Following Kim Jong-un’s succession in 2011, the foreign counterespionage unit of the DPRK Ministry of National Security (Section 3) has set up a new team to encourage re-defections. A senior DPRK security official stationed overseas and informant revealed to NFI that the team carries out its activities in China, Mongolia and South East Asia.
Although the official name of this team is still unknown, Section 3 has risen to prominence among overseas counterespionage units as North Korea ramps up its re-defection efforts.
Section 3 was known for its passive character with regards to DPRK leadership protection. But with the establishment of the new re-defection operations, the offensive capabilities of Section 3 have become prominent.
In addition, the right to assign personnel to foreign postings, until now largely in the hands of Office 35, the United Front Department and the Foreign Liaison Department, has now become available to Section 3.
Since the KPA General Political Bureau re-organized by absorbing various foreign operations units of the Workers’ Party, Section 3 has come to operate at a similar level to the General Political Bureau.
Section 3 had until now been restricted to identifying dissenting North Koreans within its borders. North Koreans with links to those outside the country fell under special surveillance. As the number of North Korean defectors settling in South Korea reaches 25,000, however, Section 3 is expanding their operational boundaries outside the country.
Officers for re-defection operations also collaborate with brokers in China to gather information from and entrap defectors. Two of the main tactics for recruiting defectors as spies include payment in cash and hostage-taking of family members who remain in North Korea.
In order to build on its efforts in China, Section 3 has grown from 300 people at the beginning of Kim Jong-un’s rule, to 1000.
To increase funding for the activities of Section 3, Kim Jong-un has moved the Sinheung Trading Company, which previously came under the auspices of the Ministry of National Security, to the specific control of Section 3. Rights to operate in the restaurant, tourist and investment businesses have also been granted.
Officers for re-defection operations control brokers throughout northeast China by means of both bribery and threats. They allow funds wired from South Korea to be accepted, but brokers must self-report information regarding defection requests.
Of particular note, defectors who return to North Korea by means of crossing the 38th parallel are being offered Pyongyang residency, a free apartment and other rewards. This may be interpreted as a move to amplify the symbolic value of re-defection.