Washington is monitoring intelligence that suggests North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is in grave danger after undergoing a previous surgery, according to a US official with direct knowledge, CNN informs.
A second source familiar with the intelligence told CNN that the US has been closely monitoring reports on Kim’s health. Kim recently missed the celebration of his grandfather’s birthday on April 15, which raised speculation about his well-being. He had been seen four days before that at a government meeting.
Another U.S. official told CNN Monday that the concerns about Kim’s health are credible but the severity is hard to assess. Daily NK, an online newspaper based in South Korea that focuses on North Korea, reports that Kim reportedly received a cardiovascular system procedure on April 12.
Kim received the cardiovascular system procedure because of “excessive smoking, obesity, and overwork,” according to the news site, and is now receiving treatment in a villa in Hyangsan County following his procedure.
After assessing that Kim’s condition had improved, most of the medical team treating him returned to Pyongyang on April 19 and only part of them remained to oversee his recovery situation, according to the news site. CNN is unable to independently confirm the report.
A South Korean source told CNN Monday that the country’s top leaders are very much aware of reports about Kim’s health status but cannot independently verify details published by Daily NK. The source acknowledged that Kim’s issues related to weight and smoking are well known but made clear they are waiting for more information, CNN added.
South Korea’s Presidential Blue House said in a statement provided to reporters that they have nothing to confirm on reports about Kim’s health and that “no unusual signs” have been detected inside North Korea. South Korea’s Unification Ministry and Defense Ministry have given a “no comment.”
The National Security Council and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment when reached by CNN on Monday. CNN has also reached out to the CIA and the State Department for comment.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have been reaching out to North Korean experts — particularly those who have studied the Kim regime — to talk about contingency planning, a third source familiar with the communications told CNN.
Still, the situation remains murky as gathering intelligence out of North Korea is notoriously difficult — one of the most challenging targets for U.S. intelligence.
North Korea tightly controls any information surrounding its leader, who is treated almost like a deity within the country. His absences from official state media often spark speculation and rumors about his health. North Korea has no free press and is often a black hole when it comes to the country’s leadership. Analysts are heavily reliant on scanning state media dispatches and watching propaganda videos for any semblance of a clue, CNN notes.