In an effort to keep North Korean officials
from straying away from acceptable ideology, the State Security Department
[SSD] is cracking down strictly on contact with foreign nationals. This latest
measure joins a growing list of control mechanisms implemented by the
leadership against a backdrop of continued political turbulence.
On February 15, Daily NK spoke with a
source in South Pyongan Province, who reported that Pyongyang trade
officials and high-ranking Central Party cadres are now unable to speak with
foreign nationals without receiving the prior approval of the SSD.
Two additional sources in Pyongyang were
able to substantiate these claims.
“These days, anyone who walks down the
street and dares to say ‘hello,’ or even just shake hands with a foreign
national whom they know, will, at the very least, be summoned by the SSD,” he
To illustrate his point, he cited a recent
case wherein a trade sector Party cadre saw his downfall from one such
interaction. While waiting in the lobby of the Taedonggang Hotel to meet
another trader, a foreign national with whom this Party cadre was acquainted coincidentally approached and offered his hand in greeting; in the confusion of the moment,
the Party cadre automatically shook his hand.
“The SSD immediately interrogated him for
having contact with a foreign national without prior approval; he stood up for
himself and responded by saying, ‘Is it right that if a foreign national says,
‘hello’ and offers you his hand you should respond with ‘let’s shake after I
get permission?’ Well, after that, they dismissed him from his position right
then and there,” the source explained.
It is unsurprising, then, with rules this
strict regarding ‘face-to-face meetings,’ that anyone going on a business trip
outside of the country including China, must be accompanied by a member of the
SSD. In addition, the security personnel trailing cadres on their business
trips must take detailed notes regarding every tiny movement the cadre makes and submit a full ‘report’ to their superiors.
Even meetings that take place domestically
with foreigners require North Korean participants to submit what is known as an
“application for a face-to-face meeting” to the Department of Domestic
Conspiracy Research 15 days ahead of the actual encounter.
Should such permission be granted, meetings
can only take place in a state-approved hotel or in a specified meeting room in the border customs office, and the meeting itself must be finished within a
designated amount of time. “The fact that we can only have contact with foreign
nationals in a pre-arranged room under the watchful eyes of a guard is
not so dissimilar from sitting down with an inmate at a jail. It’s just beyond
words how it makes you feel.”
Moreover, state-sanctioned meeting rooms in the China-North
Korea border region customs offices and the upscale Pyongyang hotels are
crawling with wiretaps installed by the local SSD branch to ensure that discussions broach business matters only.
Crossing the border invites still more scrutiny, as Party cadres who embark on business trips
abroad must submit a daily “self-criticism” report detailing their schedule
down to every hour and minute to the relevant Party committee, where it
undergoes an “ideological review.”
“As this examination becomes increasingly
more like a test to see if one has been ‘turned by the enemy’, lately, Party
cadres have been reluctant to go abroad for business,” the source asserted.
Though at the workplace things are not much better. It is generally the case that in state-owned factories, provincial,
municipal, and county People’s Committees, and Ministry of People’s Security [MPS, or North Korea’s equivalent of a police force] units all have an SSD agent lurking on the premises to keep a watch over Party
“Because of this, Party cadres behave like
‘mice around a cat’ when faced with the in-house SSD agent, who, on the other
hand, enjoys unchecked authority to routinely hurl threats like ‘I will bury
you politically!’ at the cadres,’” he concluded.