Sanctions include RGB for the first time, but can they be enforced?

Choi Song Min  |  2016-03-14 13:46

The author of this piece, Choi Song Min (pseudonym) is a defector who is a former high-ranking military cadre. He began to have doubts about the system when he listened to outside radio broadcasts while living in the North. Since 2012, he has worked at Daily NK, where he is a leading writer on the topics of fictions of the North Korean system and the North Korean human rights situation. In 2016, Mr. Choi will be writing a series aimed at providing readers with a detailed account, based on his own experiences, depicting the harsh truths of life for the North Korean people under a totalitarian system and the provocations and fearpolitik employed to sustain it.

North Koreas Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), tasked with intelligence operations both in the South and other countries, has been included on the UNs sanctions list for the first time. Given that the bureau has been at the forefront of espionage, terror attacks, and abductions in neighboring countries, this was the right decision. 

The question now is whether the international community will be able to effectively carry out said punitive actions against the reconnaissance bureau; in other words, will countries actually be able to track down the offices artfully deceptive operations, painstakingly designed to work against international sanctions and pressure? 

Based on records and testimony from defectors, in order to effectively impose sanctions against the bureau, countries will need to keep a close eye on the department in charge of securing reconnaissance equipment and its workers. This is because the bureau first employs some of the most cutting-edge equipment for spying when it is planning an attack. 

The bureau owns dozens of trade vessels that it uses for missions and also to secure capital. Along main ports near the West and East Sea, the bureau employs cargo ships like Chong Chon Gang that are tens of thousands of tons in size, or trade vessels and reefer ships such as Nam San 1, 2, Kum Gang San, Mu Bong 1, 2, Po Thong Gang 11, 12, Seung Ri, and Myong Song, which are 800 to 1,000 tons.

North Korea has given vessels like Po Thong Gang and Mu Bong a monopoly on king crabs, shrimp, and conch fishing. Therefore, theyre able to secure some 1,000 tons annually in marine goods and sell them to individual companies in Japan to buy the necessary reconnaissance equipment. 

These bureau vessels also conceal their true origins and engage in trade as regular ships. Especially when they are subject to international sanctions and unable to make port entry, they use tactful tricks such as remaining in international waters, where Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, an entity holding strong ties with Pyongyang) companies will come to their aid in trade.   

The reconnaissance bureau operates the Birobong Trading Company to earn foreign currency, and under this are needlework and garment factories, as well as marine stations for fishing. Also, it uses the Unit 96 equipment supply station in Pyongyangs Sonkyo District to buy reconnaissance supplies from overseas and then transfer them to subordinate military installations who will then distribute the equipment to each associated military corps. 

In particular, unit 96 provides Russian high-speed engines (M400), German compact high-speed engines, Japanese radar detectors (Furuno), high-speed engines, ten-man inflatable rafts, and diving equipment to marine infiltration troops that are stationed on the coast. 

Meanwhile, in Africa and the Middle East, there are hundreds of military officers dispatched across various countries. These officers are all graduates of a foreign-language academy (Ma Tong Hui academy) run by the bureau. After 6 years of studying, students are sent overseas for a year, where they master foreign languages (English, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic) and then are deployed to an information communications (cyber) unit under the bureau. 

These young men in their 20s return to their home country after having studied overseas to work as cyber-hackers, breaking into computer networks and mobile phones under orders from the North Koreas leadership. 

Indeed, just yesterday North Koreas Party mouthpiece, Rodong Sinmun, vehemently denied one such allegation brought forward last week by South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), which claimed that that North Korea successfully hacked into the mobile phones of 40 national security officials.

Moreover, within the same week, the NIS reported that it intercepted and shut down similar bids by North Korea to hack into email accounts of South Korean railway workers in an attempt to attack the transport system's control system.

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee and Austin Nay

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