Two months after North Korea changed the name of the Ministry of People’s Security (equivalent to South Korea’s National Police Agency) to the Ministry of Social Security (MSS) at an expanded meeting of the Central Military Commission on May 24, a source has informed Daily NK that the job of changing signs at offices under the umbrella of the ministry is almost complete. 

“Police offices in each county, including Chongjin, finished replacing their signs with the new name ‘Ministry of Social Security’ [anjonbu] by mid-July,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on July 30. “Those who were referred to as boanwon just a week ago are now called anjonwon.” 

According to the source, provincial MSS offices (boanguk) are now called anjonguk, while municipal and county police stations (boanseo) are now called anjonbu. Meanwhile, village, district and other local police substations (boanso) are now called bunjuso

“People are generally comfortable with the changes because they are all terms and titles used in the past,” the source said. 

Some time ago, the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces – an agency under the MSS similar to South Korea’s Auxiliary Police – was also confirmed to have been renamed the “Social Security Forces.”

On July 27, articles published by the Rodong Sinmun and other North Korean state-run media mentioned the new name of the agency while relaying the news that officials and citizens from across the country had laid flowers at the bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Mansudae to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement. 

Daily NK’s source also noted that the government had filled several police station chief positions in Musan County after the prior occupants of those jobs had been dismissed following a crackdown on corruption by the Ministry of State Security, the country’s secret police. 

“Things were quite unsteady for around two months, but the change in name and the new hirings seem to have calmed things down,” he said. 

There are, however, still things that have remained the same – despite the name change. 

“[Local police officers] are wearing the same uniforms they did when they were still [called] boanwon,” the source said. “The uniforms worn by anjonbu officers in the 1980s were different in color than those worn by officials working in traffic and forestry-related departments, but there’s no word on whether [the uniforms will change].” 

The source further explained that the names of departments within provincial MSS offices will remain unchanged. He noted that 25 departments – including those dealing with narcotics, border crime, traffic, and accounting – are still operating as they were before. 

Daily NK was unable to find out whether there have been changes in the makeup of MSS offices in Pyongyang and other areas of the country. 

General views of the renamed police agency remain fairly negative. Many people reportedly believe that the newly-named MSS will retain the same characteristics as its forebear: namely, to closely watch over and oppress ordinary people. 

“Most people remember the joke calling anjonwon [literally, “safety officer”] those who ‘safely take money [from the people],’” the source said. 

“Recently, however, successive orders from the central government to strongly punish anyone attempting to ‘divide’ the Party and the people seems to have reduced instances where [officers] openly demand bribes,” he added.

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

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.