October 23, 2021

On the Great Leader’s Secret Service: North Korea’s intelligence agencies

A brief history of North Korea's spy bureaucracies - and how centralization has changed them

February's assassination of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport once again attracted attention to North Korea's spies and spying. Indeed, North Korea, for such a small state, has a large and active (perhaps even hyperactive) intelligence community.

The North Korean intelligence agents do not limit themselves to conventional spying. Over the decades, the North Koreans have conducted a number of abductions (a North Korean Ambassador was once thrown out of Moscow after an abduction operation), bombed airliners, assassinated people they saw as dangerous, and tried to destabilize South Korea through guerilla operations and attempted assassinations of prominent political leaders (at least three attempts on the lives of South Korean presidents are currently known about).