MSS agents resort to lure and bait schemes to exploit defectors

Military guard post in North Pyongan Province along the Amnok River. Image: Daily NK

North Korean Ministry of State Security (MSS) officials have been encouraging North Koreans wishing to defect and then arresting them to improve their performance reports and earn money, sources reported on Monday.

“A woman and her family who received help from a broker to escape across the border and meet her husband in South Korea was arrested by border guards at the end of November. It turns out that the MSS ordered the broker to stage the defection attempt,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source.

“The broker went to the wife of a man who is supporting his family from South Korea and told her that her husband had called for her to come to South Korea and that he (the broker) would help her defect. The incident was aimed at getting her and her family to attempt an escape across the border so they’d be arrested […] The whole scheme came to light when the broker was being investigated by the MSS.”

MSS officials have long conducted such schemes to raise their performance assessments (i.e., the number of arrests per year they make) and to earn money. The MSS claims that the schemes are effective because they can prevent people from making the decision to defect.

The MSS reportedly created a detailed plan in advance with the broker and even tricked the husband in South Korea into taking part in the scheme. MSS officials received 20,000 yuan  from the man through a money transfer.

“The wife of the man, along with her son and daughter – both of whom are in their mid-20s – were interrogated in an MSS prison, where they were made aware of the scheme. MSS officials were blatant in how they conducted it,” an additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported.

The joint inspection team that has been deployed to the border region is also supporting such setups. The inspection team similarly needs to increase its performance in the eyes of its superiors, and the schemes help achieve its objectives.

“I know of several people who have been arrested by the Onsong County MSS office after being caught up in one of these schemes,” he explained. “Locals are complaining that the MSS officials receive bribes for promising to turn a blind eye, and then go and earn money by arresting people.”

A defector who recently arrived in South Korea told Daily NK on condition of anonymity that the MSS uses planned defection schemes every year.

“There’s been a reduction in people trying to defect because of tighter border security, so the MSS is conducting more of these schemes,” he said, adding that “there are even cases where people remarry just to try to get away from MSS surveillance and offers.”