How I’ve always wanted to say that.
Digital sleuths are coming closer to uncovering the mystery surrounding North Korea’s secretive leader, Kim Jong-il, who has dropped from public view and is widely rumoured to be gravely ill or worse.
Pyongyang has released several “recent” photos of Kim, 66, in an effort to prove his good health, but digital analysis by keen-eyed online investigators has fingered them as being either dated or doctored using tools such as Photoshop.
It comes after US and South Korean officials reported Kim had suffered a stroke in August, following his failure to appear at a September parade marking North Korea’s 60th anniversary. Kim, leader of the world’s most erratic nuclear power, had appeared at the 50th and 55th anniversaries.
The Times of London reported over the weekend that South Korean “Government officials and academic North Korea watchers” had received intelligence suggesting that Kim’s 62-year-old brother-in-law, Chang Sung Taek, who runs North Korea’s secret police, was making key decisions while Kim recuperated.
Last week, North Korea, which has Asia’s only communist dynasty but has no public succession plan, released undated photos showing Kim watching a military soccer match, looking over a canopy of trees and standing with soldiers.
In the latter image, which depicts rows and rows of soldiers, Kim is front and centre. A close-up analysis of the picture reveals that, while the soldiers’ legs cast a shadow at a sharp angle, the “Dear Leader’s” shadow is dead straight.
Furthermore, a black line running behind the first row of soldiers mysteriously disappears when it reaches Kim, before continuing behind those standing next to him. And others have spotted a white smudge next to his left foot, which indicates Kim may have been superimposed onto the image.
The inconsistencies were first reported by The Times of London and a separate analysis by a BBC designer “discovered apparently mismatched pixels to the right of Mr Kim’s legs”.
It follows questions surrounding other photos of Kim, released in October, that appeared to show lush foliage in the background, which horticulture experts said was not possible in that area at that time of year.
It prompted widespread speculation that the photographs were in fact taken in July or August, about the time when Kim is believed to have fallen ill.
Authorities in North Korea have released only still images – not video – of Kim, and he has not met anyone outside North Korean officials, further fuelling the rumours. Some experts have said the very fact that so many photos have been released is, ironically, a sign his health is not normal.
North Korea expert Aidan Foster-Carter told the BBC that North Koreans did not baulk at using photo fakery and “it does seem likely he’s still ill”.
“They sometimes don’t realise that what a domestic audience will accept won’t necessarily work for a more sceptical international audience,” he said.
Looks like the North Koreans have utilized the photoshop skills of their “partners”, the Iranians.
Update: Alternative title for this post: Jong-il? You Bet He Is.