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Kim Jae-gyu
Born ( 1926 -03-06)March 6, 1926
Seonsangun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Republic of Korea
Died May 24, 1980 ( 1980 -05-24) (aged 54)
Seoul, South Korea
Cause of death execution (hanging)
Residence Seoul, Korea
Education Hanyang University graduate Engineering Master
Occupation soldier, Jeongmujik government official
Religion Buddhism
Spouse(s) Kim Young Hee

Kim Jae-gyu (March 6, 1926 – May 24, 1980) was a South Korean Army Lieutenant General and the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. He assassinated South Korean President Park Chung-hee - who had been one of his closest friends - on October 26, 1979. He was subsequently executed by hanging on May 24, 1980. He remains a controversial figure with many contradictions, regarded by some as a patriot who ended Park's 18-year military dictatorship, and by others as Park's henchman who killed his long-time benefactor out of personal grievance. For many years, the latter was the prevailing view, but later revelations in the early 2000s about Kim's relationship with some leaders of the democracy movement prompted reevaluation in some circles.

Early life

Kim was born in Park Chung-hee's hometown, Gumi-si, in the South Korean province of Gyeongsangbuk-do during the Japanese occupation. He graduated from Gyeongbuk University in 1945 and became a middle school teacher until the newly independent South Korean government established its military and created the Korea Military Academy, then called Joseon Defense Academy. He graduated from the Joseon Defense Academy in December 1946, the same year as Park Chung-hee, and from Army College in 1952. He served as a regimental commander in 1954 and as vice-president of the Army College in 1957, where Kim Gye-won was the president at the time. (Later Kim Gye-won became Chief Secretary to President Park and was present at the scene of assassination.) In 1961, when Park Chung-hee staged a military coup to seize power, Kim did not participate in the coup and was suspected of being a counterrevolutionary. He was temporarily detained until he was released on Park's order. He served Park's military dictatorship from then until his assassination of Park in 1979.

Park's dictatorship

During Park's dictatorship, Kim was appointed as the commander of Sixth Division in 1963. When there was a widespread demonstration against the Korean-Japanese treaty in 1964, which Park pursued in secret and was widely regarded to be disadvantageous to Korean fishermen, Kim's Sixth Division was dispatched to Seoul to subdue student demonstrations. Kim's handling of the situation was said to have earned Park's trust and favor. On the other hand, it is also said that Kim refused to involve the Army in arrest of civilians and left the task to the police while instead ordering his troop to occupy itself with clean-up of streets and university campus.[1] Afterward, he commanded Sixth Military District in 1966, Army Security Command in 1968, and the Third Army Group in 1971. While he was the commander of Army Security Command, a military organ whose chief function was to safeguard the dictatorship (Chun Doo-hwan was the commander of Army Security Command when he successfully staged a military coup on December 12, 1979), President Park ran for a third term in the 1971 presidential election. Kim persuaded President Park to promise to voters that it would be his last term. He also opposed the formation of Hanahoe, a secret organization formed by Chun Doo-hwan and other young officers who took personal oaths of loyalty to Park and the group itself above all else, and criticized it as a private army. (Eventually, Hanahoe staged a military coup under Chun's leadership after Park's assassination to seize power and drove out older generation of military generals.)[2]

While Kim was the commander of the Third Army Group in Kang-won Province, President Park declared national emergency and martial law, dismissed the National Assembly, and prohibited all political activities in October 1972. The purpose was to ratify the Yushin Constitution of 1972, which (a) abolished direct vote for presidential election and replaced it with indirect voting system involving delegates, (b) allotted one third of the National Assembly seats to the president, (c) gave the president the authority to issue emergency decrees and suspend the Constitution, (d) gave the president the authority to appoint all judges and dismiss the National Assembly, and (e) repealed a term limit to presidency. In the 1971 election, Park had nearly lost to opposition leader Kim Dae-joong despite spending ten percent of the national budget on his reelection campaign. The Yushin Constitution was designed to guarantee his dictatorship for life. Indeed, Park was later re-elected as the president by a unanimous vote of approximately 2,000 delegates, who all became delegates themselves with Park's approval. According to Kim's subordinate officers at Third Army Group, Kim did not hide his displeasure at learning of Yushin Constitution.[3]

Yushin Constitution

After his arrest, Kim wrote in Chinese calligraphy that it took seven years to accomplish his resolution, suggesting that the Yushin Constitution turned him against Park. In his trial, he claimed that he planned to detain Park if the latter were to visit the Third Army Group base on his annual tour of army groups and force his resignation. According to Third Army Group operations chief of staff Oh Soo-choon, who was also Kim's brother-in-law, Kim installed front-line fence around a small building in the base and set it up so that it would prevent exit from within rather than entry from without.[4]

More significantly, Kim appears to have had a close relationship with Jang Jun-ha, widely respected leader of democracy movement as a former Liberation Army officer, opposition lawmaker, and publisher of monthly journal World of Ideology. According to Jang Ho-kweon, Jang's eldest son and current publisher of the journal, Jang told him that Kim was a patriotic soldier who would one day work together for democracy.[5] In 1979, Kim claimed to his lawyer that his first attempt to assassinate Park was in September 14, 1974 when he was appointed to be Construction Minister. A newsreel of this event shows something protruding in Kim's pocket when he shook hands with Park. According to Rev. Yi Hae-hak, who was imprisoned with Jang Jun-ha when Jang was sentenced to fifteen years for petition campaign against Yushin Constitution, Jang knew of Kim's plan to assassinate Park and was very disappointed when it did not take place, uttering to himself, "Is it that great to be a minister?". After Jang died in a suspicious circumstance while climbing a mountain in 1975, Kim helped Jang's family financially in secret. When Kim later became KCIA director in 1976, he told Jang's son with deep regret that Jang's death was not accidental as officially announced but that the regime was involved.[6]

According to Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan, another leading figure in democracy movement, Kim (then KCIA deputy director) came to see him whenever there was political crisis. In 1975, he asked Cardinal Kim to speak with President Park to come up with the "third way," that is, to somehow amend the Yushin Constitution in a way that was acceptable to Park. According to Cardinal Kim, Kim compared President Park to "a sick patient" who needed weak medicine initailly. Kim believed that the Catholic cardinal was the only person who could speak frankly to Park without repercussion and was disappointed when the talk was essentially fruitless.[7] Kim's association with two key figures of democracy movement - Jang Jun-ha and Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan - led some to reconsider Kim's motive in assassinating Park.

As Construction Minister (1974–1976), Kim promoted the entry of Korean construction companies into Saudi Arabia, increasing South Korean export to the Middle East twentyfold from $45 million in 1973 to $900 million in 1976 and thus making South Arabia the fourth most important overseas market,[8] which helped South Korea weather the 1973 oil crisis.

KCIA Director

On February 4, 1976, Kim was summoned by President Park and was appointed as the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), one of the most powerful and feared positions under Park's dictatorship. The KCIA was created in 1961 to coordinate both international and domestic intelligence activities including those of the military with primary aim of combating communism and North Korea. Since then, it was also used to suppress any domestic opposition to Park's regime using its broad powers to wiretap, arrest, and detain suspects without a court order. The KCIA was responsible for widespread violations of human rights in South Korea, engaging in torture, political murder, and kidnapping. It was also heavily involved in behind-the-scene political maneuverings to weaken the opposition parties using bribery, blackmail, threats, arrest, and/or torture of opposition lawmakers. Later Kim claimed that he did not want the position but thought that it would give him the best chance to persuade President Park and reform the Yushin system.

Kim's tenure as the KCIA director has many contradictions. On one hand, Kim asked President Park to lift the Ninth Emergency Decree at least three times, which punished any criticism of Yushin Constitution with a prison term of at least one year, until it was finally replaced with the Tenth Emergency Decree, which relaxed many restrictions of the Ninth Decree. He also released many activists and students who had been arrested under the Ninth Decree.[9] Declassified U.S. diplomatic cables revealed that Kim was thought as an unusual KCIA director who often spoke of democracy and one of more approachable figures who often carried Washington's messages on human rights to President Park.[10]

On the other hand, Kim was responsible for KCIA activities that took place during his tenure including the assassination of former KCIA director Kim Hyeong-wook, political sabotage of the opposing New Democratic Party's internal election, and the violent arrest of female workers of a wig company YH Trade. Nearly 200 female workers of YH Trade held sit-in demonstrations at the headquarters of New Democratic Party (NDP) when 2,000 policemen stormed the NDP headquarters on August 11, 1979. In the process, one female worker fell to her death and 52 people including 10 workers, 30 NDP members, and 12 journalists were injured, some requiring hospitalization. Furthermore, KCIA Deputy Director Kim Jeong-Seop and Kim Gye-won testified in their trial after Park's assassination that Kim pursued the firm action in YH case over the objection of subordinates and that Kim wanted stronger measures than the Ninth Decree allowed.[citation needed] However, their claims are not thought[by whom?] to be credible since some other testimonies are demonstrably untrue and they needed to distance themselves from Kim.

Year 1979

The last year of Park's rule was particularly turbulent with increasing opposition from the New Democratic Party (NDP), which was emboldened after winning the 1978 election by 1.1% despite Park's complete control of media, money, and all institutions of the government. Because of the Yushin Constitution, which allowed President Park to appoint one third of National Assembly seats, Park's Democratic Republican Party (DRP) remained in power. In May 1979, Kim Young Sam was elected as the chairman of New Democratic Party (NDP) despite intense behind-the-scene maneuverings by KCIA to back a more pliable candidate Yi Chul-seung. Under Kim Young Sam's leadership, the NDP took the hardline policy of never compromising or cooperating with Park until the repeal of Yushin Constitution and took on direct confrontation in many issues, especially the aforementioned YH Trade case. After the violent arrest, Kim Young Sam warned that Park's murderous regime would soon collapse in the most wretched manner. Park was determined to remove Kim from the political scene like imprisoned Kim Dae-joong. In September 1979, the KCIA worked behind the scene to entice three NDP members to challenge Kim's election as NDP chairmanship in the court on technicality, and the court obliged by ordering the suspension of Kim's NDP chairmanship.[citation needed]

The political tension intensified further when Kim Young Sam gave an interview with the New York Times reporter Henry Stokes, in which he called on the United States to make a choice between military dictatorship and Korean people and stop supporting Park's regime. President Park ordered Kim's expulsion from the National Assembly, which Director Kim feared to be a disastrous path. On October 3, 1979, Director Kim met the DNP Chairman Kim, hoping to find a way to avoid such development. Having asked reluctant Kim to come to KCIA "for the sake of the country", Director Kim warned that Park's hostility toward him reached the point where it might not end with just expulsion or arrest and literally begged Kim Young Sam to just say that there was miscommunication with the interview. According to Kim Young Sam, when he refused, Director Kim appealed that it would bring misfortune to the country, to Kim Young Sam and to President Park. Indeed, Kim's expulsion from the Assembly the next day led all 66 NDP lawmakers to submit their resignation to the National Assembly en masse and the U.S. to recall its ambassador to Washington in protest. Uprisings broke out in Kim Young Sam's hometown in Busan on October 16, the second largest city in South Korea, resulting in arson of 30 police stations over several days. It was the largest demonstration since the days of President Rhee Seung Man and spread to nearby Masan on October 19 and other cities, with students and citizens calling for repeal of the Yushin Constitution. KCIA Director Kim went to Busan to investigate the situation and found that the demonstrations were not riots by some college students, but more like a "popular uprising joined by regular citizens" to resist the regime. He warned President Park that the uprisings would spread to five other largest cities including Seoul. Park said that he himself would give an order to fire upon demonstrators if the situation got worse.[citation needed]

Rivalry between Kim and Cha

Kim's position, already under stress of the series of political crises of 1979, was further complicated by his rivalry with Chief Presidential Bodyguard Cha Ji-cheol and worsening relationship with President Park. The rivalry stemmed largely from Cha's increasing encroachment into KCIA turf and arrogant behaviors that belittled Kim in public. Almost universally disliked yet feared, Cha served Park in close proximity since 1974 and became his favorite and most trusted advisor in the process. Cha appropriated tanks, helicopters, and troops from the Army so that the presidential security apparatus had a division-level firepower under Cha's direct command. Furthermore, he began to engage in political maneuverings with President Park's blessing, which resulted in frequent clash with KCIA. In the NDP's election for its chairman in 1979, KCIA backed Yi Chul-seung to prevent the election of hardliner Kim Young Sam, but Cha Ji-chul interfered in KCIA's political sabotage with its own behind-scene maneuverings. When Kim Young Sam was elected as the NDP chairman, Cha laid the blame on KCIA, which infuriated Kim. Later Cha pushed for Kim's expulsion from the National Assembly,[11] which Director Kim feared to be a disastrous development. Cha easily bested his opponent as his hardline approach was favored by Park, and he blamed worsening development on Director Kim's weak leadership of KCIA at every opportunity. As Cha came to control the scheduling of President Park's meetings and briefings and thus access to the president, KCIA briefings, which were usually the first business in the morning, were pushed down to afternoons. By October, there were wide rumors that Kim would be soon replaced as KCIA director.[citation needed]

The assassination

On the day of assassination, Park and his entourage visited ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a dam in Sap-gyeo-cheon and a KBS TV transmitting station in Dang-jin. Kim was expected to accompany him since the TV station was under KCIA jurisdiction, but Cha blocked him from riding in the same helicopter with President Park. Director Kim angrily excused himself from the trip.

After the trip, President Park instructed KCIA to prepare for one of his numerous banquets - on the average of ten per month according to KCIA Chief Agent Park Seon-ho, one of the conspirators - at a KCIA safehouse in Gungjeong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea. It was to be attended by President Park, KCIA Director Kim, Chief Bodyguard Cha, Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won, and two young women - rising singer Shim Soo-bong and a college student named Shin Jae-soon. When Director Kim was notified of the banquet, he called Korean Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa 15 minutes later to invite him to the KCIA safehouse and arranged to have him dine with KCIA Deputy Director Kim Jeong-seop in a nearby KCIA building in the same compound.[12] Just before the dinner, Director Kim told Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won that he would get rid of Chief Bodyguard Cha. It is not clear whether Kim Gye-won misheard or misunderstood Director Kim or he ignored Kim's words.

During the dinner, volatile political issues including demonstrations in Busan and the opposition leader Kim Young Sam were discussed with President Park and Chief Bodyguard Cha taking hardline and Director Kim calling for moderate measures while Chief Secretary Kim was trying to steer the topic of discussion to small talk. President Park rebuked Director Kim for not being repressive enough in dealing with protestors and Kim Young Sam, whom Park said should be arrested. Each time discussion drifted to other subjects, Chief Bodyguard Cha continued to bring up the inability of KCIA to end the crisis and suggested that demonstrators and opposition lawmakers should be "mowed down with tanks." The rebukes from President Park and especially Cha riled up Director Kim. Director Kim left the dining room to convene with his closest subordinates - former Marine colonel and KCIA Chief Agent Park Seon-ho and Army colonel and Director Kim's secretary Park Heung-ju (no relations) - and said to them: "Chief of Staff and Deputy Director are here as well. Today is the day." Asked if President Park is included as a target, Kim said yes.[13] Kim reentered the room with a semi-automatic pistol Walther PPK, shot Chief Bodyguard in the arm and then President Park in the left chest. He attempted to fire again on Cha, but the gun jammed. Cha fled to a bathroom adjacent to the dining room. Kim came back with his subordinate's gun and again shot at Cha in the abdomen and Park in the head, who was dead by then. Upon hearing the initial shots, Park Seon-ho held two bodyguards in the waiting room at gunpoint and ordered them to put hands up in hope of preventing further bloodshed especially since he was a friend with one of the bodyguards. When the other bodyguard attempted to reach for a gun, Park shot them both to death. At the same time, Colonel Park Heung-ju and two other KCIA agents stormed the kitchen and killed remaining bodyguards. President Park, Chief Bodyguard Cha, three presidential bodyguards, and a presidential chauffeur died in the end.[14]


After killing President Park, Kim asked Chief Secretary Kim to secure the safehouse and ran to the nearby KCIA building where Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa was waiting. Jeong heard the shootings and was discussing them with KCIA Deputy Director Kim Jeong-seop when Director Kim came in breathless to tell them that an emergency situation occurred. In the car, Kim notified Jeong that President Park has died, but without explaining how he died. Kim hoped that Jeong and Chief Secretary Kim would support him in the coup as both were appointed to their position on his recommendation, and Chief Secretary Kim was especially close with him. The car initially headed to KCIA Headquarters in Namsan district but eventually went to Army Headquarters in Yongsan district since the Army would have to be involved in declaring emergency martial law. Many historians believe that Kim made a critical mistake in not going to KCIA HQ where he would be in control. However, his failure to gain Jeong's support sealed the fate of the conspirators.

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Kim took President Park's body to the Army hospital and ordered doctors to save him at all costs (without revealing Park's identity), and went to Prime Minister Choi Kyu-ha to reveal what happened that night. When Chief of Staff Jeong learned of what happened from Chief Secretary Kim, he ordered Major General Chun Doo-hwan, commander of Security Command who later became the president of South Korea through a military coup, to arrest Director Kim and investigate the incident. Director Kim was arrested after he was lured to a secluded area outside Army HQ on the pretext of meeting with Army Chief of Staff. Eventually, everyone involved in the assassination was arrested, tortured, and later executed. Kim himself was hanged on May 24. In the process, Chun Doo-hwan emerged as a new political force by investigating and subjugating KCIA, the most feared government agency until then, under his Security Command and later by arresting the chief martial law administrator Jeong Seung-hwa (and Chief Secretary Kim) on suspicion of conspiring with Director Kim. Both were eventually released after Chun Doo-hwan seized power with a military coup in May 1980 (both were on death row at one time).[15]

See also

  • List of Korea-related topics
  • History of South Korea
  • The President's Last Bang
  • Assassination of Park Chung-hee


  1. Sound of Seoul, Reevaluation of Kim Jae-kyu Who Shot the Heart of Yushin, May 19, 2011
  2. Sound of Seoul, Reevaluation of Kim Jae-kyu Who Shot the Heart of Yushin, May 19, 2011
  3. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004
  4. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004
  5. KBS 1 TV, Jang Jun-ha, Part 2, Modern History in Biography
  6. KBS 1 TV, Jang Jun-ha, Part 2, Modern History in Biography
  7. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004
  8. Nigel Disney (1977), South Korean Workers in the Middle East, Middle East Research and Information Project(MERIP) Reports
  9. Sound of Seoul, Reevaluation of Kim Jae-kyu Who Shot the Heart of Yushin, May 19, 2011
  10. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004
  11. KBS 1 TV, Cha Ji-chul: "The President Is the State", Modern History in Biography
  12. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004
  13. MBC TV, People of Gungjeong-dong, Now We Can Tell the Story
  14. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004
  15. MBC TV, Why Did Kim Jae-kyu Shoot? Now We Can Tell the Story, April 4, 2004

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