MPS steps up surveillance to suppress potential ‘pot stirrers’

The North Korean government has recently
ordered for a thorough investigation and reports on the movements of the
“wavering” class within North Korea’s songbun
classification system, which is based on family political background and loyalty.

The boost in surveillance is interpreted as a move by the
regime to nip in the bud any rumblings of political unrest engendered by
members of society more likely to speak out about the pressure squeezing North Korea. Those tracing the lines of the circumstances leading to this pressure, namely a volley of sanctions lobbed at North Korea by the international
community in response to its nuclear test and rocket launch, are a threat to the regime’s authoritarian grip over the population.

A source with the Ministry of People’s
Security [MPS, or North Korea’s equivalent of a police force] informed Daily NK
on March 8 that internal orders came down at the beginning of March for the MPS
to survey and track the recent movements of those anyone ascribed to the
“wavering” cohort. Two separate sources in the same province verified this
information, but Daily NK has not yet confirmed if the same orders are in
effect in other provinces.

North Korea ascribes its citizens to 3
broad hereditary-based groups: core, wavering, and hostile. From there these
classes are further divided into some 51 subcategories. Although in the
past the authorities prioritized tracking of the hostile class, recently it
has expanded its surveillance activities to include traders, donju, and
lower-ranking cadres whom it throws into the “wavering”’ class.

“The directive from
the regime included instructions to pay special attention to those with family
members originally from South Korea prior to the war, the Hwagyo [overseas
Chinese community], and, most importantly, anyone with any ties to defectors,”
the source explained.

Core market players like the donju also pose a considerable threat from the regime’s perspective, he added, explaining the rapidly expanding scope of the surveillance. If the market suffers considerably in the face multifaceted, unyielding sanctions raining down on the country, “backlash from the donju is a real possibility,” he asserted.

So, in a bid to stave off utter chaos, the fresh mandate obliges MPS personnel to investigate everything with an exacting and rigorous standard,
regardless of how seemingly small or insignificant the activity in question may
outwardly appear. A legion of inminban [people’s unit, an elaborate neighborhood watch system] leaders, who frequently collude with the MPS to carry out their work, as well other elites in the core class, are also said to be actively contributing to this pursuit. 

Prior to this, the MPS in the area
were primarily kept on citizens who had been identified as having “ideological
problems,” but with their purview recently expanded to encompass a larger section of the population–“even the movements
of those who are at various mobilization sites [like railway construction]
related to the ‘70-day struggle‘”–and no additional compensation for their efforts, the directive’s efficacy is dubious, according to the source. 

Moreover, these intelligence-gathering
exercises stretch well into the night, thereby quickly earning the ire of the patrol teams
mobilized to carry them out. The MPS teams cannot state their dissatisfaction
in a direct manner, of course, but for all the time diverted to
surveillance, as much if not more is spent complaining among themselves about
a task they see as futile.

“Do we really need to watch these people
every single day?” Who would do something when things are as tense as they are
right now?” the source said, relaying some of the grievances aired by members of his patrol

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to