Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Jang Song Taek (Chang So’ng-t’aek) died from multiple gunshot wounds following his execution by firing squad on 12 December 2013 (Thursday). Jang was a close aide to the late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il) for nearly four decades and from 2010 to 2013 was one of the country’s top officials. Jang served as the Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission from June 2010 to December 2013, Director of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Administration Department from October 2007 to December 2013 and Member of the KWP Central Committee from December 1992 to December 2013. Jang was a member and alternate of the KWP Political Bureau, a member of the Party Central Military Commission and a deputy (delegate) to the Supreme People’s Assembly. He also owned several companies and was a principal of several DPRK foreign trading corporations and had an estimated net worth of 80 million Euros.
Jang’s career began in 1972 as a political instructor to the Pyongyang City People’s Committee. He was active member of the Three Revolutions movement and was a political enforcer as Kim Jong Il’s hereditary succession proceeded during the 1970s. In the 1982 Jang was appointed as section chief in the KWP Workers’ Organizations Department. He was promoted to deputy director of the department in 1985. By the late 1980s he managed three central party departments: the KWP Youth Department, the KWP Capital Construction Department (both departments have merged) and Workers’ Organizations. He was the political manager of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League and other social organizations. He also supervised large construction projects in Pyongyang including the development of Kwangbok Street and other parts of western Pyongyang, the redevelopment of Ch’angkwang Street in Pyongyang’s city centre and the construction of May Day Stadium. Jang was first elected a deputy (delegate) to the Supreme People’s Assembly in 1986 and was an SPA member until December 2013. In 1987, Kim Jong Il proposed appointing Jang Song Taek as Minister of State Security, but this appointment was vetoed by late DPRK President and founder Kim Il Sung who thought Jang to be “too greedy.”
During the early 1990s Jang Song Taek became one of Kim Jong Il’s closest aides. He was appointed to the prestigious position of senior deputy director (1st Vice) of the KWP Organization Guidance Department in 1992. By 1995 Jang had consolidated his authority over the DPRK’s internal security apparatus and was responsible for the daily operational management of the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of People’s Security (national police), the DPRK Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, and the DPRK Supreme Court and several economic policy commissions. Jang also served as a principal in the Taeso’ng Group, one of the DPRK’s largest business conglomerates. Jang had become so influential in the DPRK’s political culture that was described as “Kim Jong Il’s alter ego.” By 2001, Jang had accumulated too much power and his status waned. In the fall of 2003 Jang stopped appearing in DPRK state media. He publicly returned to the DPRK’s political culture in 2006 serving in the position of deputy director of the KWP Workers’ Organizations and Capital Construction Department.
In October 2007, Jang Song Taek was appointed director of the KWP Administration Department and he returned to the central leadership. The KWP Administration Department, which had been mothballed in the KWP Organization Guidance Department since 1990, was revived. In this position Jang took control over the daily management and report system of the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, the Military Security Command, the DPRK Supreme Court, the DPRK Supreme Prosecutor’s Office and other security agencies, inspection and audit commission and the country’s social organizations. Jang was one of four officials who took charge of the affairs of state in the DPRK, after late leader Kim Jong Il had two strokes during August and September 2008. In April 2009, Jang Song Taek was elected a member of the National Defense Commission during the first session (plenum) of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly. Jang became a regular member of Kim Jong Il’s entourage during the latter’s on-site visits, inspections and attendance of performances. From 2009 to 2011 Kim Jong Il was almost always accompanied by Jang or by Kim Kyong Hui.
Jang Song Taek’s career continued its ascendency in 2010. He was elected Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission at the second session (plenum) of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly in June 2010 and on 28 September 2010 he was elected an alternate (candidate) member of the KWP Political Bureau and member of the Party Central Military Commission at the 3rd Party Conference, at which Jang was a platform (rostrum) member. Throughout 2011, Jang continued to shadow Kim Jong Il as the leate leader’s closest aide. After Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, Jang was one of a group of officials selected to accompany the late leader’s hearse. Jang continued to play a public role as the supreme leader’s closest aide following the accession of Kim Jong Un between December and January 2011. In April 2012, Jang was promoted to full membership on the KWP Political Bureau. The post-Kim Jong Il era in the DPRK’s political culture found Jang assuming the most prominent public role of his career. Jang attended numerous national events where he had a prominent public role as one of the country’s top leaders. The State Physical Culture and Sports Commission was formed in November 2012 and Jang was appointed that body’s first chairman.
During 2013 the number of Jang Song Taek’s public appearances, along with those of other central party officials, dropped significantly. After May 2013 most of Jang’s appearances in DPRK state media were largely restricted to Pyongyang and consisted of national events (such as anniversaries) and visits to sports and recreation facilities in the national capital. On 8 December 2013 Jang was dismissed from all political and military offices and expelled from the Korean Workers’ Party following a special call expanded meeting of the KWP Political Bureau. Among the litany of accusations, Jang was accused of “anti-party, counterrevolutionary factionalist acts.” On 12 December 2013 Jang was tried before a special tribunal of the Ministry of State Security and sentenced to death. He was executed later the same day by firing squad.
Jang Song Taek was born in early 1946. Records differ on the date and location of his birth. Some sources list his birthday in January and others in February and the place of his birth is listed as Kangwo’n Province and Ch’o’ngjin, North Hamgyo’ng Province. Jang’s other siblings were born in Kangwo’n Province. Jang attended Kim Il Sung University where he was the leader of a student art propaganda squad. He also attended the Higher Party School and studied at Moscow State University.
Jang was the youngest son of five children which included his eldest brother VMar Jang Song U (1935-2009) a close security aide of Kim Jong Il’s who held numerous positions including as interim Director of the Guard Command and another older brother Lt. Gen. Jang Song Gil (1939-2006), a senior KPA official with a command position in the Pyongyang Defense Command and later as a curator of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Museum. Jang Song Taek’s sisters were married to prominent DPRK officials. Jang was the nephew of the late Jang Chan Hwon who served as vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces during the 1970s and was also related to the late Hwang Jang Yop, a former KWP Secretary and the highest-level DPRK official to defect to South Korea.
As a student at KIS University in the 1960s Jang met his future wife Kim Kyong Hui, eldest daughter of Kim Il Sung and sister of Kim Jong Il. The relationship was initially opposed by Kim Il Sung because Jang’s family did not have direct ties to the Kim Family’s cohorts and were still believed to have relatives in South Korea. Jang was transferred briefly to the Wo’nsan University of Economics, however Kim Jong Il assisted Jang in transferring back to KIS University. Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui were married in 1972. The couple was part of a group of close aides who supervised the expansion of the DPRK’s embassies and foreign missions overseas, the establishment of trading companies to earn foreign currency for the KWP’s and Kim Family’s coffers, the removal from office of Kim Jong Il’s political rivals (particularly within the Kim Family) and the appointment of a new generation of party, government and security officials.
The couple had two children: daughter Jang Kum Song (1977-2006) and son Jang Kim Song (1979–). Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui were largely estranged from one another by the mid-1990s. They also had over a dozen nieces and nephews. Because of his status as a Kim Family in-law, Jang Song Taek undertook a number of sensitive tasks on behalf of Kim Jong Il. Jang supported an initiative by the Song Family to have Kim Jong Nam (Kim Cho’ng-nam), Kim Jong Il’s eldest son, educated outside the DPRK. Jang supervised the establishment of a residence, diplomatic contacts and support for Jong Nam to study in Switzerland. He also had the delicate task of fielding communications from Jong Nam to his father.
Jang Song Taek was a very sophisticated player in DPRK political circles with an amiable personality and a high interpersonal intelligence. Jang had an encyclopedic knowledge of the key nodes of control necessary to establish and maintain power in the DPRK. Jang was a brutally efficient political manager for Kim Jong Il and regularly supervised routine audits of state-owned enterprises, presided over executions and incarcerations and dismissed thousands of officials during his career. Jang was also highly personable in his social interactions and easy going. He vigilantly looked after the interests and material lives of DPRK officials with personal or patronage ties to him. One of his distant relatives once described him as “a man of justice” and according to someone with close ties to the Kim Family who met Jang described him “as kind, very good to his family members.”