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The secret group that "controls everything" in North Korea

High-ranking defector claims the clandestine Organisation and Guidance Department is "the single most powerful entity in North Korea"

In this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong Un (4th L) walks with officials during an inspection of the Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force Unit 447
In this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong Un (4th L) walks with officials during an inspection of the Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force Unit 447

REUTERS/KCNA

By Sybil Jones

Jang Jin-sung, formerly poet laureate for North Korea, is one of its highest-ranking defectors and most vocal critics. A meteoric career that saw him also become chief propagandist in the United Front Department, engaging in counter-intelligence and psychological warfare against South Korea, he was also one of Kim Jong Il's inner circle - a dreamlike life of privilege shattered when he found the bodies of famine victims lying in the streets of his home town. Facing almost certain death for the crime of mislaying a prohibited text, he dramatically escaped to China in 2004 and defected to South Korea. Based on his insights from working in the elite, he argues that the official narrative of North Korea being run under the absolutist genius of the Kim dynasty and the Korean Workers Party, is a lie. Power was not harmoniously transferred upon Kim Il Sung's death in 1994 to his son, Kim Jong Il - instead Kim Jong Il had long before usurped his father with the support of the clandestine Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD), while Kim Il Sung spent his last years under virtual house arrest, bamboozled by his own cult, created by his son. Kim Jong Il directed the OGD under his reign and he legitimised "every single policy and proposal, surveillance purge, execution, song and poem", but upon his death in 2011, however, the bequest of leadership upon his son Kim Jong Un was solely symbolic; the OGD took charge. That year, Jang set up New Focus International to give insight and analysis to North Korea. This week he talked about the OGD as "the single most powerful entity in North Korea” to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. His words were translated by NFI's international editor, Shirley Lee, and the talk was chaired by Lord David Alton.

The OGD is "the entity that controls everything. This is where all roads end, all chains of command, and all power structures go," Jang said. "The real power structure, nothing has changed since Kim Jong Il's time. The OGD is still just as it is, the same men are in the same positions of power." Yet the OGD is so secret and compartmentalised a structure, it's only fully comprehended by the most senior leaders, and known to "less than a dozen" of the approximate 26,000 refugees out of North Korea. That lack of knowledge has meant that traditionally, outside observers omitted the OGD's existence, basing their views on diplomatic notes, refugee testimonies and political theories which Pyongyang has successfully fed into with propaganda about the Kims' omnipotence, to obscure its power structures. Hence, many observers interpreted the purge of Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song Thaek as the new leader getting rid of his old guard to make his own power network, whereas it was really the OGD liquidating a rival. South Korea has also connived to keep a lid on knowledge of the OGD. When Hwang Jong Op, the international secretary of the Korean Workers' Party and principal author of the state philosophy of Juche, defected and sought to tell of the OGD, the South's then Sunshine Policy "was based on a policy of engagement that sought not to provoke the North Korean regime, [so] they actually silenced his testimony from appearing," said Jang.

[ . . . ]

The OGD appoints all generals and makes all military orders, with the military's autonomy compromised like everything else by the OGD's all-pervasive surveillance structure. Party committees of spies are installed across all sectors from diplomacy to tourism, down to each and every apartment block - "the OGD has eyes and ears everywhere". It is backed by the OGD's secret police and system of prison camps that the group developed into a weapon of mass terror while it usurped Kim Il Sung. He was prevented from seeing friends or family by his OGD-appointed bodyguards, a corps now numbering 100,000. He "died as a scarecrow, he was nothing," said Lee.

As well as these physical means of control, the state seeks to monopolise all information flows and uses incredible psychological and emotional force to ensure its citizens' loyalty. "In North Korea the only politically correct faith to have is in the cult of the Kims," said Jang, while religious organisations like the Chosun Association or Buddhist association are run by the UFD, and Christians end up in prison camps. "The only narrative that matters is of the righteous sovereignty of the state."

Read the full story on Index's site. The article was originally posted on 13 May 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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