NEW YORK (AFP) – The US intelligence chief revealed Wednesday that he dined with the North Korean general believed responsible for hacking Hollywood studio Sony, during a secret mission to Pyongyang two months ago.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave a riveting account of the visit at a New York conference on cyber security days after the government imposed new sanctions on North Korea in retaliation for the late November attack.
He said it was “the most serious cyber attack ever made against US interests” that could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
He said on November 7, the first night of his mission to free two Americans, he dined with General Kim, “in charge of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the RGB, who’s the organisation responsible for overseeing the attack against Sony.”
Clapper did not give the general’s full name but he apparently was referring to General Kim Yong-chol, director of the RGB, also known as Unit 586, one of three North Korean entities sanctioned by the United States in response to the Sony hack.
Clapper called the elaborate, 12-course repast “one of the best Korean meals I’ve ever had” but said the four-star general spent most of the time berating him about American aggression “and what terrible people we were.” “All the vitriol that he spewed in my direction over dinner was real,” Clapper said.
“They really do believe they are under siege from all directions and painting us as an enemy that is about to invade their country every day is one of the chief propaganda elements that’s held North Korea together.”
He said the pair communicated through a North Korean translator who spoke fluent English “with a British accent, which was kind of strange.”
Kim kept “pointing his finger at my chest and saying the US and South Korean exercise was a provocation to war and of course not being a diplomat, my reaction was to lean back across the table and point my finger at his chest.”
At one point, his assistant suggested Clapper take a “head break” to ease the tension.