Daily NK: Angry North Koreans Attacking, Killing Secret Police

The Daily NK is reporting on “an explosion in the number of casualties resulting from popular resentment” of the series of draconian economic diktats I call The Great Confiscation. These include the cancellation and reissue of the currency, which wiped out the savings of millions of people overnight; the ban on foreign currency; and the closure of markets — first in Pyongyang, and if rumors are accurate, in Chongjin and Hamhung this spring. Via Curtis, we have North Korean confirmation that in addition to restoring total dependence on the state, the moves were also designed, to restate matters bluntly, to screw the people and steal their money, even if it starves them.


[Thanks to Curtis, by the way, for the sweet overlay.]

Not surprisingly, this made a lot of North Koreans very angry. More surprisingly, North Koreans are so angry that a lot of them aren’t hiding it. Instead, they’re on the verge of open rebellion. Among the disturbances that followed the Great Confiscation were angry protests by ajummas in the markets, people burning piles of currency in protest, and a riot in Hamhung that ended with 12 executions. And that is not all:

[I]n Pyongsung, North Pyongan Province, normally one of the key distribution centers in North Korea, there have been several incidents of agents from the People’s Safety Agency (PSA), the organization charged with cracking down on the smuggling of food and other officially “immoral” acts, being attacked by unidentified assailants.

A Daily NK source reported on Monday, “A group of agents who had just finished doing the rounds of the jangmadang and alley markets in Naengcheon-dong, Haksu-dong, and Cheongok-ri in Pyongsung were attacked by a number of people, who assaulted them and immediately ran away. As a result, PSA officials are feeling very tense these days.

The usual cautions apply.

There have been more examples unearthed in recent days, too. For instance, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS), a Seoul-based defector group, recently received news that “a fight broke out between agents of the PSA, who monitor the Hyesan jangmadang, and some residents. As the fight turned serious, one resident snatched an agent’s gun and fired randomly into the crowd. One agent, Choe, is in a critical condition.

According to NKIS, the fight began after the PSA agents beat up a trader who was trying to avoid the crackdown, and that made other residents angry, so they attacked the agents in return. As the fight grew more serious, agents threatened residents, but this only added fuel to the flames.

Finally, a Daily NK source from North Hamkyung Province released one other incident: Cho, who used to work for the Prosecutions Department of the National Security Agency in the region, was apparently killed by a Chongjin Steel Mill worker called Jeung Hyun Deuk.

The source explained, “Jeung’s father, the chief of a foreign currency-generating company, was interrogated last July on suspicion of embezzling enormous amounts of property and foreign currency, and in January was sentenced to life in prison. However, a few days after being imprisoned, he died. Thereafter, Jeung held a grudge against his father’s interrogator, Cho, and eventually killed him.

The Daily NK reports that part of the reason why people are fighting back is that they’ve concluded that they have nothing to lose anyway. Some would rather go down fighting if the alternative is slow starvation, something plenty of them have seen happen. As a result of all this discontent, the Anjeonbu and the Bowibu are launching a “50-Day Battle” to root out dissenters.

A few thoughts I’ll add to this:

First, has there ever been a place so achingly in need of a revolution as North Korea? Sure, the Nazis were more evil in the grand scheme of things, but at least they could build autobahns and put food on the shelves.

Second, I read somewhere that some guy somewhere (I went to public school) said that “when a government becomes destructive of these ends” — referring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — “it is the right of the people to alter, or to abolish it.” Yeah, but who still believes that?

Third, and for those Machiavellian realists who discard the previous thought out of hand, if North Korea can sell small arms and man-portable surface-to-air missiles to Iran and its terrorist clients — possibly to include the militias that are killing American soldiers — would it be so wrong or a completely ineffective deterrent for us to “lose” a few truckloads of Tokarevs in some place where discontented North Koreans could find them?


  1. Joshua, there is arguably good that came out of this currency revaluation – despite the inflated prices, the lost lives (suicides, executions), the emotional suffering – if locals did indeed assault uniformed personnel, this could serve as an example to those who might engage in uprisings in the future, even if the authorities manage to find and kill any culprits through the “50-Day Battle.”

    Furthermore, enough civilians were pissed off enough to an extent that they will not soon forget how they got screwed over by the government. These civilians knew the daily grind of making your own money in the markets; they tasted wealth, even if fleetingly, and they will not forget how it felt to have some security as the reward of one’s capitalistic endeavors. This knowledge, added to their awareness that the state’s propaganda (at least about Kim Jong-Il ensuring everybody is provided for) is a mendacious myth, will last – and it could be a contributing factor to any future rebellions or uprisings.

    I, for one, wouldn’t mind “arming” potential North Korean dissidents. What I’d worry about is a George H.W. Bush/Kurds 1991 incident, where the dissidents get outgunned and crushed by the state’s security forces, when they perhaps expected the US or the ROK to come to their rescue. Were this to happen, they wouldn’t trust Americans or South Koreans later on, would they?


  2. Living is Seoul as I do, I have to admit to a certain anxiety, fueled by the possibility that the North might lash out at all enemies as the regime goes down. Now is the time for the US and South Korea to be attempting secret contacts with Northern elite who might have more to lose if the North lashes out.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *


  3. Jeff,
    Don’t forget this was being reported in December by the Strategy Page:

    The government has, for the last two decades, been living in fear of how suddenly the communist governments of Eastern Europe fell in 1989. Some North Korean officials are thinking that 1989 has arrived in North Korea, and it’s time to implement the escape plan. One rumor coming out of North Korea is that the officials who came up with the currency exchange plan have since been arrested and executed. However, these guys would be scapegoats, as it is widely believed that the currency exchange idea came straight from leader Kim Jong Il.

    …if Kim Jong Il died tomorrow, there could be a power struggle, that could get very violent. There are indications of that from Chinese reporting North Korean officials increasingly arranging to establish second homes in China, and sending children, and even wives, there. Defectors report that there is an escape tunnel, from the capital, to the port of Nampo, which would enable officials, in an emergency, to secretly flee to China by sea.

    If any of this is true, regime collapse could be imminent.


  4. As I wrote here, the way Daily NK described the situation on the ground right now is uncannily like the tipping point of death calculus we were talking about in December.

    Frankly, I’m getting the feeling that we’re closer to regime collapse than most of the powers-that-be realize. Everyone except us will be surprised.


  5. Have you guys seen this article in the LA Times it’s a good summary of what’s happening and contains some new information. Has the revolution arrived? I’d like to think so but two problems remain. First the North Korean government has allows no civil society apart from the state (like clubs and religion) to serve as a nucleus for rebellion. And second as long as the military remains loyal the Kim dynasty is relatively safe, which is what “military first” is all about. If something does happen I think it is likely to proceed with startling rapidity.


  6. Jeremy, the military itself is being peeled off by the balloon launches with leaflet drops coming from North Korean defectors who have converted to Christianity. Check out my reply here.

    This is the real crisis in the DPRK that I don’t hear many people discussing. That is largely due to our (US) cultural myopia which relegates religion to a ghetto of periphery and fails to recognize the role of religion on modern battlefields (SEE: Iraq).


  7. Joshua, I think you hit the nail on the head with “food on the shelves” in relation to other totalitarian regimes. In the end, every army fights on its stomach – this is why I couldn’t imagine North Korea being able to wage any type of protracted war, especially against the South (unless of course, there was a little help from Big Brother across the Yalu). The one thing that does scare me is that after the government falls, North Korea turns into a land of factionalized warlords raping villages to feed their soldiers, but North Korea started out with little arable land, and there’s even less now, and I don’t forsee a whole lot of aid shipments being sent to regional warlords – but again, if China were to support one of these warlords as a puppet it could turn out pretty bad.