North Korean state security agents infiltrate churches in China to cozy up to South Koreans

Graphic: Daily NK

Some members of North Korea’s secret police, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), are allegedly studying the Bible and attending church to prepare for espionage missions. The intention is to be able to approach missionaries and South Koreans in China to determine the whereabouts of defectors and gather intelligence on South Korea.

“MSS agents are not studying the Bible in its entirety or to complete memory. They are just studying it piecemeal to better infiltrate churches established by South Koreans and Chinese nationals in China. Knowledge of the Bible can go a long way in helping them to interact with missionaries and blend in with the church communities,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK.

“Agents are aiming to understand the ‘defector ecosystem’ in China where brokers aid their escape and missionaries protect them.”

Agents appear to be identifying defectors who are heading to South Korea or a third country with the help of missionaries in China with the ultimate goal of providing this information to Chinese security authorities [who then arrest the defectors and repatriate them to North Korea].

Agents are also studying the Bible to approach South Koreans living abroad as a way to earn money for the regime and learn more about what is happening in South Korea. These agents are infiltrating churches where South Koreans congregate and are seeking ways to earn money or glean information from their unsuspecting interlocutors.

“Agents in the MSS office in Dandong (Liaoning Province) and some trade officials are tasked with jobs handed down by the government. One of these jobs is to initiate business endeavors with South Koreans that can earn money for the regime, and learn more about South Korea,” said the source in China close to North Korean affairs.

“The agents need to study the Bible to approach South Koreans. After they gain a sufficient understanding of what Christianity is about, they are placed on missions.”

The agents go to South Korean or Chinese churches and use their knowledge of Christianity to meet with people and gain their trust. The agents may then ask their new friends to help them meet with South Korean business people, or continue their relationships to find out more information about South Korea.

For the agents, the best place to find out more information about South Korea or to start a business endeavor with South Koreans is in churches attended by large numbers of South Korean business people.

Discussions about business endeavors generally begin once an agent has gained the trust of a South Korean. For example, if an individual has invested capital to establish a factory run by a Chinese national, the agent may propose that the owner hire a low-cost work force to work in their factory.

“Trade officials who are affiliated with the MSS go to churches in China and form relationships with South Koreans and Chinese,” said a separate source in China with ties to North Korea.

“Managers of North Korean restaurants in China who work for the MSS may also receive supplies and food or gifts to give to their employees from churches and churchgoers.”

Agents involved in such activities have grown increasingly more active in recent years, suggesting that the North Korean authorities are trying to offset the fall in foreign currency earnings due to crackdowns on defectors and international sanctions. That being said, MSS agents are known to have studied the Bible and attended churches since the early 2000s.

“A friend went to his relative’s house in Pyongyang in the mid-2000s and one Sunday, his uncle, who was an MSS official, dressed up smartly and told them that he was heading to the Bongsu Church for service before returning a couple of hours later,” a source in South Pyongan Province said.

The regime has ordered some MSS officials, former anti-Japanese guerilla fighters, and those considered constituents of the loyal class to attend the Bongsu Church. MSS officials typically attend the church for 1-2 years and learn 20-30 hymns. They are also required to have a reasonable understanding of the Bible, according to the uncle of the North Korean resident’s friend.

Citing a defector minister, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the Bongsu Church is part of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s South Chosun Activities Department, which aims to earn foreign currency by “turning” South Korean church groups and overseas Koreans.

Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to