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Ministry of State Security
State Safety & Security Agency
State Security Department

Ministry of State Security (AKA State Security Department) ministry reports directly to Kim Jong Un and the National Defense Commission. It maintains a corps of tens of thousands of agents spread across numerous bureaus.

The Ministry of State Security is implicated in widespread gross human rights violations, including those involving torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, deliberate starvation, and sexual violence. It is the lead agency investigating political crimes and administering the country’s network of political prison camps. In particular, the Prisons Bureau (also known as the “Farm Bureau” and “Bureau 7”) within the ministry manages the political prison camps. According to defector testimony and satellite imagery, within the camps, summary executions and other cruel extrajudicial punishments are commonplace. Additionally, according to extensive testimony, prisoners in these prison camps are subject to brutal treatment, torture, sexual violence, and forced abortions, and many succumb to starvation and disease.

The ministry also plays a role in censorship through the enforcement of laws banning foreign media. According to the COI report, Bureau 27 (also known as the Transmission Surveillance Bureau) is responsible for modifying television equipment to receive only approved North Korean channels and blocking television channels from the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia, and China. The bureau also carries out surprise inspections in homes to investigate whether individuals have modified their radios or televisions, watched foreign DVDs or used foreign flash drives and uses monitoring equipment to identify individuals who use Chinese SIM cards.

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. During the 1st Congress of the 7th SPA held on April 5, 1982, social control functionaries were detached from the Cabinet and integrated with the ‘National Political Security Agency’,

It was renamed the State Safety & Security Agency in early 1993. Mainly in charge of political inspection, the organization branches out from the central government throughout all regional administrative divisions as well as the KPA and other special organizations.

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 antistate 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. The agency is likely under direct control of Kim Jong-il, as no one was selected to succeed the late director Lee Jin-soo after his death in Oct. 1987.

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