NIS Changes its Mind About Hyon’s Gruesome Execution

Hyon Yong-Chol

I was literally halfway through a post about how we can’t assume that Hyon Yong Chol was executed by anti-aircraft gun merely because the NIS says he was when this story came out:

South Korea’s spy agency said it cannot confirm the execution of North Korea defense chief Hyon Yong Chol, hours after making the opposite claim to South Korean lawmakers.

South Korean lawmaker Kim Kwang-jin told ABC News that Seoul’s National Intelligence Service had said in a closed briefing that Hyon was publicly executed for napping and ‘behaving disrespectfully.’

The NIS also said Hyon was executed on April 29 or 30 through the use of anti-aircraft machine guns in an area 13 miles north of Pyongyang – as hundreds of high-ranking military personnel watched.

South Korean lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who said Hyon was seen attending a concert in Pyongyang just a day or two before his alleged execution, questioned the claim.

‘We’ve seen Hyon even yesterday on TV,’ Shin said Wednesday. ‘If North Korea really executed their No. 2 man in charge of defense, they would make sure he disappears on every single program. That’s definitely their style.’

By late afternoon, the spy agency revised its statement, saying Hyon was purged, but maybe not executed.

And screw it, I’m claiming this as a victory all the same. The lesson to take away from all of this is clearly ‘beware of experts’.

Being an expert means that you know more about the subject in question. It doesn’t mean that you’re less susceptible to cognitive biases such as the availability cascade (‘this has been mentioned often, so it must be important‘) or the halo effect (‘so-and-so says this, and I like so-and-so, therefore it is true‘) or any number of other tempting logical fallacies.

Everyone was primed to believe this following the (highly dubious) Scarlatiou report of execution-by-anti-aircraft gun, and two units of poor evidence are – as every amateur conman knows – more persuasive than one unit of solid evidence. Indeed, a cynic may very well suspect that this is precisely what the NIS – which has shown itself to be far from infallible – was counting on…

For more criticism courtesy of South Korean parliamentarians, see here.


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