MSS agents, in need of bribes, becoming less fierce

In a recent incident that reportedly occurred in North Korea’s border city of Hoeryong, officials from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security apprehended a local resident for making a telephone call to South Korea and demanded a bribe. While such events are routine, after receiving the money, the officials in this incident took the unusual step of driving the resident back to their home.

“In the middle of October, a resident in Hoeryong was arrested by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) for making a call to South Korea. The resident gave the officers 10,000 yuan (US $1,500) and was subsequently released. The officers tasked with handling the case even went as far as to provide a ride home for the arrested resident,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK via telephone on November 24.   

“In the past, the MSS used to take make a lot of noise and demand exorbitant amounts of money to turn a blind eye to certain activities, so the news that the MSS offered to drive this resident back home to ensure he arrived safely is raising eyebrows.”

The North Korean authorities regard telephone calls with the outside world (China, South Korea, etc.) as anti-state behavior. Those who are convicted of committing such ‘hostile acts’ are routinely subjected to severe punishment. In the past, there have been numerous cases where even the provision of a bribe was not enough to secure release.   

The incident underscores the changing perception of the once-fearsome MSS. Formerly referred to as “The Angel of Death,” circumstances have changed since Minister of State Security Kim Won Hong was dismissed in February earlier this year. These days, the MSS is becoming defined by a culture of “every man for himself.”

“After Kim Jong Un came to power and MSS Minister Kim Won Hong was fired, the status of the the agency declined. These days, MSS officers and their families don’t even receive proper food rations from the public distribution system. Because they now have no choice but to turn to bribes to make a living, their relationships with locals have become relatively more amicable,” a source in Ryanggang Province said, adding that the MSS is taking firm action against those who make phone calls to the outside world, but they are merely using the laws to extract bribes for themselves.

“The MSS continues to lead the campaign in suppressing the people, so complaints from the residents are piling up. But the agency is beginning to soften its tactics, so that it can bring in more bribes.”   

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