In rare move, career diplomat to become spy chief
Kim, a career diplomat, served as senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security in the Park Geun-hye administration from October 2015 to May 2017.
An aide to Yoon said Monday that Kim will be officially appointed soon and that he is a "security expert with proven skills."
A U.S. affairs expert, Kim passed the foreign service exam in 1980 and served in various posts for the Foreign Ministry, including assignments at the Korean Embassy in the United States and as deputy director-general of the North American Affairs Bureau. He served as a first vice foreign minister from 2013 to 2014 and later as deputy director of the Blue House National Security Office (NSO) in the Park administration.
During this period, Kim dealt with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and China's retaliations for Korea's deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in 2016 and its installation the following year.
He also served as director-general of the Ministry of National Defense's International Cooperation Bureau.
Thus, he is well-versed in the workings of the presidential office, Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry.
It is rare for a former diplomat to become spy chief, a position usually filled by someone with a military or NIS background, or at times a political appointment. The spy chief is sometimes a president's most trusted aide.
Park Jie-won, the current NIS chief, was a former culture minister and presidential chief of staff who was known for helping arrange the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. He also was a floor leader for the minor People's Party and a four-term lawmaker.
Kim served as a foreign policy adviser to Yoon during his campaign but also has a complex relationship with the prosecutor-turned-president.
Kim was previously mentioned as a possible foreign minister candidate before President Park's impeachment in 2016 and ouster in 2017 for corruption and abuse of power.
Yoon played an instrumental role in Park's fall from power — first as a prosecutor who led the probe into the NIS's operation to influence public opinion in favor of Park during the 2012 presidential election, which Park won, and later as one of the chief prosecutors of the probe into the corruption scandal that directly led to Park's impeachment.
Kim was detained at the airport in July 2018 on charges of lying about Park's handling of the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, which killed more than 300 people. He was accused of submitting a falsified Blue House report to the National Assembly about Park's handling of the ferry's sinking after accusations that she bungled the response to the ferry in the crucial early hours when more passengers could have been saved. Kim had refused to comply with repeated requests for an investigation while in the United States, where he was a visiting professor at Stanford University. In turn, prosecutors asked Kim to be placed on Interpol's Red Notice list of suspects. Prosecutors later decided to drop the case against Kim.
Yoon at the time was chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.
Yoon's selection of Kim as his spy chief appears to reflect his desire to reorganize the NIS into an intelligence organization that focuses on foreign and North Korean intelligence, like Israel's Mossad spy agency. Yoon has said the NIS should not be involved in domestic politics.
An aide to Yoon said the president is fine with appointing someone he does not know well in order to prioritize finding a "security heavyweight."
Kim is a graduate of Seoul National University's School of Dentistry and received a masters' degree in public administration from Harvard University.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]