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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
N. KOREA FUNERAL LIST
U.S. intelligence agencies are busy assessing the new power structure emerging in North Korea as Kim Jong-un, son of the late Kim Jong-il, takes over.
As in the days of the Soviet Union when a communist official's power often was gauged by his position atop Lenin's tomb during state celebrations, U.S. officials are closely scrutinizing the new North Korean pecking order.
"A lot depends on whether the power centers of the regime coalesce around Kim Jong-un or see this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to change the balance of power internally," said a U.S. official familiar with intelligence assessments.
"Those are very tricky calculations to make in an authoritarian society like North Korea."
The first key indicator being looked at is the listing of more than 230 officials designated as members of the official State Funeral Committee for Kim Jong-il. The funeral was held Wednesday in Pyongyang.
The No. 1 official on the list is the 27-year-old, chubby-faced Kim Jong-un, whose current titles include Workers Party of Korea Central Military Commission vice chairman, party central committee member and general in the Korean People's Army.
The new dictator is being dubbed by Pyongyang propaganda organs as "the Great Successor," after his late grandfather ("the Great Leader") and recently deceased father ("the Dear Leader"). He has also been referred to in state media as the "Great Comrade."
According to U.S. officials, Mr. Kim is known to be a basketball player and a big fan of Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. His basketball past raises the prospect that he will one day meet America's current basketball-playing president from Chicago, who is also said to be a Bulls fan.
The funeral committee list is said by U.S. intelligence to be used by the North Korean regime to set its formal power hierarchy and is similar to the power list outlined in September 2010.
Next on the funeral list is Kim Yong-nam, who is nominal head of the government as presidium president of the mock Supreme People's Assembly. Next is Choe Yong-rim, who is Cabinet premier, followed in the No. 4 position by Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and chief of the military's general staff.
In the No. 5 spot is Vice Marshal Kim Yong-chun , minister of the People's Armed Forces and a National Defense Commission (NDC) vice chairman. The two senior officers were seen in video footage of the funeral.
The next seven slots are filled by civilian party leaders, all except one in their 80s.
The No. 13 slot is filled by Vice Marshal Ri Yong-mu, an NDC vice chairman who is married to one of Kim Jong-il's aunts.
And in the No. 14 position is "Gen." Kim Kyong-hui, who is Kim Jong-il's sister and wife of Chang Sang-taek. Mr. Chang is listed as No. 19 on the power chart and is an NDC vice chairman thought by many analysts to be the key power broker operating behind the scenes in Pyongyang.
Of the 232 funeral committee members, 54 are from the military. The rest are civilians who belong to party, government and state-run institutions.
CHINA BOOSTS N. KOREA TIES
U.S. officials see signs that China is moving quickly to strengthen ties with its fraternal communist ally in North Korea, following the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17.
The indicators include Chinese state-run media reports that appear to be warning the United States not to seek to meddle in the power shift to Kim's son, Kim Jong-un over concerns that the regime could collapse or fracture.
Recent messages of support for the Kim dynasty by senior Chinese leaders stated that the two countries are "linked by mountains and waters and stand together sharing weal and woe," the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said that "Chinese people will stand together with the [North Korean] people forever."
Analysts said the messages of support from Beijing are stronger for the new Kim Jong-un regime than those sent in 1994 after the death of Kim Il-sung and the transition to Kim Jong-il.
Official Chinese think-tank scholars, used frequently by Beijing as mouthpieces for official communist policy, were quoted in state-run media as expressing fears of instability on China's northeastern area, where large numbers of ethnic Koreans live.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi telephoned foreign leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to voice Beijing's concern that the leadership succession goes smoothly and preserves stability in North Korea.
One Chinese "expert" told Hong Kong's Chinese-owned Phoenix television, which has been linked by U.S. intelligence to the Chinese military, that U.S. and South Korean pressure on Pyongyang could prompt the North Koreans to react harshly.
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching North Korea's military for any signs that the regime may carry out an attack, as occurred twice in the recent past. The fears are based on concerns that the 27-year-old Kim Jong-un may order a strike to bolster his credentials as a tough leader among the North Korean military.
Other concerns of U.S. officials are that China may attempt to maneuver covertly to bolster its influence in North Korea by helping to promote a pro-China faction of North Korean generals.
COMMUNIST NORTH KOREA
Judging by elite U.S. and foreign news media reporting on the state funeral Wednesday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, an observer could conclude that the regime in Pyongyang is anything but a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship.
All major news outlets failed to mention in their dispatches that the regime in Pyongyang remains Marxist-Leninist - communist - and internationally recognized as one of the world's most brutal totalitarian police states, as well as a nuclear arms and missile proliferator.
The New York Times made no mention of North Korea's communist system, but did refer to the "totalitarian choreography" of the funeral. Instead, its main descriptor was calling the leadership there a cult of personality.
The Washington Post avoided all mention of North Korea's communist system, preferring the term "Stalinist" and "autocratic" to describe it.
The Associated Press, in its reporting, failed to mention the word communism, opting instead to describe North Korea as ruled by "absolute power" and a "personality cult" of its "supreme leader."
Reuters also shunned the word "communism" in favor of the calling North Korea an "isolated nation" that is "unpredictable."
Britain's Guardian, often a font of political correctness, described North Korea a simply a "hermit state."
But the award for anti-anti-communist reporting goes to the Wall Street Journal for its funeral report, describing North Korea as merely "authoritarian."
A former FBI agent who worked the personal security detail for the now-deceased FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells Inside the Ring the recent Hollywood portrayal of the powerful law-enforcement and domestic-intelligence chief as gay is suspect.
"Hoover was asexual," the former agent said. "He didn't want to have sex with anyone."
The former agent said that, like lawyers who often say the law is their mistress, for Hoover, the FBI was his mistress.
That said, there was at least two indications that Hoover favored women and not men.
In the living area of Hoover's Washington apartment were as many as nine small viewing cubes that contained photographs of naked women.
The second feature was a beer tap used by Hoover that was modeled after a woman spreading her legs.
The Clint Eastwood film "J. Edgar" suggests Hoover was engaged in a homosexual relationship with his long-time aide Clyde Tolson.
Mr. Eastwood told ABC's "Good Morning America" last month that Hoover was a "a man of mystery."
"He might have been [gay]. I am agnostic about it. I don't really know, and nobody really knew," he said.
According to the former FBI agent, Hoover at one point commandeered pornographic evidence contained in the FBI's "Obscene File," that included both still photographs and film of both women and men engaging in various sex acts.
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About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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