Following orders from Kim Jong Un for the Ministry of State Security (MSS) to refrain from violating human rights, its personnel have begun to shy away from their characteristic extortionist behavior during their interactions with residents. This appears to be an attempt to balance their effectiveness in garnering bribes from residents while avoiding punishment from above.
A source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on March 14 that MSS officials have eased up on heavy-handed behavior, most noticeably amongst those with regional areas under their jurisdiction.
A source in North Hamgyong Province added, “Even until early this year, security agents used to threaten people unless they paid bribes, but these incidents have recently been in decline. The change seems to have been influenced by Kim Jong Un’s instructions, but it is unclear how long will it continue.”
According to the North Hamgyong-based source, one security agent in the Hoeryong Regional MSS who has a son due for discharge from the army recently asked the residents to collect 5000 RMB for him. The money is needed to bribe army officials to remove his son from a collective dispatch team list (a labor force consisting of discharged soldiers and high-school graduates for extended dispatch to production sites).
“Many were surprised to see MSS officials pleading with them for money instead of threatening them like they used to,” he said.
In North Korea, the MSS is effectively the internal security apparatus, tasked with ideological monitoring, and detecting perceived anti-regime maneuvering.
This has conferred upon them considerable power to abuse residents, via the receipt of bribes to overlook violations like watching South Korean videos and using Chinese-manufactured mobile phones. But circumstances have changed following the purge of Kim Won Hong (the former MSS head) and the execution of five of his officials.
This has prompted rumors among residents that “money problems are inescapable even for the MSS” and now they are “more like everyone else.”
However, many reportedly believe that the current change in attitude is only superficial. “Old habits die hard,” the Ryanggang-based source pointed out.
What’s more, he added, is that most predict the MSS will have its power restored soon, as it is an essential mechanism for the enforcement of Kim Jong Un’s fearpolitik.
“Recent measures against the MSS, including the purge of Kim Won Hong and the execution of high-ranking officials, are just political posturing to appease the residents. The MSS is likely to have its power restored soon and the agents will return to their old ways again,” he said.