Daily NK recently obtained an original copy of the standards for selecting members of so-called “Unit 974,” the bodyguard unit tasked with protecting North Korea’s top leadership. The standards were reportedly changed last November, going into effect this year.

According to the materials obtained through a Daily NK source in North Korea, the list of standards is divided into three broad sections.

The first is “Candidates.” This section spells out that selections should focus on high school seniors, particularly those at so-called “No. 1” schools — the top high schools in their province, city or county. Since these students are being selected to protect North Korea’s top leadership, they should be somewhat academically competent.

Next, candidates should be children of laborers, farmers or soldiers. It said screeners should base their selections more on children of people living in rural communities rather than those of people living in urbanized districts. 

If this is the case, why would North Korea prioritize the children of laborers and farmers in selecting bodyguards?

About this, the source said if you join the bodyguards, you will never see your family again, or at least you will have to wait 13 years or so to do so. Moreover, students from cadre families and students raised in urban areas have a “higher consciousness” than students from rural communities, he said.

The source said bodyguards should be prepared to become “meat shields” (people prepared to sacrifice their lives), something children raised in carefree cadre homes would never do. He said because of this, the authorities choose children of laborers and farmers who are willing to die wherever and whenever just to hear that they “gave their lives in the line of duty fighting as revolutionary warriors loyal to the Supreme Leader [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un].”

A screenshot of the materials containing the selection standards for bodyguard units. / Photo courtesy a Daily NK source in North Korea

The second part of the materials relates to “standards.” According to the materials, candidates for the bodyguard should be 17 years of age, 167 centimeters tall (though they can be shorter than this when they are first recommended), and have good grades, though a handful of mediocre grades of six out of ten in high school are fine.

These standards differ slightly from the past. As recently as last year, high school seniors who were 163 centimeters tall would have been included as candidates for Office No. 6, considering that young students were likely to continue growing.

However, according to the materials obtained by Daily NK, the height standard appears to have grown by four centimeters. Academically, standards have come down by allowing three or more grades of just six out of ten, though this appears to take into consideration how students at “No. 1” schools are better than those at ordinary schools.

The third section lists “markers” of potential candidates. This section says candidates should “absolutely idolize” Kim Jong Un, be ideologically prepared to die to protect him, and possess no problems in their political or ideological mentality. 

Candidates should also be model students and participants in the country’s “organizational life,” conduct themselves well, be healthy, and carry out their duties without complaint even in adverse circumstances. Furthermore, they should be free of nepotistic impulses and of good character, too.

The source said that as these people are tasked with protecting Kim, they are subject to thorough ideological and personal vetting. He said many students are initially selected for consideration but then rejected in the end.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kim Chae Hwan is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He can be contacted at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.