North Korean Agencies

Cabinet General Intelligence Bureau

The majority of the North Korean intelligence agencies are within the Cabinet General Intelligence Bureau of the Korean Worker's Party Central Committee. The Liaison Department is responsible for conducting intelligence operations in South Korea and Japan. Its agents are used to undermine the South Korean government by supporting internal subversion and to gather information on U.S. forces in Korea. The Research Department for External Intelligence (RDEI) is the primary agency responsible for foreign intelligence collection. The RDEI is composed of four geographic subsections, one of which is North America.

General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chosen Soren)

Chosen Soren (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan - Zainichi Chosenjin Sorengokai), the association of Korean residents in Japan, is North Korea's de facto embassy in Tokyo. Since Chosen was the formal name of Korea when Japan ruled the peninsula, and Japan does not have diplomatic relations with the North, Korean nationals who do not change their nationality to South Korea remain Chosen nationals. The Chosen Soren (in Japanese), or Chongryon (in Korean), was founded on May 25, 1955. The number of members has declined from 290,000 in 1975 to 200,000 today. Its organizational structure includes the headquarters in Tokyo, prefecture and regional head offices and branches with eighteen mass propaganda bodies and twenty-three business enterprises. Nearly one-third of the Japanese pachinko [pinball] industry is controlled by Chosen affiliates or supporters. Chosen remittances in hard currencies to Pyongyang have been variously estimated at between $600 million and $1.9 billion each year, with the most likely value in the lower to middle of this range. In recent years the amount has substantially decreased. In 1994, Japanese police testified that some $600 million was being sent to North Korea, though this amount has recently declined to $100 million a year or less. Gakushu-gumi is Chosen's underground organization, which is a quasi-formal body of the North Korean Workers' Party. Gakushu-gumi , with a membership estimated at 5,000, engages in intelligence activities and political maneuverings against South Korea. The Chosen Soren supports intelligence operations in Japan, assists in the infiltration of agents into South Korea, collects open source information, and diverts advanced technology for use by North Korea. North Korea uses several methods to acquire technology related to nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare and missiles. The Chosen Soren has among other activities an ongoing effort to acquire and export advanced technology to North Korea

Reconnaissance Bureau

The Reconnaissance Bureau of the General Staff Department is responsible for collecting strategic, operational, and tactical intelligence for the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces. It is also responsible for infiltrating intelligence personnel into South Korea though tunnels under the demilitarized zone and seaborne insertion. By any consideration North Korea has one of the world's largest special operations forces. Estimates of the size of the army's special operations forces ranged from 60,000 persons to over 100,000 persons. The uncertainty over the number derives from both the lack of information and the varying definitions of special operations forces. Organized into twenty-two brigades and at least seven independent battalions, the special operations forces are believed to be the best trained and to have the highest morale of all North Korean ground forces. Special operations forces were developed to meet three basic requirements: to breach the flankless fixed defence of South Korea; to create a "second front" in the enemy's rear area, disrupting in-depth South Korean or United States reinforcements and logistical support during a conflict; and to conduct battlefield and strategic reconnaissance. The ultimate goal was to create strategic dislocation. The additional missions of countering opposing forces and internal security were added over time. The Ministry of the People's Armed Forces controls the bulk of the special operations forces through one of two commands, the Reconnaissance Bureau and the Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau. The Reconnaissance Bureau is the primary organization within the Ministry of People's Armed Forces for the collection of strategic and tactical intelligence. It also exercises operational control over agents engaged in collecting military intelligence and in the training and dispatch of unconventional warfare teams. The Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau is directly subordinate to the General Staff Department. The party directly controls approximately 1,500 agents.

Operations are categorized on the basis of the echelon supported. Strategic special operations forces support national or Ministry of People's Armed Forces objectives, operational supported corps operations, and tactical-supported manoeuvre divisions and brigades. Strategic missions of special operations forces in support of national and Ministry of People's Armed Forces objectives involve reconnaissance, sniper, and agent operations, but not light infantry operations, which primarily are tactical operations. The main objectives of these units are to secure information that cannot be achieved by other means, neutralize targets, and disrupt rear areas. In executing these operations, special operations troops may be disguised either as South Korean military personnel or as civilians. Strategic missions require deep insertions either in advance of hostilities or in the initial stages by naval or air platforms. Based on available insertion platforms, North Korea has a one-time lift capability of 12,000 persons by sea and 6,000 persons by air. Most North Korea special operations forces infiltrate overland and are dedicated to operational and tactical missions, that is, reconnaissance and combat operations in concert with conventional operations in the forward corps. Although it is unknown how forces will be allocated, limits on North Korea's insertion capabilities constrain operational flexibility and determine the allocation of strategic, operational, and tactical missions. North Korean army special operations forces units are broken down into three categories based on mission and mode of operation: agent operations, reconnaissance, and light infantry and sniper. The Reconnaissance Bureau has four sniper brigades and at least seven independent reconnaissance battalions. The Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau controls fourteen light infantry/sniper brigades: six "straight-leg" brigades, six airborne brigades, and two amphibious brigades. Four light infantry brigades of unknown subordination are under the operational control of the forward corps. In addition, each regular infantry division and mechanized brigade has an special operations forces battalion.

Reconnaissance units are employed in rear area, strategic intelligence collection, and target information acquisition. Light infantry units operate in company- or battalion-sized units against military, political, or economic targets. Sniper units are distinguished from light infantry units in that their basic operational unit is the team, rather than the larger company or battalion of the light infantry unit. A reconnaissance brigade consists of between 3,600 and 4,200 personnel. It is organized into a headquarters, rear support units, a communications company, and ten reconnaissance battalions. The basic unit of operation is the reconnaissance team, which has from two to ten men. A light infantry brigade has between 3,300 and 3,600 personnel organized into between five and ten battalions. The brigade can fight as a unit or disperse its battalions for independent operations. A sniper brigade's organization parallels that of the light infantry brigade. The unique special operations forces dedicated to strategic operations are the two amphibious light infantry/sniper brigades subordinate to the Light Infantry Guidance Bureau. These brigades are believed deployed to Wonsan on the east coast and Namp'o and Tasa-ri on the west coast. In organization and manpower, they are reduced versions of the regular light infantry brigades. The two brigades have a total strength of approximately 5,000 men in ten battalions. Each battalion has about 400 men organized into five companies each. Some amphibious brigade personnel are trained as frogmen. In the 1970s, in support of overland insertion, North Korea began clandestine tunnelling operations along the entire DMZ, with two tunnels per forward division. By 1990 four tunnels dug on historical invasion routes from the north had been discovered by South Korean and United States tunnel neutralization teams: three in the mid-1970s and the fourth in March 1990. The South Koreans suspect there were as many as twenty-five tunnels in the early 1990s, but the level of ongoing tunnelling is unknown. At the operational and tactical level, infiltration tactics are designed for the leading special operations forces brigades to probe and penetrate the weak points of the defence; disrupt the command, control, and communications nodes; and threaten lines of communication and supply. To achieve its goal of near term distraction and dislocation of the defender, at least one special operations forces brigade is assigned to each of the four regular army corps deployed along the DMZ.

State Safety & Security Agency - State Security Department

The Ministry of Public Security and the State Security Department are responsible for internal security. Although both are government organs, they are tightly controlled by the party apparatus through the Justice and Security Commission and the penetration of their structures by the party apparatus at all levels. The formal public security structure is augmented by a pervasive system of informers throughout the society. Surveillance of citizens, both physical and electronic, also is routine. The State Safety & Security Agency is the supreme public security apparatus. In 1973 political security responsibilities were transferred from the Ministry of Public Security to the State Security Department [also known as the State Political Security Agency], an autonomous agency reporting directly to the President. The Ministry of State Political Security was separated from the State Administration Council altogether in April, 1982 and renamed the State Security Agency. It was renamed the State Safety & Security Agency in early 1993. The State Safety & Security Agency carries out a wide range of counterintelligence and internal security functions normally associated with "secret police." The Agency carries out duties to ensure the safety and maintenance of the system such as search for and management of anti-system criminals, immigration control, activities for searching out spies and impure and anti-social elements, collection of overseas information, and supervision over ideological tendencies of residents. It is charged with searching out antistatic criminals--a general category that includes those accused of antigovernment and dissident activities, economic crimes, and slander of the political leadership. Camps for political prisoners are under its jurisdiction. It has counterintelligence responsibilities at home and abroad, and runs overseas intelligence collection operations. It monitors political attitudes and maintains surveillance of returnees. Agency personnel escort high-ranking officials. The Agency also guards national borders and monitors international entry points. The degree of control it exercises over the Political Security Bureaus of the KPA which has representatives at all levels of command is unclear. Total personnel number some 50,000 persons. The State Safety & Security Agency is supervised by the director, and there are several deputy directors for organization, investigation, censorship, and other specialized responsibilities. There are state security bureaus in each province (or metropolitan area) and city (or county). Security staffers are stationed in the smallest municipalities, and are dispatched even to individual institutions and public corporations. 

Ministry of Public Security - Social Safety Ministry

The Ministry of Public Security [also termed the Social Safety Ministry] and the State Security Department are responsible for internal security. Although both are government organs, they are tightly controlled by the party apparatus through the Justice and Security Commission and the penetration of their structures by the party apparatus at all levels. The formal public security structure is augmented by a pervasive system of informers throughout the society. Surveillance of citizens, both physical and electronic, also is routine. In 1973 political security responsibilities were transferred from the Ministry of Public Security to the State Security Department, an autonomous agency reporting directly to the President. The Ministry of Public Security, responsible for internal security, social control, and basic police functions, is one of the most powerful organizations in North Korea. It controlled an estimated 144,000 public security personnel in the early 1990s, and by the end of the decade the total staff was estimated to number some 180,000 persons. It maintains law and order; investigates common criminal cases; manages the prison system and traffic control; monitors citizens' political attitudes; conducts background investigations, census, and civil registrations; controls individual travel; manages the government's classified documents; protects government and party officials; and patrols government buildings and some government and party construction activities. The ministry has vice ministers for personnel, political affairs, legal counselling, security, surveillance, internal affairs, rear services, and engineering. There are approximately twenty-seven bureaus, but the functional responsibilities of only some of the bureaus are known. The Security Bureau is responsible for ordinary law enforcement and most police functions. The Investigation Bureau handles investigations of criminal and economic crimes. The Protection Bureau is responsible for fire protection, traffic control, public health, and customs. The Registration Bureau issues citizen identification cards and maintains public records on births, deaths, marriages, residence registration, and passports.

Below the ministry level, there are public security bureaus for each province and directly administered city. These bureaus are headed by either a senior colonel or a lieutenant colonel of police, depending on the size of the population. Public security departments at each city or county and smaller substations through the country are staffed by about 100 personnel. They are organized roughly parallel to the ministry itself and have several divisions responsible for carrying out various functions. The Public Security Bureau is North Korea's equivalent of a police force, and its duties are to maintain public security and investigate crime, issue citizen registration cards to monitor movement of the populace, and provide security for various facilities. Every thirty to forty North Korean households are organized into a managed by a Unit Supervisor, Chief of Heads of Households, and Sanitation Chief. The heads handle all day-to-day administration and work in cooperation with the Public Security Bureau to monitor members of the unit. Individual party committees have been installed at every level of the military and government, and all major economic and social organizations. This binds all the organizations to the party and makes for a more effective control mechanism. The Border Guards are the paramilitary force of the Ministry of Public Security. They are primarily concerned with monitoring the border and with internal security. The latter activities include physical protection of government buildings and facilities. During a conflict, they would probably be used in border and rear area security missions. Special Custody Areas, Political Prisoners Custody Zones, or Political Prisoners Concentration camps are some of the synonyms for approximately ten detention camps for political prisoners located in Yodock, Hoeryong, or other mountainous areas in North Korea. The total estimated number of prisoners, most of whom are interned without due process of law, stands at 200000, representing 0.8% of the population, or one prisoner for every 115 North Koreans. Internees include anyone declared "threats to the regime," usually a wide array of people designated "enemies of the state" such as purged "sectarians", counterrevolutionaries and anti-party elements; former landlords, Japanese collaborators, religious clergy, and families of defectors to the south. Residents repatriated from Japan accused of criticizing the system constituted the greater percentage of the internees in the past. They are being replaced by cadres who have been defeated in frequent political struggles and their families, whose numbers have been on the rise since the establishment of the North's cult of personality, for obvious reasons.

Tight security measures check all escape attempts and possible disturbances. At the perimeter of the camps are four to six fences, each ten to thirteen feet high. Points along the perimeter deemed easy escape routes are fortified by electrical fences, minefields, and booby traps, in addition to guards posted in 20-feet-high guard posts located every two kilometres. Anyone attempting escape is shot dead immediately upon discovery, and those lucky enough to survive become living targets in training exercises for the special forces. Neither political nor human rights exist in the camps, and prisoners exist as instruments of labour and production. Registration cards are confiscated upon arrival, and internees cannot vote. Rations are kept to a minimum, and marriage and childbirth are banned, as well as letters, visits, and other means of contact with the outside world. The daily schedule of the prisoners depends on the season and the type of work assignment. Teams assigned to farm work usually rise at five or six AM, with their work ending at eight. They go to bed at ten PM following two hours of roll-call and re-education. Prisoners in the mines work in three shifts, regardless of seasons. The diet consist of corn, potatoes, wheat, and barley supplied once every harvest season. Up to 600 grams were allotted per mineworker per day, with 500 grams for other prisoners. The rations have been reduced to 100 to 200 grams following the food crisis. No condiments, side dishes, or vegetables are provided, and garlic and pepper for seasoning have to be grown within the premises. The prisoners are collecting anything from wild herbs, plant roots, even frog eggs, or undigested beans in the cow dung, out of sheer desperation for anything with nutritional value. Living quarters are usually fashioned from plyboards or straw mats, and diseases like pellagra, tuberculosis, and hepatitis are endemic due to poor living conditions and malnutrition.


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