Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
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.
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 Yong Chol
Director, Reconnaissance General Bureau
Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff
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
2012: Promoted, General
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