North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Busy Days in Internal Security

Kim Jong Il on a May 2009 inspection tour of a general officers' school of the Ministry of State Scurity

These are interesting times for the country’s internal security apparatus.  Enforcement initiatives and tightening of social and population controls finds the Military Security Command riding shotgun, while the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People’s Security sit in the backseat.  The Minister of People’s Security was replaced earlier this year with a military planning specialist and KJI loyalist, although it is not clear if Chu Sang-song (Ju Sang Song) was on the take (i.e. bribes) or lacked vigilance in dealing with unruly university students.

At State Security, there are rumors that vice minister and chief of the 2nd Bureau, Ryu Kyo’ng was dismissed and executed early this year.  In September 2010 Ryu was promoted to Colonel General (Sangjang) and elected an alternate (candidate) member of the Party Central Committee.   Folded into Ryu’s dismissal was the removal of dozens of other MSS personnel.  During January and February of this year, several sources claimed that MSS Senior Vice Minister, U To’ng-ch’uk, giddily presided over a purge in the ministry. Chosun Ilbo reports:

The source in North Korea said Ryu Kyong was summoned by Kim Jong-il in early January and on his way to Kim’s residence, was arrested by members of the General Guard Bureau. He was interrogated and secretly executed.

A South Korean government official backed the story. “Ryu has disappeared from public view since early this year. It seems he was either purged or sent to the provinces. We’re trying to find out if he was executed,” he said. The North Korean source said Ryu was suspected of being a double agent.

A North Korean defector said Ryu held real power in the spy agency and had been on a roll. Last September when Kim Jong-il’s third son and heir Jong-un was promoted to four-star general, Ryu was also promoted from lieutenant general to colonel general. He reportedly wielded more power than Gen. U Dong-chuk, his ostensible superior, because of Kim Jong-il’s confidence in him.

But he is believed to have been eliminated by the Kims and the leader’s brother-in-law Jang Song-taek, seen as the grey eminence in the North, because he was getting too powerful.

The source in North Korea said, “I heard that Kim Jong-un was at one time very keen on his work in the security department but didn’t have much to do because almost everything was taken care of by Ryu Kyong and his cadres.”

Jang, who is in charge of the security department and the Ministry of Public Security, reportedly had an uneasy relationship with Ryu. About 100 security department officials, including counterespionage bureau chief Kim Yong-sik, who were regarded as Ryu’s cadres, were also kicked out, the source added.

According to another CI report, Ryu managed the March 2009 capture of US-based Current TV journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, at the DPRK-PRC border.  When former US President Bill Clinton visited the country in August 2009 to secure Ling and Lee’s release, DPRK media reported that U To’ng-ch’uk attended the dinner party hosted by Kim Cho’ng-il.

He then used his overseas operatives to bribe an ethnic Korean guide in China to lead the two women into the hands of their abductors. The guide took Ling and Lee to a point on the banks of the Duman (or Tumen) River, where they were dragged across the border into North Korea.

The abduction, which occurred just after U.S. President Barack Obama took office, prompted the White House to dispatch former U.S. President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang in August of that year. It also served as a propaganda coup for Pyongyang, which boasted that a former U.S. leader had to “bow before General Kim Jong-il and beg for forgiveness.” By successfully carrying out the mission, Ryu was subsequently hailed as a national hero.

Teams of overseas operatives, many of which had been in place for years, were mobilized in September of 2002 following the visit to North Korea by former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Many had been tasked with missions aimed at creating favorable diplomatic conditions for the summit. Boosted by the success of the summit, the State Security Department expanded the missions of its overseas operatives until they had created a vast intelligence network in China.

South Korean intelligence officials are now trying to ascertain why Ryu, one of Kim Jong-il’s closest and most trusted aides, ended up being purged, especially in light of his achievements in prompting former and incumbent U.S. and Japanese leaders to visit North Korea.

Due to the nature of Ryu Kyo’ng’s work, Asahi Shimbun wonders if Ryu was a “Mr. X” who arranged a meeting between KJI and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2002:

Some South Korean government officials said the senior North Korean official was probably Ryu Kyong, deputy director of the State Security Department.

Ryu was reportedly promoted to colonel general last September, but South Korean government officials have lost track of his status since early this year.

South Korea hopes it will be able to better forecast changes in Pyongyang’s policy toward Tokyo and Washington by gathering information on Ryu, who was responsible for relations with the two countries.

Mr. X closely coordinated with Hitoshi Tanaka, then director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, from autumn 2001 to organize the summit between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in September 2002.

He identified himself as Kim Chol and a member of North Korea’s National Defense Commission.

The Foreign Ministry could not find such a person in its list of North Korean officials but concluded that Mr. X was directly connected to Kim Jong Il.

Then again Ryu may have found trouble with what Daily NK reports to be a generational change within the internal security apparatus:

One such source from North Pyongan Province explained on Sunday, “NSA and PSM cadres are being rapidly changed for younger men, who are now playing a pivotal role. There are now two or three men in their late 20s and early 30s in the case of an NSA office, and among the ten men in a PSM office, five or six are in their 30s.”

“The change to younger agents began last year, making men in their mid-40s who should be at peak capacity start looking over their shoulder,” the source added.

A source from Yangkang Province concurred, adding, “Just now in the local NSA, prosecutors’ office and PSM, early- to mid-30s people have been stationed in almost all posts. These early- and mid-30s people are even taking places as high as vice director of the city or county NSA.”

The NSA and PSM represent the domestic force behind the Kim dictatorship, the tools of both policing and intelligence functions. As such, experts assert that if people loyal to the Kim Jong Il system are being replaced, that is another telling sign that North Korea is edging towards a system led by successor Kim Jong Eun.

During the last few weeks a variety of editorials and statements in KCNA and other DPRK media have applied the term hooligan to the current ROK leadership.  However, if this Yonhap excerpt is accurate, some in the DPRK’s security community seem to suspect the hooligans may be closer to home.  Via Korea Herald:

North Korea has recently created a special police task force and bought large amounts of anti-riot gear from China in an apparent attempt to cope with any possible riots in the North, a source said Tuesday.

The communist North purchased tear gas, helmets and shields through Chinese merchants in China’s northeastern city of Shenyang in recent months, the source said.

The North has also considered buying flak jackets, protective clothing and other equipment that could be used against rioters, the source said.

There have been accounts of crowd-based rumbles in the country before, including soccer-type riots, tolerated by local authorities to relieve internal pressure.  If Daily NK‘s sources are correct, internal security officials may not be handing out beatdowns quite yet:

To a man, those The Daily NK talked to about the report, including individuals with experience working for special military units, the National Security Agency and People’s Safety Agency, expressed doubts about the report that North Korea had purchased the equipment to prepare for potential public disorder.

One defector who once worked for a special unit under the People’s Safety Ministry told the Daily NK, “The idea that North Korea bought equipment like tear gas for breaking up demonstrations from China is nonsense. It is premature to suggest that there are riots in North Korea, and even if a riot were to break out, the state would simply break it up with live ammunition.”

“It is also illogical to say that a state could buy those items from individual traders,” the defector continued. “It’s military equipment; how could a private individual even get hold of it?”

Another defector, a former NSA agent who arrived in the South just this year, agreed, saying, “The People’s Safety Ministry, the equivalent of South Korea’s police, is known as the ‘internal military’,” and adding, “If a riot breaks out, obviously the guards would just shoot and kill the participants indiscriminately; they would not have the patience to warn them with tear gas.”

A former member of North Korea’s Special Forces asserted that the Chosun People’s Army operates one Special Forces unit of 1200 guards containing a battalion of 350 trained to suppress public disturbances. In effect, this means that North Korea will insert the military into any protests or riots directly.

The defector explained, “This unit solely trains for problems within the country. If a demonstration breaks out, NSA agents would also be mobilized, but first and foremost, soldiers would be armed to break up the crowd.”

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June 2011