North Korea’s intelligence and security agency has ordered troops stationed along the Chinese border in Ryanggang Province to engage in smuggling operations. The regime’s financial lifelines have been heavily affected by China’s enforcement of sanctions that were adopted through United Nations Security Council Resolutions. In response, the authorities in Pyongyang are now becoming more involved in illegal smuggling.
“Cadres from the intelligence agency recently toured the border region and ordered squads in the area to cooperate with smuggling operations,” said an inside source from Ryanggang Province during a telephone call with Daily NK on February 28. “The organizations to be involved in the smuggling are entities operating underneath the umbrella of Office 39 – which is tasked with earning funds for the party – including the Kumgang Office, the Foreign Liaison Office 7.27, and the Mirim Shipping Company.”
“It is unusual for the intelligence agency to order trading companies under the party’s control to orchestrate illegal smuggling operations. The Hyesan Customs Office was recently blocked up, so [the North Korean authorities] have seemingly become much busier in their efforts to earn money for the party,” the source continued.
The Mirim Shipping Company was designated in provisions contained in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2321, adopted in 2016 after the North conducted its 5th nuclear test. The latest developments highlight attempts by the authorities to evade the sanctions.
Foreign Liaison Office Company 7.27 acts as the currency-earning arm of the Foreign Liaison Office, which is responsible for carrying out espionage against South Korea. This means that even within this espionage agency, the major responsibility for the relevant officers will be foreign currency procurement, rather than espionage.
Office 39 is tasked with amassing funds to keep Kim Jong Un in power. This is fueling speculation among some observers that this new directive may have come from Kim Jong Un himself.
Asked about this possibility, the source said, “The intelligence agency would not have been able to instruct trading companies under party control to participate in smuggling operations if not for the consent of the top leader [Kim Jong Un]. After Minister of State Security Kim Won Hong’s status fell and he was fired, the loyalty of the intelligence agency has been under scrutiny, and it’s being asked to assist with providing funds to the party.”
Until recently, military units including the 25th Brigade of the border guards and the 10th Corps of the Korean People’s Army have been tasked with handling crackdowns on smuggling and defections in the Hyesan, Yonbong, Kangan, and Samsu regions. However the new order requires units in Hyetan to coordinate with the Kumgang Office, units in Kangan to coordinate with Foreign Liaison Office 7.27, and units in Samsu to work with the Mirim Shipping Company.
“The relevant military squadrons that are responsible for protecting the border have been ordered by the intelligence agency to provide the trading companies with cars, transportation, and protection. If the smuggling operations do not succeed in providing funds for the party [Kim Jong Un], the military cadres overseeing the troops in Ryanggang Province will likely be fired, so they are doing their utmost,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province said.
“As the Hyesan Customs Office gets blocked up, the border region in Ryanggang Province is being transformed into a national smuggling zone. The primary beneficiary of the activity is the party, as the profits are not being divvied up between the intelligence agency, the border guards, and the trading companies.”
This is not the first time that the authorities have ordered smuggling operations. Since the end of the 1970s, a group of companies acting under the behest of Office 39 and North Korean embassies have illegally smuggled and sold products ranging from illicit drugs to pharmaceutical medicines.