South Korea agencies can't confirm Kim brother as CIA source

FILE - This May 4, 2001, file photo shows Kim Jong Nam, exiled half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, in Narita, Japan. A U.S. media report says the slain half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had been a source for the Central Intelligence Agency and traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA contact before his assassination in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. (AP Photos/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)
FILE - This combination of file photos shows Kim Jong Nam, left, exiled half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, in Narita, Japan, on May 4, 2001, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on May 9, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. A U.S. media report says the slain half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had been a source for the Central Intelligence Agency and traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA contact before his assassination in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. The Wall Street Journal on Monday, June 9, 2019, attributed the report to an unidentified “person knowledgeable about the matter,” who said there was a “nexus” between Kim Jong Nam and the U.S. spy agency.(AP Photos/Shizuo Kambayashi, Wong Maye-E, File)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean agencies said Tuesday they could not confirm a report that the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a U.S. intelligence source and had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA contact before being assassinated there in 2017.

Officials at South Korea's National Intelligence Service and Unification Ministry, which oversees ties with North Korea, said they couldn't confirm Monday's report by The Wall Street Journal, which attributed the details to an unidentified "person knowledgeable about the matter."

It's extremely difficult for outside governments and media to verify information about North Korea and members of its secretive ruling family because Pyongyang closely watches visitors and enforces a stringent information blockade on its citizens. Outside media have a checkered history of relying on sources purporting to reveal secret information about the North that's later proven incorrect or incomplete.

The Journal said Kim Jong Nam met on several occasions with CIA operatives, but also that many details of his relationship with the agency remain unclear.

Messages left with the CIA weren't immediately returned.

Kim Jong Nam was killed on Feb. 13, 2017, when two young women smeared VX nerve agent on his face at a Kuala Lumpur International Airport terminal.

Murder charges were dropped against the women earlier this year. They had been accused of colluding with four North Koreans who prosecutors said had fled the country the day of the attack.

Lawyers for the women have said they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The U.S. and South Korea, too have blamed North Korea, but Malaysian officials never officially accused Pyongyang of involvement.

Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea's ruling family and could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong Un's rule.

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