Jeffrey LewisThe Clothes Geolocate the Man

Or, geolocating Kim Jong Un by his (somewhat questionable) fashion choices. A joint post with Dave Schmerler.

da bomba

Surely, you remember this image, notable because it shows a mock-up of a compact nuclear warhead and Kim Jong Un in a ridiculous coat, hat, and eyeglasses. KCNA reported on the visit on March 9, 2016.

One question is where the visit occurred.  As our friend Michael Madden has pointed out, the most likely location is the Thaesong (T’aeso’ng) Machine Plant outside of Pyongyang, aka the Chamjin Missile Factory (38.957764°, 125.571794°). Michael based his conclusion on the similarity between the building and an image from inside Thaesong taken by a Burmese delegation.

Now we have some more data.  And it strengthens the case that Michael is right.

Michael included one other detail that intrigued Jeffrey. “Kim Jong Un visited the T’aeso’ng factory one week ago,” Michael wrote, “And yet, he was also instructing that T’aeso’ng’s factory managers and chief functionaries prepare for his visit, briefing and demonstration with the leading personnel of the country’s nuclear weapons.”

KCNA reported the earlier visit on March 2, with lots of images and subsequent video.  But KCNA did not show, or even mention, missiles on that earlier visit.

But North Korea recently released another video showing Kim Jong Un walking among KN-14 ballistic missiles.  The clip is very short — a mere four seconds — but that was enough to notice he is dressed differently.  Kim is in the same room, but wearing different outfits.


It’s a little hard to see in some browsers, so I enlarged and brightened the relevant section showing this is the same room.


Look carefully and you can see the same green banner and the same yellow beams.  The buildings match.  And, in a slightly different image, you can even match the paint-jobs on the nosecones, which vary slightly from missile to missile.  (You can try that out in the comments for fun.)

And, of course, the black ensemble is consistent with the first visit to Thaesong, reported on March 2.


A wardrobe match is hardly conclusive alone.  Perhaps Kim visited some other facility twice, once in black and then dressed like an extra in Spies Like Us.  But Kim’s visits to factories are extensively reported — even if, as in the case of the second visit, the location is unmentioned — and we can’t find another candidate location for Kim to have visited twice, let alone with costume changes.  It looks like Michael Madden is right.  The room is located at Thaesong.

Having all these images and video is really a change.  I remember how excited we all were, a few years ago, to get a single, blurry image from inside Thaesong, courtesy of a careless Burmese delegation.


Now we have lots of happy snaps to play with!

For the March 2 trip, KCNA stated explicitly that Kim was visiting Thaesong — although, as we say, it didn’t mention that the facility makes missiles. That seems to be the rule — KCNA will mention Thaesong or mention missiles, but it won’t mention both in the same story. But even if KCNA hadn’t indicated the location of the earlier visit, we could still confirm the location.  In addition to some outside shots, some of the indoor images are revealing.  The semi-circular roof is pretty unusual, and easy to spot in satellite images. But there is one more detail.  North Korea added an extension to it between 2012 and 2015.


You can actually see evidence of the extension in the image with Kim Jong Un.  It’s a nice confirmation of his location, matching the inside of the building to its outside.


A final note: Kim Jong Un also visited Thaesong with his father in 2011.  The commemorative image from that visit was taken outside a different building. The same building is visible in the film.



My favorite signature is the salmon-colored pavement. It’s a little touch of class.


While there are several large buildings on site that might have hosted the visit that included the “disco ball” and the array of missiles, our educated guess is that the visit occurred in the large building.


  1. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    I think I have seen buildings like that one with the semicircular roof in the Myanmar photos at Geo4Nonpro. Will check.

  2. Anon2 (History)

    1) Why the lack of heat. They are dressed in heavy clothing.

    2) Kim in his latest pictures shows a belly that is distended, even beyond morbid obesity. This puzzle piece doesn’t fit with a man that only 10 years earlier was playing basketball at prep-school. He is the President of his country. Surely he has both good physicians and access to a personal trainer. Surely he doesn’t have to work all the time. It is as if they are trying to kill him.

    • Steven Hayden (History)

      He might benefit from sleep apnea testing. Modern sleep apnea testing can be rented from internet source. .I suspect that DPRK may not have much sleep apnea centers since sleep apnea is correlated with neck size. Its better for everyone if Kim gets a good night sleep and feels energetic during the day so that he makes proper decisions.

  3. J_kies (History)

    Jeffrey – its not nice to make fun of his fashion responses to the fact they cannot afford to heat their facilities. Lack of heating fuel causes the personnel to be less effective than they could be and its a huge indicator of exactly how stretched their program is that they could not afford to even heat the building for an inspection by the Son-King.

    See you can gain a useful sense of their national limitations involving industrial capacities from his fashion sense too…

    • Steven Hayden (History)

      It shows their values. They want to squeeze every kiloton out of the defense budget. No frills are needed.

  4. Steven Hayden (History)

    Although the building serves display purpose, I suspect that manufacturing occurs deep underground in rooms protected from aerial bombing.Like Peenemunde in WWII.