The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DNI Clapper finds there’s no free lunch in North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (REUTERS/KCNA NORTH KOREA)

The dinner in North Korea was delicious, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. recalled last week as he recounted his November visit to the Hermit Kingdom to retrieve two imprisoned Americans.

As with many things in that country, it was also a bit strange.

Clapper, in a chat at a cyber security conference in New York , noted that “the plight of the citizens of Pyongyang stood in solemn contrast to the dinner” he had there the night before he picked up the two Americans.

It was, he said, “an elaborate 12-course Korean meal. Having spent time in Korea [as chief of intelligence for U.S. forces there in the mid-‘80s], I consider myself somewhat a connoisseur of Korean food, and that was one of the best Korean meals I’ve ever had.”

Alas, “the company was not pleasurable,” Clapper said, referring to his host, “General Kim, who claimed to me that he was my North Korean counterpart.” Kim, Clapper said, “spent most of the meal berating me about American aggression and what terrible people we were,” arguing his country was “under siege” by its neighbors and blaming Washington for supporting them.

“He got louder and louder,” Clapper recalled, “and he kept leaning toward me, pointing his finger at my chest and saying that U.S. and South Korean [military] exercises were a provocation to war.”

And, after that sumptuous meal, our colleague Ellen Nakashima tells us that the North Koreans presented the Americans with a bill for Clapper’s share of the dinner. Well, when you’re hard up for hard currency, every dollar counts.

(Update: U.S. officials did not disclose how much the North Koreans charged. Nor whether they take American Express.)