North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Jo Kyong Chol Back on the CMC

General Jo Kyong Chol (Photo: KCNA)

Military Security Command [MSC]** Director Jo Kyong Chol (Cho Kyo’ng-ch’o’l) was returned to membership on the Party Central Military Commission [CMC].  Head of the MSC since 2010 and former political director of the KPA Air Force,  Jo has been a key adviser and aide to Kim Jong Un [KJU; Kim Cho’ng-un) since his hereditary succession. Jo was a member of the CMC during the early 2010s.  He was removed from that political office due to the fact that the CMC reduced its personnel numbers, restricting them only to 1st-tier principals of the North’s armed forces, internal security and defense industry.  However, Jo continued to attend CMC meetings as an observer.  During the 12 May Political Bureau meeting at which KJU disclosed that North Korea did have cases of COVID-19, Gen. Jo attended as an observer and assumed a leading role in executing the KPA’s response to the pandemic.

KJU walks onto the platform at the national meeting marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the DPRK. Jo Kyong Chol is in the background at the left (Photo: KCTV)

Gen. Jo Kyong Chol (annotated), Director of the Military Security Command, attends Kim Jong Un’s inspection of KPA Air and Anti Air Force Unit #447 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap).

With the vertiginous number of personnel changes at the top of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] during the last ten years, Jo has been a critical and stable figure.  Some Pyongyang watchers have poetically termed Gen. Jo as an “angel of death” due to the amount of violence and death involved first in KJU’s initial consolidation of power and, second when squashing out insubordinate cadres.  Until Jo took the helm at MSC, it was viewed as a bit of a joke among the DPRK’s internal security services particularly compared against the Guard Command [GC] which received the previous Suryo’ng’s attention and prestige.  This has changed under KJU and during 2017-2018 the MSC eclipsed the GC in terms of influence.

Lt. Gen. Ri Chang Ho was appointed director of the KPA Reconnaissance General Bureau during the 5th plenary meeting of the 8th Central Committee 8-10 June 2022 (Photo: KCNA)

Jo Chun Ryong was appointed director of the WPK Munitions Industry Department during the 5th plenary meeting of the 8th Central Committee 8-10 June 2022 (Photo: KCNA)

Jo’s appointment to the CMC occurred during the 5th plenum of the 8th Central Committee.  This gathering ushered in the largest personnel shake up in North Korea’s national security community since the country’s foundation.  Two of the four KPA High Command positions (General Political Bureau Director, Chief of the General Staff Department) have changed, along with the head of the State Security Department (Ministry of State Security), the Minister of Public Security, the director of the KPA Reconnaissance General Bureau, the director of the United Front Department, the director of the party’s Munitions Industry Department and the Foreign Minister.  It is all but certain that Gen. Jo Kyong Chol was an instrumental in supporting KJU to make these personnel changes with little direct blowback to the current Suryo’ng.



**The MSC’s primary mission is to prevent a military coup against North Korea’s supreme leadership; it does this in a number of ways, mainly through clandestine monitoring of the behavior and activities of senior KPA personnel and members of their immediate families (through travel permits and housing and schooling assignments).  Under KJU, the MSC’s organization and writ have expanded with MSC given permission to investigate and/or monitor party cadres and other civilians.**

An affiliate of 38 North