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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.

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