The North Korean military’s deteriorating food situation has led to greater competition among various military agencies to conduct “inspections” of military units and extract bribes, Daily NK has learned.

The General Political Bureau [GPB], General Staff Department [GSD], Ministry of People’s Armed Forces and the Military Security Command have recently been competing with each other to carry out all kinds of inspections,” a North Korean military source told Daily NK on Monday. “Officials are abusing their authority in order to survive in the face of severe fluctuation of food prices and having military rations cut by 1/3.” 

According to the source, even GPB cadres are ready to conduct inspections and bully low ranking units at the drop of a hat because there is no longer a steady supply of food rations available. He noted that the deteriorating food situation has spread from the lowest-ranking units to even the GPB, where the top leadership of the military resides. 

As a case in point, the command of the Third Corps (located in Nampo Special City) was suddenly raided by the GPB’s Bureau 78 (located in Pyongyang’s Sosong District) on the evening of Aug. 17, the source said.

Bureau 78 is under the direct control of the GPB’s Organization Department and is responsible for managing and “inspecting” various devices (such as computers and TVs), along with “anti-socialist” videos. In other words, Bureau 78 stays on top of matters related to the “inflow of external information” among members of the military.

The problem is that the GPB had already carried out an inspection of the Third Corps this past spring. In the past, there were some years where no such inspections were carried out at all; however, the inspection is already the second one this year. This has led to speculation that the real purpose of the second inspection was to extort bribes from military officers at the Third Corps Command and their families. 

A female military brass band performs for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the
Workers’ Party of Korea on October 10, 2015. / Image: Yonhap

The Third Corps was also recently subjected to an inspection from the military’s Communications Bureau that was purportedly related to the “three broadcasts” (wired broadcasts within military units, barracks and combat training grounds), and this raid is also believed to have focused on extracting bribes. Repeated raids on the same military unit by different agencies is rare, according to the source. 

The GPB agents conducting the inspections openly demanded bribes in the form of goods rather than money, the source further reported. This suggests the agents were aware they needed to cover their tracks in light of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on efforts to “root out corruption.”

Agents from Bureau 78 are openly making demands for ‘Myohang’ cigarettes, which are viewed as a luxury item in our society,” the source explained. “Military officers in the [Third Corps] Command have decided it is better to [accept this level of corruption] than reveal the [corruption of the agents], so they have tried to acquire as many [cigarettes] as possible [to hand over to the agents as bribes].” 

The agents reportedly covet Myohang cigarettes not only because of the product’s high quality, but also because the cigarettes have seen the “biggest price hike” (RMB 15 per pack to RMB 23) of all products in the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes it easy to convert the cigarettes into cash, according to the source. 

The source also noted that in spite of a travel ban in place, a large number of Third Corps officers were found to have left the base to obtain money or food from the homes of their parents or other relatives.

Bureau 78 agents, after analyzing “anti-socialist” videos and unregistered media devices, further discovered – to their shock – that many high-ranking officers from the military have been using these devices and watching illegal videos.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.