Tracking the history of North Korea’s “Bureau 11”

Daily NK journalist Kim Jeong Hun explains the history of one of North Korea's most secretive organizations

This article is part of a series written by Daily NK journalist Kim Jeong Hun entitled “North Korea’s Secret Stories.” 

After North Korea suffered a massive famine in the 1990s, the country’s regime allocated significant resources developing its defense industry. 

A particularly noteworthy event in the history of North Korea’s weapons development occurred in February 2006. 

On Feb. 1, Kim Jong Il ordered the creation of a new organization under the control of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK)’s Central Committee to “technologists for the 21st century.”

Researchers from Room 21 who hailed from North Korea’s top universities, including Kim Il Sung University, and those working at research facilities at the No. 2 Natural Sciences Institute – also known as the National Defense Institute – were called up to join the new Bureau 21 under the direction of the Central Committee. 


At the time, Kim Jong Il was moving forward with a strategy to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to deploy them into the field in a short amount of time. He ordered the No. 2 Natural Sciences Institute to put a focus on research on weapons development, and told the newly organized Bureau 21 to import technology and parts related to weapons and conduct research on them.

Essentially, Bureau 21 was tasked to bring in technologies and components from abroad that were critical for nuclear and missile development but could not be developed by the North on its own. This work was considered very important to enhancing the country’s ability to produce such sophisticated weapons.

Sino-North Korean relations
The August 26 edition of the Rodong Sinmun announced that North Korea had successfully launched a new kind of rocket. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

The existence and activities of Bureau 21 were kept strictly secret, even today. Contrast this radio silence with the North’s Academy of National Defense Science, which is widely known as the center of development of nuclear and missiles in North Korea. Among North Koreans involved in the country’s national defense and science world, Bureau 21 is referred to as “a dagger used to [secretly] stab the enemy in the heart.”  


Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his father in 2011, reorganized Bureau 21 into Bureau 11 in Feb. 2012 and expanded the number of laboratories from 13 to 18. Since then, Bureau 11 has continued to import technology from abroad and conduct research and development projects in line with the WPK’s aim to improve the country’s nuclear weapons and missiles.

Although North Korea’s other foreign currency-earning organizations earn money to finance the regime’s various missile, nuclear, and weapons programs, Bureau 11 goes abroad to import required technologies and components with funds provided by the WPK, all approved by Kim Jong Un himself. 

On Nov. 17 of last year, news broke that Kim Jong Un had given luxury apartments in the central district of Pyongyang to fifteen members of Bureau 11. Until now, members of Bureau 11 have only been allowed to reside in special zones surrounded by armed guards as part of the regime’s efforts to safeguard the secrets they are privy to. Kim Jong Un, however, has shaken things up and now allows them to live in new apartments at the center of the country’s capital city. 

Kim’s special consideration for Bureau 11 officials suggests that members of the organization still continue to play an important role in both strengthening the country’s defenses and, consequently, the security of the Kim regime itself.

*Translated by Gabriela Bernal and edited by Sabrine Donohoe

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