“Internal Spies Spy on other Internal Spies:” Ken Gause on Totalitarian Control in the DPRK

By | August 19, 2012 | No Comments

Ken Gause on DPRK Systems of Control | Click image for the full text

Kim Il-song was married with two children and manuvering toward the leadership of a separate North Korean state along the Soviet lines when he met his second wife, Kim Song-ae, in Pyongyang in 1947. Kim Il-song was already married, but more important was the place of their meeting: it was in the Public Security Bureau, where the young woman had steady work as a typist well before the term “songun” was even coined.  Although Song-ae was not particularly beautiful or handy with weapons, she was younger than Kim Jong-suk, the the un-canonized revolutionary mother of Kim Il-song’s two children; the young North Korean leader took a liking to the typist, and, one could argue, he was already in love with her ministry.  About three years later, in the middle of the Korean War, with Kim Jong-suk safely in the grave for three years, the two got married .  The ubiquitousness of the security state in North Korea is, in other words, everywhere: it is embedded in the family history of the Kims as well as on the bureaucratic DNA of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Channeling Ken Gause, SinoNK analyst Nick Miller arrives to explain further the intertwined security politics and structure of North Korea. — Adam Cathcart, Editor

‘Internal Spies Spy on other Internal Spies’ : Ken Gause on Totalitarian Control in the DPRK

by Nick Miller

Ken Gause’s presentation Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korean Police State was given at Korean Economic Institute on July 19, 2012.

The event was moderated by Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, featured remarks by discussants Chuck Downs, former HRNK Executive Director, Helen-Louise Hunter, HRNK Board Member, and Kim Kwang-jin, HRNK Non-Resident Fellow.

As many of SinoNK’s regular readers surely already know, Ken Gause is among the most serious and erudite of the North Korean analysts writing in the English language today. Stephen Haggard has already commented on Gause’s extensive working paper, which was the basis of the presentation:

Two things are striking about the organization Gause outlines: its sheer weight and reach; and the tremendous amount of effort put into monitoring the government, party and military. This is by no means an apparatus limited to control of the citizenry; it is also a complex system of checks on possible sources of opposition from within. In the last third of the report, which looks at the history of the security apparatus, this point becomes abundantly clear. That history shows how the security apparatus is repeatedly deployed to weed out enemies of the leadership, but also must be continually restructured to avoid the classic problem of “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” Who guards the guardians?

At KEI, Gause emphasized that the recent turnover in the North Korean leadership has serious policy implications for the regime regarding the internal security apparatus, as it would need to create new policies initiatives to contain certain segments of the regime. Thus his research report, which focuses on the security bureaucracy of the DPRK, a report which could be used to assist in the understanding of how the North Korean security system was organized, compartmentalized, and the key leaders – the security apparatchiks, if you will.

Historical Background | The North Korean security organizations were created by the Soviets to handle internal security and the court systems. The first security bureau after the creation of the North Korea state was the Protection Security Bureau, which obviously after the creation of the North Korean state and had strong ties to Soviets who were stationed in North Korea. The state security was handled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and was supported by a network of political and regular police to manage a wide variety of missions ranging from beggars, orphans, prison oversight, to the supervision of political thought. The foundations for the North Korean security were evidently constructed in the three years before Kim Il Sung formally came into power and the DPRK itself was created.

Setting Up the Security State: Soviet Red Army leader in North Hamgyong Province, 1946-47 | Image via National Archives and Records Administration

North Korea’s Security Bureaucracy | Three major police organizations – Department of State Security, Ministry of People’s Security, and Military Security Command – stand at the center of Gause’s analysis. These parts of the internal security apparatus were chosen for further work because they also have police functions attached to them. The Department of State Security managed counterintelligence and intelligence functions, monitoring dis-loyalties, the gulags (which were run out of the 7th bureau), and ensuring that the stream of political thought within North Korea remained untainted by unwanted outside influence. State Security also utilized overseas intelligence collections abroad (via China) and understood the surveillance of North Koreans who left the country and come back.

Western analysts in the past assumed that the State Security answered only to Kim Jong Il because it was not known whom assumed directorship of the organization after the death of the last public director, Ri Chun-su, in 1987. After Kim Jong Il’s death it was found that General U Tong-chuk, an ally of Kim Jong Un, was functioning the leader of State Security. U has extensive experience in managing the Military Security Command, as well as other internal security issues within North Korea.

With an estimatee 210,000 personnel, the Ministry of People’s Security serves the basic police functions. It has  handles the regular crimes, background investigations, census, civil registrations, traffic, travel, protections government documents, officials, etc. Its standing within the government is the weakest, stemming from the organization’s because of its inability to manage the famine in the mid-1990s.

Military Security Command monitors the actions of the military, personal protection of the Supreme leader, stopping potential coup plots. In the 1990s it began to grow and take investigative roles outside military. It is one of the most secretive of the security organizations and has had turf wars with State Security.

Why would a North Korean person be motivated to join these organizations? According to Kim Kwang-jin, they join to make more money and give themselves a better life.

As to the meaning behind the downfall of Ri Yong Ho, Mr. Gause saw his removal that he must have crossed the directions of Kim Jong Un, Jang Song Taek, and Kim Kyong Hee who wanted they want to take the economy away from Kim Jong Il’s military first policies. Regarding Kim Jong Un’s statements of no longer “belt tightening”, Gause saw these code for lessening the military first policies and by replacing Ri Yong Ho with a weaker person gave Kim Jong Un a lot more latitude to carry out policy changes.

In terms of how reform would occur whether a top down approach would be more likely Mr. Gause believed that North Korean officials that are allowed to go abroad are carefully monitored.  The senior leadership has extensive information about the outside and what Kim Jong Il did was creating a system to ensure the elites were always in competition with each other and off balance to allow the supreme leader to play everyone off each other. There is likely a strong potential for tension at the top.


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