Loose lips sink secrecy: Lip-readers take on Kim Jong-Un’s public appearances

Loose lips sink secrecy: Lip-readers take on Kim Jong-Un’s public appearances
Kim Jong un (Image: YouTube screen grab via Fox News)

So just how does an inner-circle official in elusive North Korea pass the time in small talk conducted with the illustrious marshal Kim Jong-Un, the GenX-aged dictator veiled in layers of inscrutable and intentional secrecy? Very likely, with nervous, self-effacing bowing and scraping, in humble agreement with anything the mercurial leader orders. Certainly, if he knows what is good for himself and his extended family.

Thanks to the recent work of South Korean lip-readers activated by Japanese television, who analyzed the young Kim’s public conversations in the last few weeks, the outside world may have gained a slightly better idea of things.

The first intriguing peek behind the curtain came at the annual North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang on April 11. Launching the rubber-stamp legislative confab, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un arrogantly appeared to extended applause and wild cheers by the deputies who packed the auditorium. He took the center of the platform, surrounded on the dais by the politburo of his Korean Workers Party (KWP) and fellow deputies.

Ten minutes later, KWP Vice Chairman O Su-Yong was seen crouching subserviently next to the young chairman, who is easily 40 years his junior. And Kim Jong-Un did not seem to have particularly kind words for O Su-Yong. In fact, it seemed like he was chewing the vice chair out over something important.

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“We have to take advantage of [that] quickly.” And “you must make [produce] this quickly,” Kim angrily barked at O, in front the 2,000-plus packing the Mansudae Assembly Hall, as one might scold a subordinate behind on his project. Kim continued, “If not, no matter how much we advance, we won’t be able to develop [it]. Have I made myself clear!?” Chilling words and attitude here, coming from a young leader who has previously sent numbers of top North Korean officials and their families to hard labor, or even to gruesome deaths, in the few years since being granted dynastic power.

Lip-readers in South Korea, secured by FUJI Television’s Tokudane! morning show*, were next tasked with analyzing comments made by Kim during the massive April 15 military parade on the birthday of DPRK founder and grandfather Kim il-Sung. Here, too, we find six very curious comments, interspersed with shots of the ebullient Kim smiling ear-to-ear into the cameras on 18 different occasions, as military hardware and goose-stepping soldiers passed in the huge downtown-Pyongyang square.

Those scenes have been analyzed utilizing lip-reading methodology. There is room for error. The context is a bit difficult at times. The dialect of “Pyongyang” Korean may also be somewhat different than the dialects found in South Korea.

During the parade, Kim is seen conversing with Premier Pak Pong-Ju. It does appear that something technical has gone wrong according to a planned schedule of some sort. The topic is “miniaturization,” as Kim observes: “We had hoped to do it this way, but we missed the mark [could not afford it?]. This time [we] test fired [put forth], with the miniaturized new version, but even at this rate, even if we can increase to 0.5 or 0.5 [in speed] and can quickly discharge [fire, launch]…” (sentence unfinished).

Later, Kim Jong-un takes up the issue of the “new version” military equipment in another side conversation. This is the only time he takes up the binoculars and observes the passing parade as new elite special forces in green, brown, and black camouflage, toting modified Kalashnikovs (some analysts have since referred to them as “toys”), were unveiled. Kim takes a glance and says with a beaming face: “New version (신종), isn’t it?” It seems he may be referring to the weapons carried by the goose-stepping squads.

Shortly afterward, Kim turns to the Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army and Vice Marshal Ri Myong-Su. This is just as an impressive musical display by an (apparently staged) Korean People’s Army martial unit was passing. Some have observed that these may have been entertainment artists, dressed in military uniforms simply to impress the outside world. Kim:  “They look so natural…ha..ha..ha. Great! Just like this, we can continue to fool them. They won’t have a clue….ha ha.”

Reportedly, a new version of ICBM missiles (or fake mock-ups thereof) on truck transport systems then took center stage. As they passed, Kim paused and turned around to praise the Commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Lt. Gen. Kim Rak-Gyom, standing just behind him for that part of the parade. “One cannot even tell these missiles are fake. Good job!” Kim Jong-Un delightedly says. His subordinate responds with a typically humble Korean “No!” Kim then adds: “Just in this way, we have to show off [reveal, show] all of them in this manner.” A second reply from the missile commander, “Affirmative. Understood!”

Another indication that this may have been a Potemkin-village ruse came as Kim turned to top military chiefs and once again simultaneously referenced, in the present indicative tense, “missiles,” “cover over” [“concocted”], and “fool,” all in once sentence.

This interesting security lapse on the part of the North Koreans, including even its youthful and rotund “Supreme Leader,” is rather remarkable—with one exception.

The top officials limited their expressions, it is true, to agreement or apple-polishing when talking with Kim.  But one general did show mindfulness of operational security, having the common sense to cover his mouth with a small white notepad as he spoke. Was he cognizant that any or all comments could be observed by foreign press in Pyongyang, and later analyzed and reported out?

Certainly, it can be said the most talkative and mindless of those on the dais was young Kim Jong-Un.

Yet who in their right mind, in that maniacal dictatorship, would ever be foolish enough to counsel the young and ruthless Kim to “dial it back” and watch his words?


* Air date April 19, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.  Additional sources were used in this article.

Thomas P. Logan

Thomas P. Logan

Thomas P. Logan is a writer based in Tokyo, who is fluent in the three principal languages of Northeast Asia. He has enjoyed a career in the fields of academic research, technology deployment, business development, trade negotiations, venture capital investment, television and radio, and executive consulting.