Inside the North Korean Shake-up

The upper echelons of North Korean society, including the party, the cabinet and the military, are undergoing a shake-up. Anyone who has demonstrated wavering loyalty to Kim Jong Il is in the crosshairs.

Multiple sources confirm that the United Front Department is under investigation, and that the Guidance Department of the party is directly overseeing matters.

The Guidance Department resides at the core of the North Korean power structure and is under Kim Jong Il’s direct control. Such demonstrates the gravity of this investigation.

A special and omnipotent inspection

When the Guidance Department of the party gets involved in an investigation, it is usually to look into matters immune to investigation by lower organs of the government. It can be compared to a special prosecutor’s investigation in South Korea.

A Guidance Department investigation requires Kim Jong Il’s direct authorization. It is often said that if one is the target of such an investigation, one stands little chance of reprieve.

The Defense Security Command of the Chosun (North Korea) People’s Army and the National Security Agency are also launching inspections, but these kinds of inspection are limited. A Defense Security Command investigation can inspect military organizations, local party organizations and individual cadres, but it cannot investigate party branches in the capital and the National Security Agency. At the same time, the National Security Agency’s investigators cannot access the party organizations in Pyongyang, the military and the Defense Security Command.

However, the Guidance Department’s inspection can examine every organization including party organizations in Pyongyang, the Defense Security Command, and the National Security Agency.

The United Front Department is one of the departments under the central Party tasked with keeping secrets and information related to espionage activities against North Korea. Because it is so highly entrusted, the department is usually exempt from general inspection.

The high officials who find themselves accused of corruption in this affair may be sent to political prison camps.

There are only two known examples of a Guidance Department-led investigation in North Korean history. The first was the investigation of the National Security Agency in February, 1984. Following that inspection, Kim Byung Ha, the first director of the NSA committed suicide and key officials wound up in prison camps.

The second case occurred in 1997 and was known as the Shimhwajo case, resulting in the hushed-up removal of many of Kim Il Sung’s close associates. This inspection was approved by Kim Jong Il and was operated by Jang Sung Taek, Kim’s brother-in-law and the First Vice-Director of the Guidance Department. Through the investigation, thousands of high officials who followed Kim Il Sung were punished, expelled, secretly executed, or sent to prison camps.

One and a half years later, as public opinion turned, Kim Jong Il tried to evade responsibility for the case by executing the political director of the Ministry of Public Security Chae Moon Deuk and the chief manager of the Ministry of Public Security Lee Choel.

The fact that the Guidance Department is involved in the current investigation may be a sign that Kim Jong Il is trying to rebuild the party so that he can change the focus of policy from the military to economic matters. Kim Jong Il has already created a militarily powerful country by acquiring nuclear weapons. Now he wishes to improve other areas.

The Defense Security Command’s investigations and the military-first policy

In North Korea, there are many kinds of organizations capable of carrying out investigations, each with different kinds of power.

General investigations are the purview of the Security Agency, the Prosecutor’s Office, the People’s Committee and the Agricultural Management Committee. These groups monitor civilian movement and the management activities of factories and enterprises.

Central party-level investigations are operated by the Central Prosecutor’s Office, the National Security Agency and the People’s Safety Agency and often target enterprises or organizations.

Following the food shortages of the 1990s, North Korean authorities created the No. 5 Anti-Socialism Inspection Group, which consisted of members drawn from the Party, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Safety Agency, the NSC and the Central Court.

No one from ordinary civilians to high-level officials could escape the watchful eye of the No. 5 Anti-Socialism Inspection Group. Granted the authority to punish, the group carried out public executions and other forms of punishment without oversight. During that period, countless civilians were executed for stealing things as measly as one kilogram of corn.

The most ruthless investigator among military circles is the Defense Security Command. The Defense Security Command originally served as an organization to watch and control the People’s Army. However, in 1996 when the military-first Policy started, the Defense Security Command’s jurisdiction was drastically widened, taking on the responsibility to inspect and control general society and punish civilians. It has been surmised that Kim Jong Il needed a strong organization to support the military-first policy.

The Defense Security Command can investigate every governmental and military department; the only exception being party branches in the capital and the National Security Agency. People say that the Defense Security Command’s investigative apparatus is so omnipotent and horrible that even babies will cease crying out of fear when in its presence.

The Defense Security Command was behind several notorious events, including the secret executions of dozens of people and the dispatch of dozens more to prison camps in Nampo, in August, 1997. They are also remembered for running over hundreds of laborers with tanks during the Songrim riot in Hwanghae Province in 1998.