SEOUL After successful missile launches, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un often exchanges smiles and hugs with the same three men and shares a celebratory smoke with them.
The three, shown with Kim in photographs and TV footage in North Korean media, are of great interest to Western security and intelligence agencies since they are the top people in the secretive country’s rapidly accelerating missile program.
They include Ri Pyong Chol, a former top air force general; Kim Jong Sik, a veteran rocket scientist; and Jang Chang Ha, the head of a weapons development and procurement center.
The photographs and TV footage show that the three are clearly Kim’s favorites. Their behavior with him is sharply at variance with the obsequiousness of other senior aides, most of whom bow and hold their hands over their mouths when…