North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Gen. Kim Yong Chol

Gen. Kim Yong Chol, acting as a spokesman for the KPA Supreme Command reads a statement on 5 March 2013 threatening to "nullify" the armistice agreement which ended active hostilities of the Korean War (Fatherland Liberation War).  (Photos: KCNA)

Gen. Kim Yong Chol, acting as a spokesman for the KPA Supreme Command reads a statement on 5 March 2013 threatening to “nullify” the armistice agreement which ended active hostilities of the Korean War (Fatherland Liberation War). (Photos: KCNA)


General Kim Yong Chol (Kim Yo’ng-ch’o’l) is director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (under MPAF and NDC), member of the Party Central Military Commission (CMC) and a member of the Party Central Committee (CC KWP).  Kim is one of the DPRK’s most senior intelligence community’s managers, and he has been a member of the DPRK intelligence community  for over two decades.  Gen. Kim has also served as one of the public faces of the Korean People’s Army in state media and the country’s foreign relations.

Kim Yong Chol was born in 1945.  He attended the Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School and Kim Il-so’ng Military University.  He began his career in a military police unit at the DMZ.  He was a member of the Guard Command and a former bodyguard of late leader Kim Jong Il.  He later held several positions linked to the inter-Korea border and DMZ. He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1990.  In the 1990s Kim Yong Chol became the first deputy director of the defense ministry’s (MPAF) reconnaissance bureau.  He was elected a deputy (delegate) to the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1998.  In the 1990s and 2000s Kim participated in numerous inter-Korea/North-South meetings.  He advocated for the DPRK’s restriction of inter-Korean border crossings in 2008 and conducted inspections near Kaeso’ng in 2009.  In February 2009 Kim Yong Chol was appointed director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (equivalent to the US Director of Central Intelligence).  The RGB consolidated several DPRK intelligence agencies in early 2009 intelligence collection along with direction of training and operations.

Col. Gen. Kim Yong Chol (1st from L) escorts KJI on an inspection of KPA Unit 586 (Photo: KCNA)

In his current position Kim Yong Chol is also responsible for the NDC Policy Department.  He formally reports to General O Kuk Ryo’l, NDC Vice Chairman with the portfolio for foreign intelligence and special operations.  Kim Yong Chol enjoys close ties to the Kim Family.  He has accompanied Kim Jong Un on a number of KPA inspections and military training exercises.  Kim Yong Chol was elected to full membership on the CC KWP and a member of the CMC during the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010.  During the 3rd Party Conference he was seated next to Kim Kyong Hui (KJU’s aunt and KWP Secretary), Gen. Kim Won Hong (Minister of State Security) and VMar Hyon Chol Hae (vice defense minister and director of the military logistics department), indicating his ties to Kim Jong Un’s succession.

On 15 February 2012 Kim was promoted to a 4-star General.  He was reported and photographed accompanying Kim Jong Un on several visits, including a March 2012 visit to P’anmunjo’m.  He was temporarily demoted one-star to Colonel General in 2012, but restored in February 2012.  On 5 March 2013 Kim Yong Chol appeared in state media as a spokesman for the KPA Supreme Command which threatened the DPRK ignoring the armistice agreement.  Kim subsequently attended  Kim Jong Un’s inspection of units along the  North Limit Line [NLL] and other forward deployed units on the inter-Korean in March 2012.  On 7 April 2013, after the DPRK announced it could not guarantee the safety of diplomatic personnel and foreign nationals, Kim Yong Chol held a meeting with foreign ambassadors stationed in Pyongyang, which was subsequently leaked by South Korean government officials.  According to a South Korean government source who spoke to Yonhap News Agency, during the meeting, “nobody at the embassies stationed in the North said general Kim told them to leave the country (on Sunday) according to our confirmation via diplomatic channels.”

According to several sources, Gen. Kim has been difficult for his superiors to manage.

Kim Jong Un (2nd R) looks through binoculars across the DMZ into South Korea during an inspection of sites in and around Panmunjom. Also in attendance is Gen. Pak Jae Gyong (L) and Gen. Kim Yong Chol (R). Since 2009 Gen. Kim has managed military intelligence operations against South Korea. Closely linked to Kim Jong Un’s succession, he was promoted to 4-star general in February 2012. (Photo: KCNA)

Kim Yong Chol

Director, Reconnaissance General Bureau

Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff

Member, CMC

Member, CC KWP

1962: 15th Division (DMZ Civil Police Company)

1968: Liaison Officer, Military Armistice Commission

1990: Promoted, Major General

Deputy Director, MPAF

Director, MPAF Reconnaissance Bureau

1998: Deputy, 10th SPA

2003: Deputy, 10th SPA

2004: Promoted, Lieutenant General

2009: Director, NDC Reconnaissance General Bureau

Deputy, 12th SPA

2010: Elected, Member, CMC

Elected, Member, CC KWP

Promoted, Colonel-General

2012: Promoted, General

See also:

Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., A New Emphasis on Operations Against South Korea,

38 North, U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, June 11, 2010. Online at:

Kim So-hyun, “Kim Visits Army Unit Spying on S. Korea,” Korea Herald, April 27, 2010

“Who’s Who in N. Korea’s Powerful National Defense Commission,” Chosun Ilbo, June 1, 2010

Yonhap News Agency.  North Korea Handbook.  Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003. p. 858

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