North Korea’s Reconnaissance General
Bureau (RGB), tasked with intelligence operations both in the South and other
countries, has been included on the UN’s sanctions list for the first time.
Given that the bureau has been at the forefront of espionage, terror attacks,
and abductions in neighboring countries, this was the right decision.
The question now is whether the
international community will be able to effectively carry out said punitive
actions against the reconnaissance bureau; in other words, will countries
actually be able to track down the office’s artfully deceptive operations, painstakingly designed to work against international sanctions and pressure?
Based on records and testimony from
defectors, in order to effectively impose sanctions against the bureau,
countries will need to keep a close eye on the department in charge of securing
reconnaissance equipment and its workers. This is because the bureau first
employs some of the most cutting-edge equipment for spying when it is planning
The bureau owns dozens of ‘trade vessels’
that it uses for missions and also to secure capital. Along main ports near the
West and East Sea, the bureau employs cargo ships like Chong Chon Gang that are
tens of thousands of tons in size, or ‘trade vessels’ and ‘reefer ships’ such
as Nam San 1, 2, Kum Gang San, Mu Bong 1, 2, Po Thong Gang 11, 12, Seung Ri,
and Myong Song, which are 800 to 1,000 tons.
North Korea has given vessels like Po Thong
Gang and Mu Bong a monopoly on king crabs, shrimp, and conch fishing.
Therefore, they’re able to secure some 1,000 tons annually in marine goods and
sell them to individual companies in Japan to buy the necessary reconnaissance
These bureau vessels also conceal their
true origins and engage in trade as regular ships. Especially when they are
subject to international sanctions and unable to make port entry, they use
tactful tricks such as remaining in international waters, where Chongryon (General
Association of Korean Residents in Japan, an entity holding strong ties with
Pyongyang) companies will come to their aid in trade.
The reconnaissance bureau operates the
‘Birobong Trading Company’ to earn foreign currency, and under this are
needlework and garment factories, as well as marine stations for fishing. Also,
it uses the Unit 96 equipment supply station in Pyongyang’s Sonkyo District to
buy reconnaissance supplies from overseas and then transfer them to subordinate
military installations who will then distribute the equipment to each
associated military corps.
In particular, unit 96 provides Russian
high-speed engines (M400), German compact high-speed engines, Japanese radar
detectors (Furuno), high-speed engines, ten-man inflatable rafts, and diving
equipment to marine infiltration troops that are stationed on the coast.
Meanwhile, in Africa and the Middle East,
there are hundreds of military officers dispatched across various countries.
These officers are all graduates of a foreign-language academy (Ma Tong Hui
academy) run by the bureau. After 6 years of studying, students are sent
overseas for a year, where they master foreign languages (English, Chinese,
Japanese, Arabic) and then are deployed to an information communications
(cyber) unit under the bureau.
These young men in their 20s return to
their home country after having studied overseas to work as ‘cyber-hackers’,
breaking into computer networks and mobile phones under orders from the North
Indeed, just yesterday North Korea’s Party
mouthpiece, Rodong Sinmun, vehemently denied one such allegation brought forward last week by South
Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), which claimed that that North Korea
successfully hacked into the mobile phones of 40 national security officials.
Moreover, within the same week, the NIS reported that it intercepted and shut down similar bids by North
Korea to hack into email accounts of South Korean railway workers in an attempt
to attack the transport system’s control system.