Agents with the Ministry of State Security (MSS)’s Bureau 10 arrested two remittance brokers during raids in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, after discovering texts mentioning the novel coronavirus on their Chinese-made mobile phones, Daily NK has learned.
A third North Korean was arrested by the MSS for his remittance-related activities, sources in the city added.
All three North Koreans were brokers who helped defectors in China and South Korea send remittances to their relatives in North Korea.
North Korean authorities strictly prohibit the use of Chinese mobile phones for interacting with the outside world.
WIDENING THE DRAGNET
The three North Koreans were caught up in a broader crackdown by Bureau 10 to eliminate cross-border remittances, Daily NK sources reported.
Smugglers and remittance brokers frequently use Chinese mobile phones to communicate with the outside world. Brokers have reportedly come under tighter surveillance by the MSS following the closing of the Sino-North Korean border and the resulting decrease in smuggling activity along the border.
After North Korean authorities sealed the border, agents from MSS Bureau 10 have been patrolling areas where brokers operate with signal jammers and detectors. Agents conducted raids on the evening of Feb. 8 – Military Foundation Day – in the belief that people would be caught off guard because of the holiday, sources told Daily NK.
MSS agents ultimately arrested a man in his home after catching him trying to contact the outside world with his mobile phone. Around the same time, the MSS received a report that somebody seemed to be making calls to China from another house. They immediately conducted a raid on the home and confiscated the phone of a female broker discovered on the premises.
The female broker’s mobile phone still had messages written in the South Korean dialect on it, along with messages that mentioned the spread of the coronavirus in North Korea, sources said.
MSS Bureau 10 also raided the home of another female broker who had already been under the agency’s surveillance. A Chinese mobile phone was also discovered in the woman’s home and her phone contained messages that mentioned the coronavirus.
“These women had been exchanging greetings with people outside of North Korea and briefly mentioned the spread of the coronavirus during the course of these conversations. The MSS accused the women of leaking state secrets,” one source told Daily NK. “The two women were sent to the MSS’s provincial headquarters.”
ELIMINATING “INFORMATION LEAKAGES”
Following the shutdown of the Sino-North Korean border, the MSS handed down an order aimed at cracking down on contact with the outside world and information leakages.
The order specifically called on MSS officials to focus on information leaks about the coronavirus in the country’s “border areas,” including North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang Province, North Pyongan Province, and Rajin-Sonbong.
“The MSS has its monthly performance review coming up and is under pressure to come up with results,” one source told Daily NK. “MSS agents are trying to catch as many people as they can, even those who have leaked just a little information about the coronavirus.”
North Koreans in the border region using Chinese mobile phones are making a greater effort to avoid getting caught following news of the raids and arrests, he added.
*Translated by Alek Sigley
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