as potential recruits learned the location where the CIA officers met their informants -- a Pizza Hut in Beirut. And the code word that the CIA allegedly used to set a meeting? "PIZZA."

From there, Hezbollah's internal security only had to observe the Pizza Hut to identify the informants, who were promptly disappeared. U.S. intelligence officers reportedly ignored multiple warnings about the risks of using the same location to meet multiple recruits -- and as a result, at least some CIA operations had to be suspended in Beirut during the summer of 2011. According to some, the damage was even more serious: "We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah," one former intelligence official told ABC News.

"The Italian Job"

In the days after the 9/11 attacks, the CIA expanded its use of "extraordinary rendition" -- the practice of snatching subjects from one country and transferring them to another country, where they were sometimes tortured. Perhaps no such effort went as badly as the abduction of Islamist cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr on the streets of Milan, Italy, in 2003.

Nasr had become a key figure in the city's radical Islamist community, drawing the attention of American and Italian officials by delivering fiery sermons from a local mosque. And the CIA operation, which received the blessing of the Italian intelligence service, initially appeared a success: Nasr was grabbed during the middle of the day and flown to Cairo, where he claimed to have been tortured.

The CIA officers who conducted the operation, however, were anything but subtle. They used commercial cell phones, which allowed Italian police to eventually track their mobile phone records; they racked up enormous bills at five-star hotels; many used their real names while operating in the country; and their getaway van had been filmed by traffic cameras as they prepared to grab Nasr. As questions grew about what happened to the cleric, it soon became obvious to all that this had been a CIA operation.

Italian prosecutors, who had been kept in the dark about the operation, were not about to let those leads go unexamined. The prosecutors tapped CIA operatives' phone lines and seized documents from their intelligence services archives to unravel the entire operation, in order to build a case that Nasr's abduction actually thwarted an ongoing police investigation and thereby harmed Italy's ability to monitor domestic radicals. In the case, 23 Americans who were part of the investigation were convicted in absentia of kidnapping -- including the former head of the CIA in Milan, Robert Lady, who was handed an eight-year jail sentence.

The attempted killing of "Lebanon's Khomeini"

In the worst days of the Lebanese civil war, the CIA not only found itself struggling against their stated enemies but also trying to rein in their supposed allies, whose brutality often went beyond what the American spies were willing to sanction.

In 1983 and 1984, the United States was targeted by three devastating suicide bombings that killed over 250 Americans, and were believed to be the work of Shia militants that would become a part of Hezbollah. The CIA judged that Shia cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah was a key part of these attacks: In a 1985 report titled "Lebanon's Khomeini," the CIA assessed that "Fadlallah plays an important role in the Hizballah terrorist network...[and] coordinates radical Shia activities in Beirut."

On March 8, 1985, a car bomb packed with over 400 pounds of explosives detonated outside Fadlallah's house in the Beirut suburbs. The blast killed over 80 people and injured 200 more -- but it did not kill Fadlallah, who escaped uninjured. According to former CIA field officer Robert Baer, who denied any CIA involvement in the plot, the attack was carried out by Christian Lebanese army officers. Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, however, would report that CIA Director William Casey had bypassed the agency's traditional channel to funnel money to the hit squad that planted the bomb.

The angry crowds beneath Fadlallah's house that day in March 1985, however, did not need Woodward's reporting to blame the United States for the bloody attack. Immediately following the attack, residents strung up a banner reading "Made in USA" over the building destroyed by the bomb.

A Failed Syrian Coup

The United States' current struggles in Syria aren't the first time that it has failed to bend the country's politics to its will. In the 1950s, the coup-ridden country found itself on the front lines of the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for predominance in the Middle East. By 1957, top CIA officials thought they saw an opportunity to spearhead a coup that would place Syria decisively in the Western camp.

According to Timothy Weiner's Legacy of Ashes, the joint U.S.-British plan was to make Syria appear to be a threat to regional security as a pretext for regime change. Syria would be "made to appear as the sponsor of plots, sabotage and violence directed against neighboring governments," according to a document found in 2003 among the private papers of British Defense Secretary Duncan Sandys. As the CIA and British intelligence agencies stoked discontent both inside the country and on its borders, CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt identified three top officials who would need to be assassinated to destabilize the government.

The plot quickly went wrong. The CIA station chief in Damascus, Rocky Stone, chose his allies poorly: The Syrian officers he recruited went on television to publicize the plot, denouncing it as the work of "corrupt and sinister Americans." Stone was ejected from the country in what even a former U.S. ambassador to Syria would denounce as a "particularly clumsy CIA plot." Meanwhile, Syria fell completely into the Soviet camp, where it would stay for the duration of the Cold War.

Soviets Shoot Down U-2 Spy Plane

As the Cold War heated up in the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower became obsessed with learning the true extent of Soviet military capabilities. Most importantly, he wanted to know how many intercontinental ballistic missiles the Soviets had pointed at the United States - and whether it was enough for them to emerge on top in a nuclear conflagration. In the middle of his term in office, the president was handed a new tool that could help him answer just that question -- the U-2 spy plane, which could fly at heights that Soviet airplanes and missiles could not reach.

CIA-operated U-2 spy planes started flying over Soviet territory in 1956, using its state-of-the-art camera to snap pictures of military installations below. Unbeknownst to the United States, the Soviets could detect the planes by radar.

In 1960, during the last months of his presidency, Eisenhower was preparing to attend a summit in Paris with Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev intended to lessen the tension between the global powers. The president halted the U-2 flights as he pursued the rapprochement, describing the flights as "provocative pin-pricking" that could convince the Soviets that the United States was planning to bomb Soviet installations. CIA officer Richard Bissell, who was in charge of the U-2 program, pressed the president to allow one more flight before the summit.

On May 1, 1960, the U-2 flight piloted by Francis Gary Powers took off from a U.S. base in Peshawar, Pakistan. It was detected soon after it entered Soviet airspace, and Soviet jets and anti-air missiles were ordered to bring it down. 1,200 miles into Soviet airspace, an anti-air missile hit Powers' plane, forcing him to eject as the plane hurtled toward the ground.

The diplomatic fallout was immediate. For four days, the United States continued to claim that the incident involved a weather plane that had drifted off course. On May 7, Kruschev revealed that Powers had been captured alive, along with wreckage from the plane, forcing the United States to admit to the espionage effort. The Paris summit soon broke up in recriminations, and the confrontation between the two superpowers only became more tense in the years ahead.

The next flashpoint was in Cuba, where the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion - a botched, CIA-directed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime - would be a major factor in Castro's decision to agree to a plan to position Soviet missiles on the island. The ensuing Cuban  Missile Crisis was the closest the world has come to a nuclear war - and a case study in how one bad decision can lead to many more down the road.