Open Sources, December 12, 2013

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DON’T CRY FOR JANG. With all the talk about Jang Song Thaek being a “reformer,” I thought I should remind you that Jang was in charge of the Kuk-Ga Anjeon Bowi-Bu (roughly, National Security Protection Bureau), the secret police organization that runs the North’s prison camps and arrests people for political crimes. If Jang and others associated with this organization wind up before a firing squad, personally, I’d only regret that they didn’t face a more legitimate tribunal first. Some accounts I’ve read ascribe Jang’s removal in part to rivalry between the Anjeon-Bu and the Inmin Boan-Bu (roughly, Peoples’ Safety Bureau), but also seem to reverse the names of the two agencies. Either way, it would be fine with me if they all shot each other. Unfortunately, they always shoot a lot of other people, too.

Does this signal a change in how North Korea runs its prison camps? I only see evidence that the existing camps are expanding, so no. The border guards (at least some of whom are part of the Anjeon-Bu) do seem very tense. They’ve responded to the news with a crackdown. It follows that prison camp guards could react similarly.

As far as Jang’s economic orientation, I see evidence that he was a pragmatist, not a reformer. A pragmatist would recognize that North Korea can’t survive and finance its state priorities without foreign hard currency, and would set out to raise it while motivated by a desire to preserve, rather than alter, the system. He might favor dialing back the provocations, but only to the extent provocations interfered with the objective of regime maintenance. What I would ask of those who see it differently is to cite some evidence that Jang actually sought to make more than marginal changes (isolated “zones” are marginal) to North Korea’s internal economic policies in a way that would have widespread and positive effects on the lives of ordinary North Koreans. Nor does it follow that economic reform equates to political reform in any event.

Reading about the power struggle between these competing prophets of brutality reminds me of nothing more than the dossiers of Goebbels, Goering, and Heydrich in The Man in the High Castle. Either way, Jang’s connections were extensive enough that it’s going to take an extensive purge to get rid of them all, and the economic sector will take a disproportionately big hit. The Chosun Ilbo reports that Kim Jong-Il’s head financier is the latest reported casualty. If the result of a less pragmatic regime is a shorter-lived regime, that may be for the best.

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MORE THAN 8,000 PEOPLE have petitioned Xi Jinping to end China’s repatriation of North Koreans. Survivors report that those who are repatriated are tortured, and then send to prison camps or executed. You can still sign the petition here.

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JUSTICE FOR NORTH KOREA will hold a Christmas fundraiser on Saturday, December 14th at 8:00pm, Seoul time. The funds will go toward rescuing North Korean refugees hiding in China. The event will be hosted by Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon (line 6). It will include musical guests Triptych, Dongmyo Police Box, and Pentasonic. There will be a cover charge of 10,000 won. There will also be raffle prizes donated by Grand Hilton Hotel, Reebok Crossfit Sentinel, Vatos Urban Tacos, Yaletown, and Zelen. Attend and support if you can, and if you’d like to help out at the event, please e-mail Anna Choi ( More information about this event at others at their website.

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NEW FOCUS INTERNATIONAL, which has emerged as one of the best sources of guerrilla news from North Korea, needs your help. Please consider a donation.

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ADAM JOHNSON READS FROM “The Orphan Master’s Son” in this video clip. Hat tip: Witness to Transformation.


  1. somedude beat me to it…I saw it on another web site that Jang was executed. I’m wondering if Baby Kim’s dad or grandfather ever had an in-law executed. That is cold, man, even for a tyrant. Usually tyrants want to keep everything “in the family.”


  2. Consider Henry the Eighth of England, and his son and the Regency of Somerset, when one analyzes dynastic tyranny.


  3. Several beat me to it. I didn’t believe the ABC report tonight until they referenced KCNA as the source. This has taken on an even more ominous tone now.


  4. I’m starting to think that Jang really did attempt a coup. I can’t see him getting humiliated then executed for simply becoming too powerful.