A new publication, “Coercion, Control, Surveillance and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korean Police State,” was released by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) yesterday.
The 163-page report by Ken Gause details the structure and various functions of the three core bodies of North Korea’s internal security apparatus: the National Security Agency (NSA), Ministry of People’s Safety (MPS) and Defense Security Command (DSC). It also covers the foundation of the different social monitoring organizations that live below this main apparatus, and explains how they have been employed by each Kim regime and how they have evolved over time.
“The security agencies play a primary role in restricting the flow of information and ensuring strict ideological conformity through harsh surveillance and coercion,” it declares.
Gause provides broad descriptions of the three organizations. The NSA he calls a North Korean “secret police,” made up of an estimated 50,000 security personnel and charged with finding acts of disloyalty such as holding negative political attitudes against the authorities or partaking in economic crimes like market activities.
The MPS, on the other hand, is the North Korean police. This organization, bigger with its estimated 210,000 personnel, investigates common criminal cases, controls citizen travel, and protects the government and its officials.
Lastly, the DSC acts as an investigative body. Its duties include monitoring the loyalty of those in high-ranking positions as well as uncovering subversion and coup plots against the regime; ultimately, it is meant to protect the Supreme Leader.
The report also covers lower level groups such as the ubiquitous People’s Units, organizations intended to collect information on individuals to be passed up the internal security system ladder. Despite their small size, Gause says these have had a profound effect in North Korea for decades by creating a sense of paranoia and mistrust between neighbors and corruption within local social structures.
The report offers a detailed explanation of the formation of the internal security system as well, from its foundation in the early days of Kim Il Sung, through it’s development and augmentation during Kim Jong Il’s regime in an effort to consolidate power.
Gause describes the 1990s as a particularly testing period for the security forces, declaring that “Famine and the economic crisis struck a crushing blow against the entire system of administrative and police control…Officials – mainly at the grassroots level – began taking bribes and ignoring their duties, knowing that the state was no longer capable of adequately rewarding their official zeal.”
However, as the importance of the internal security bodies increased once again over the latter years of Kim Jong Il’s reign, competition within and between the organizations grew correspondingly more aggressive. Gause states, “As North Korea’s security agencies ruled over an all-pervasive system of coercion, control, surveillance and punishment, within their own ranks, competition for favors from the ‘Great Leader and the ‘Dear Leader’ often resulted in conspiracy, intrigue and the rise and fall of even the most powerful officials.”
Dismissals, promotions, reorganizations, and realignment of security responsibilities were conducted strategically by the regime; to consolidate control, purge those deemed disloyal, encourage competition and, more concretely, to secure a stable position for Kim Jong Eun before his impending succession, surrounding him with the most trustworthy of high-ranking supporters.
With Kim Jong Eun’s rise to power, the report also asserts that the security forces have come back to the fore. Bad signs include the fact that several high-profile internal security system members helped lead Kim Jong Il’s funeral procession.
“One thing is clear,” he concludes, “as long as the regime continues to adhere to the tactics of a police state to hold onto power, human rights in North Korea will continue to be violated and the unfortunate citizens of the country will continue to live in the shadows.”