State security agents weary of surveillance duties and lack of prospects

Street markets and stands in various agricultural regions of North Korea. Image: Daily NK file photo

As the North Korean regime tightens its control over the population, there has reportedly been a gradual rise in discontent among Ministry of State Security (MSS) agents tasked with surveillance in the country. These agents are faced with issues surrounding their own day to day survival and some are reportedly losing confidence in the state.

“MSS agents have been faced with trying times as they are forced to focus exclusively on monitoring civilians,” said a South Hamgyong Province-based source on May 25. “Some are saying they need to switch jobs or just want to work like normal people.”

He reported that agents received one year’s worth of provisions in the fall of last year and that 70% of these supplies consisted of wet corn and the other 30% was mostly dried barley.

“The agents can only survive on the provisions for six months and also have to worry about what they and their families are going to wear and how they are going to educate their kids. They’re having a very difficult time,” the source said, adding that one agent was told by the Party to tighten control over residents on a daily basis and has become completely unable to take care of his family affairs.

There are also agents who are unsure about their futures as they lack the capital needed to start a business and have only done surveillance work.

“Even those guarding the border – a job that is considered fairly good – are now unable to earn extra money on the side by helping smugglers,” a source in North Hamgyong Province said.

“The border guards are having such a difficult time that they go around from house to house asking smugglers of Chinese cell phones whether they need some help.”

One MSS agent who was mobilized in the Anti-Socialist Group [established to root out activities deemed anti-socialist] was kicked out of the MSS after it was found that he received a bribe from an individual he arrested to be released from custody. He is now reportedly working at a construction site. The former agent said that he was happy he was kicked out of the MSS because those involved in business earn more money.

“The North Korean state continues to say that everyone will live well in the future but the agents of the MSS are working themselves to death,” the North Hamgyong Province-based source added.

“Their trust in the state is fading because they have no idea when they’ll be able to live comfortably.”

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