Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong IlKremlin Presidential Information Office

South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak learned North Korean despot Kim John Ill died of a heart attack from the North's state-run TV on Saturday morning.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin was briefing legislators in parliament on a defense reform bill when Pyongyang dropped its bombshell. He rushed back to his ministry.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was on a tour of a front-line unit when the news came, Yonhap reported.

"Our intelligence network failed to discover the death of North Korea's top leader over the last two days. It is a direct example of holes in intelligence-gathering on the North," Lee Yong-Sup, spokesman for opposition-leading Democratic Unity Party, told reporters.

A lawmaker from the ruling Grand National Party said there was "no room for excuses" about being unaware of Kim's death for two days, despite the North's infamous secretiveness.

In May the intelligence services came under fire for failing to obtain accurate information about the North Korean leader's trip to China. At the time officials said Kim's son and heir apparent was making the trip while in fact it was his father.

However, observers note that Kim John Il was often only seen by a carefully vetted inner circle - run by his son and heir turned replacement - for weeks at a time. Instead, the enigmatic dictator would issue his decrees through trusted lieutenants.

Amid the public's consternation South Korean intelligence officials can take solace in the company of their peers. Officials in the United States and Seoul’s other Asian allies failed to learn of Kim Jong Il's death before the North announced it.