North Korea deploys assassination squad to kill anti-espionage agent

Kim Jong Un visiting the Ministry of State security in honor of its anniversary
in November 2012. Image provided by Yonhap News Agency

Following the apparent defection of the former head of operations for the Ministry of State Security (MSS)’s Overseas Anti-Espionage Department in China’s north-east, the North Korean authorities dispatched a five-man assassination squad and have alerted their overseas intelligence agents in an effort to track down and kill him.

“A five-man assassination squad was sent to Europe in mid-April after the official, Colonel Kang [reportedly in his late-50s], was understood to be seeking asylum,” a source in Pyongyang said on June 4. “The deployment came following orders from Kim Jong Un that the individual must be assassinated unconditionally.”

The source reported that a 10-man team had previously been sent to track Colonel Kang but returned home without any results. “Kim Jong Un was really mad,” the source reported. “He demanded that the official must be killed by the end of the year and now North Korea’s overseas anti-espionage agents are quietly tracking Colonel Kang’s movements.”

In February, Colonel Kang disappeared in China while in possession of an engraver for printing counterfeit dollar bills as well as a large amount of foreign currency. The North Korean authorities believe that he fled with significant knowledge of state secrets.

Colonel Kang is reportedly a descendant of Kang Don Uk, who is the father of Kim Il Sung’s mother, Kang Pan Sok. For this reason, the North Korean regime considers it a high priority to track him down. Kim Jong Un is focused on stabilizing his regime and the defection of one of the country’s fabled “Paektu bloodline” would be seen as intolerable, added the source.

“The authorities have emphasized that just because Colonel Kang is the descendant of a revolutionary, it does not mean he is one himself,” a separate source in Pyongyang reported.

“They are emphasizing constantly that one’s degree of loyalty to the state is the most important thing.”

The North Korean authorities, however, are having difficulties locating Colonel Kang. Colonel Kang is described as having been one of the most important figures in the overseas anti-espionage activities of the MSS and likely understands how to avoid surveillance by North Korean agents.

“He already knows how North Korean agents think, so he won’t be easily caught,” the additional source said. “We may hear that he has successfully defected rather than that he has been caught.”

The North Korean authorities are focused on preventing discontent among MSS officials and on strengthening loyalty to the regime.

“A Party document on April 30 included an order that there would be a Party lecture for all MSS officials,” a source in South Pyongan Province said. “All officials must attend the lectures by June 11 and those officials working in the provinces or overseas permanently or temporarily must also attend.”

He continued, “On the outside, these efforts are aimed at cultivating and strengthening loyalty toward the Party in accordance with the demands of the current era and the development of the revolution.

However, he pointed out that the efforts are really aimed at “preventing any disturbances from breaking out in the wake of the Colonel Kang incident.”

Accordingly, he explained that in lectures for MSS department heads, the “traitorous actions” of Colonel Kang were described as being reported through the media in South Korea and other foreign countries, and that an order to protect all secrets was handed down to attendees.

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Sang Yong Lee is editor-in-chief of Daily NK and previously spent a number of years working as one of the publication’s foreign correspondents in China, where he was subsequently detained with other North Korean human rights activists. He is also a North Korea analyst for a number of Korean Broadcasting System radio programs.