Mystery CIA Officer Thrust Into Spotlight as Korea Summit Looms


The lightning diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea before next week’s historic summit has thrust a little-known CIA officer into an uncomfortably public role as a key intermediary in talks between the two adversaries.

After years working on North Korea at the Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Kim has been cast into the spotlight accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in key meetings with Pyongyang officials. He took part in President Donald Trump’s Oval Office meeting with a senior North Korean envoy last week and has helped prepare the president for his June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

The unusual public role has given Kim, who was raised in South Korea, extraordinary influence over the administration’s approach to the summit and the North Korean nuclear threat more broadly. Just as Pompeo has become Trump’s right-hand man on the Korean talks, twice meeting with Kim Jong Un this year, Andrew Kim has found himself in a similar role for the secretary of state.

“He is in effect the connective tissue right now across the dialogues with the North Koreans,” said
Rexon Ryu
, a partner at the Asia Group and former White House official and Pentagon chief of staff. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the reality is Andy is perhaps the most influential player right now.”

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Kim so far has been seen, not heard, in his new role. But according to half a dozen people who have followed his work, he has been involved in almost all levels of the government strategy toward North Korea. His elevation has pushed seasoned diplomats and policy-makers to the sidelines, an unusual move that breaks with decades of precedent in confronting North Korea’s nuclear threat.

As a fluent Korean speaker who became the CIA’s station chief in Seoul, he gained the trust of senior officials on both sides of the border. Since returning to Washington, he has also had access to the secretive channel that the CIA maintained with Pyongyang during the Obama and Trump administrations.

Mike Pompeo and Andrew Kim, both at right, meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Pyongyang, on May 9.

Source: KCNA via AP

Kim first gained public attention when North Korean state media ran a photograph of him in Pompeo’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in May. An Associated Press photograph was later disseminated showing him on the tarmac when Pompeo landed in Pyongyang on that trip.

Another photo, taken at a dinner Pompeo and his party had with North Korean officials on the same visit, shows Kim sitting at a table laden with food, right next to Kim Yong Chol, the top adviser to Kim Jong Un who would later meet Pompeo and then Trump in New York and Washington.

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