North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Kim Chang Son

Kim Chang Son, with Kim Jong Un, at the 6th session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly in September 2012 (Photo: KCNA)

Kim Chang Son, with Kim Jong Un, at the 6th session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly in September 2012 (Photo: KCNA)

updated and revised 14 May 2013

Kim Chang Son (Kim Ch’ang-so’n) is the director and chief secretary of the National Defense Commission [NDC] Secretariat, Kim Jong Un’s executive office.  He is Kim Jong Un’s chief aide, responsible for scheduling, itineraries, protocol and the flow of reports, policy documents and communications to and from the DPRK’s supreme leader.  Kim Chang Son is also a deputy director of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Organization Guidance Department and holds the rank of Lieutenant General in the Korean People’s Army [KPA].  Kim served as a close aide to late leader Kim Jong Il.

Kim Chang Son’s career began in 1969 as a party cadre in the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces [MPAF] External Affairs Bureau, which is responsible for interactions between the KPA and foreign militaries.  In 1970 Kim was appointed deputy military attache at the DPRK Embassy in Moscow.  He turned to the DPRK in 1974 and was appointed senior cadre in the MPAF External Affairs Bureau.  He was promoted to deputy director of the MPAF External Affairs Bureau in 1980 and deputy director-general of the bureau in 1982.  In 1984, Kim rotated out of the KPA and MPAF into the central party and was appointed deputy director of the KWP Administration Department.  He later promoted to department director.

Kim served in the KWP Administration Department until the department merged with the KWP Organization Guidance Department between 1990 and 1992.  In 1992 he received the title of DPRK Labor Hero.  He was appointed a deputy director of the KWP Organization Guidance Department and joined Kim Jong Il’s Personal Secretariat around 1993.  The Personal Secretariat was Kim Jong Il’s executive office in the KWP (also known as the “secretarial office of the Party Central Committee), responsible for communications and paperwork to and from KJI and managing his schedule, security, logistical arrangement and domestic (household) life.  In the Personal Secretariat, Kim Chang Son served as Kim Jong Il’s chief secretary and was one of KJI’s closest advisors and aides.  He was linked directly to the “Third Floor” which managed KJI’s personal financial accounts in foreign banks, procured a variety of appliances, products and daily neccesiities for KJI and his family and provided KJI with a steady stream of news and information from abroad.

In the early 2000s, Kim Chang Son was removed from his position in the Personal Secretariat due to an unknown transgression.  According to a DPRK source, Kim was banished from Pyongyang and served as the organizational secretary on the Anju City (municipal) KWP Committee.  He returned to Pyongyang in 2009, with the assistance of Jang Song Taek (KJI’s brother-in-law and close aide) and Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong Hui (KJI’s sister).  He was selected to serve as a close aide to then-hereditary successor, Kim Jong Un.

Kim Chang Son made one of his first observed public appearances as Kim Jong Un’s chief aide in October 2010 when he accompanied KJU and KJI on a visit to a Pyongyang apartment complex housing stage actors.  Kim was instrumental in establishing an executive office for Kim Jong Un in the NDC, modeled after Kim Jong Il’s Personal Secretariat.  During Kim Jong Il’s funeral in December 2011, Kim Chang Son (attired in a KPA dress uniform) escorted KJU’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, and a group of close Kim family aides, in paying their respects to KJI’s caskets.  As funeral events unfolded, Kim Chang Son routinely appeared at KJU’s side.

Kim Chang Son (annotated) attends a visit by Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un to actors' apartments in central Pyongyang in October 2010 (Photo: KCTV screengrab)

Kim Chang Son (annotated) attends a visit by Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un to actors’ apartments in central Pyongyang in October 2010 (Photo: KCTV screengrab)

Kim Chang Son (annotated) assists Kim Jong Un's examination of first aid equipment during KJU's field inspection of KPA Unit #842 in February 2012 (Photo: KCTV screengrab)

Kim Chang Son (annotated) assists Kim Jong Un’s examination of first aid equipment during KJU’s field inspection of KPA Unit #842 in February 2012 (Photo: KCTV screengrab)

After Kim Jong Un’s accession in January 2012, Kim Chang Son formally replaced Jon Hui Jong, Director of the NDC Foreign Affairs Bureau who migrated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the DPRK supreme leader’s chief protocol officer and Kang Sang Chun, a former KJI close protection escort (bodyguard) who was Director of the Personal Secretariat and KJI’s chief aide.  Kim Chang Son has observed attending to Kim Jong Un when goes to performances, visits to factories, military units and construction projects and national events such as session of the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA], the 4th Party Conference and the March 2013 meeting of the Party Central Committee.

Kim Chang Son was born in 1944 in Myo’nch’o’n County, North Hamgyo’ng Province.  He attended Kim Il Sung University where his concentration was Russian and Soviet Studies.  Kim is fluent in Russian.  Kim was married to the late Ryu Chun Ok, daughter of Ryu Kyong Su (1915-1948) and Hwang Sun Hui (1919-).  Ryu Kyong Su and Hwang Sun Hui met and served in the 88th Special Independent Sniper Brigade of the Soviet Far East Command during the Second Sino-Japanese War (later the Second World War), where they met the late DPRK President and founder, Kim Il Sung.  Ryu Kyong Su would later command the 105th Tank Brigade which led the DPRK’s invasion of ROK during the Korean War (Fatherland Liberation War).  Hwang Sun Hui is a member of the Party Central Committee and has served as Director of the Museum of the Korean Revolution since 1990.  Ryu Chun Ok worked as a section chief in the KWP International Affairs Department and she was a confidante and friend of Kim Kyong Hui.  Ryu Chun Ok passed away from alcohol-related illness in 1989.  When Kim Chang Son remarried in 1990 at the Kim family’s residential compound in Sinch’o’n, North Hwanghae Province, Kim Kyong Hui admonished Kim and his second wife saying, “Do you say you can not drink liquor I poured?” after which Kim and his wife were compelled to become heavily intoxicated.

Kim Chang Son has close political ties to the DPRK’s intelligence community and elements of the country’s foreign trade apparatus.  Kim was one of the few DPRK elites who were permitted access to Kim Jong Il’s children, thus his relationship with Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong, and personal and professional ties to Kim Jong Il’s daughter and close aide Kim Sul Song.  He has close patronage and social ties to Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui, and close social ties to Ri Chol (Chairman of the Joint Venture and Investment Committee and former DPRK Ambassador to Swizterland and the UN Mission Geneva).

Kim Chang Son

Chief Secretary, NDC Secretariat Office (KJU Executive Office)

KPA Lieutenant General

Born: 1944, Myo’ngch’o’n County, North Hamgyo’ng Province


Baccalaureate, Russian, Kim Il Sung University


1969: Cadre, MPAF External Affairs Bureau

1970: Deputy Military Attache, DPRK Embassy in the USSR (Moscow)

1974: Senior Cadre, MPAF External Affairs Bureau

1980: Deputy Director, MPAF External Affairs Bureau

1982: Deputy Director-General, MPAF External Affairs Bureau

1984: Deputy Director, KWP Administration Department

1988: Director, KWP Administration Department

1992: Awarded, Labor Hero

1993: Deputy Director, Kim Jong-il Personal Secretariat

2002: Organizational Secretary, Anju City KWP Committee

2009: Chief Secretary, NDC Secretariat Office


Sources: Interviews with DPRK, US and EU sources by Michael Madden 2009-2013; “Kim Ch’ang-so’n, First Chief Secretary North’s [Korea] Kim Jong Un. . .Even in Charge of Protocol,” Yonhap News Agency (in Korean), May 4, 2013 (accessed May 13, 2013); Gause, Ken E. North Korea Under Kim Chong-il (Santa Barbara, CA, USA: Prager Security International, 2011); Yonhap News Agency The North Korea Handbook (Armonk, NY, USA: M.E. Sharpe, 2003); “Yu Kyong-su: The Father of the KPA’s Armor Forces,” by Joe Bermudez, KPA Journal No. 2 Issue 7, July 2011

An affiliate of 38 North