Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a grand military parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 9 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS

 

  • US intelligence are trying to build a profile of Kim Jong Un ahead of his upcoming meeting with President Donald Trump.
  • The reports will rely in part on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s impressions after meeting the North Korean leader last month and describing him¬†as “a smart guy who’s doing his homework.”
  • Reports will also use intelligence gathered from Kim’s former classmates in Switzerland and ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman.
  • Understanding Kim’s behavior, motives, personality and leadership style will help the Trump administration develop a strategy for dealing with the North Korean leader.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence experts are trying to build a profile of Kim Jong Un to give President Donald Trump a competitive edge in one of the most consequential summits since the Cold War, but they face a huge challenge – figuring out a secretive North Korean ruler few people know much about.

Following a long tradition of arming U.S. presidents with political and psychological dossiers of foreign leaders ahead of critical negotiations, government analysts are gathering every new bit of information they can glean about Kim and making adjustments to earlier assessments of what makes him tick, U.S. officials told Reuters.

They will rely in part on the impressions drawn by CIA director Mike Pompeo, who just weeks ago became the first Trump administration official to meet Kim. Pompeo, Trump’s pick to become secretary of state, came back from Pyongyang privately describing the young North Korean leader as “a smart guy who’s doing his homework” for the meetings, according to one U.S. official, who described Pompeo’s personal view of Kim for the first time.

The profile will also include intelligence gathered in past debriefings of others who have interacted with Kim, including ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman, Kim’s former classmates at a Swiss boarding school and South Korean envoys, other U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

All of this is being used to update the U.S. government’s classified file on Kim’s behavior, motives, personality and leadership style to help Trump and his aides develop a strategy for dealing with Kim at the expected first-ever meeting of U.S. and North Korean leaders.

A White House official declined to confirm any specifics about the drive to better understand Kim, except to say: “There is a robust whole of government effort under way to prepare for the president’s summit,” which is targeted for late May or early June.

Despite that, direct knowledge of Kim remains limited – a “black box,” according to one U.S. official familiar with the profiling efforts – especially given the scarcity of spies and informants on the ground and the difficulties of cyber-espionage in a country where Internet usage is minimal.

When Kim first came to power, the CIA predicted that Kim’s rule might be short-lived. Seven years later that prediction has been dropped and he is now seen as a shrewd and ruthless leader. More recently, many U.S. experts were caught off-guard by how nimbly Kim shifted from his saber-rattling drive to build a nuclear missile arsenal to diplomatic outreach.

The emerging U.S. consensus on Kim is similar to what many outside experts have publicly concluded. He is seen as a “rational actor,” said U.S. officials – not the “total nut job” that Trump once branded him. He craves international stature but his main aim is “regime survival” and perpetuating his family dynasty, suggesting it will be hard for him to agree to full nuclear disarmament, the officials said.

He is ruthless enough to have had relatives executed but now feels secure enough in power to gamble on Trump, they said. In terms of personality, he is seen more like his charismatic grandfather, Kim Il Sung, than his more camera-shy father.

His dispatch of his sister to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February and a rare appearance by his wife when South Korean envoys visited in March demonstrates an effort to humanize his leadership abroad, they added.

Shielded by North Korea’s extreme opaqueness, Kim has posed a special set of profiling problems for U.S. spy agencies. U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a speech earlier this month that North Korea’s leadership was “one of the hardest collection components out there” for intelligence gathering.

U.S. experts will be closely studying both Kim’s words and body language at his historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday, officials said.

U.S. intelligence analysts have spent years examining Kim’s family history, speeches, photos and video, and they are now closely analyzing images and reports of his recent high-profile meetings with South Korean and Chinese officials.

U.S. authorities have also interviewed North Korean defectors and even resorted to second-hand sources such as the memoir of a Japanese sushi chef who once worked for the Kim family, several officials and experts said.

Amid the scramble to put together the Kim profile, the U.S. officials said another challenge was determining how much information to give Trump – known to have little patience for detailed briefings or lengthy documents – and then persuading him not to act purely on gut instinct, as he often does with foreign leaders.

Briefers are expected to limit their presentation to an abridged version, accompanied by photos, maps, drawings and video, the officials said.

It will not be the first time intelligence officers have relied on visual aids to help get him up to speed on North Korea.

Early in his administration, Trump was shown a scale model of North Korea’s sprawling nuclear bomb test site with a removable mountaintop and a miniature Statue of Liberty inside so he could grasp the size of the facility, two U.S. officials said.

A White House official declined comment on the episode.

As reported by Business Insider