Following a report in March showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had attached his name to the National Defense University near Pyongyang, NK Pro can reveal further evidence confirming the change, the school’s location, and its ties to the tech industry.

It is the first known instance of a university or educational institution in the country named after Kim Jong Un, and comes as the nation’s propagandists continue to raise the current leader’s cult of personality to a level similar to those of his father and grandfather.

It is also the school that Kim Jong Un once said played a critical role in modernizing and providing scientific and technological support for the country’s armed forces.

But while the change appears to have been made prior to 2017, there is also evidence that state media has attempted to hide this fact, even as construction on new buildings on its campus began in April this year.

Kim’s college

Journalist Joo Seong-ha reported for the Dong-a Ilbo in March that Kim Jong Un added his name to the existing National Defense University following his visit to the school in June 2016, without providing details regarding the source of the information.

Days later, head of the Research Center of North Korean Science and Technology Kang Ho Jye released a partial image that appeared to provide evidence of the name change.

Now, images NK Pro has recently uncovered of a sci-tech fair in Pyongyang in 2017, released in state media outlet Sogwang, appear to provide solid evidence the change was in fact made — as well as further details regarding the school’s activities.

The booth was set up next to the Red Star Technology Company, which developed the country’s Red Star Operating System | Photo: Screenshot of Sogwang.com video

In the image above, a wider shot of the one previously highlighted by Kang, a red banner with the words “Kim Jong Un National Defense University” (KJUNDU, 김정은국방종합대학) can be seen circled in yellow to the left.

The area circled in red also provides a clue as to the university’s activities and why they set up a booth in a prime location at the center of the 2017 National Exhibition Of IT Successes: a poster which appears to say “war game simulation” (가상전쟁) or “virtual battlefield” (가상전장).

But in an additional, previously unreported detail from another image from the exhibition, the name of an IT company – what appears to be the “6.13 Information Technology Company” (6.13정보기술교류사) – is printed on a poster within the university’s booth (shown below).

The name is almost certainly a reference to the date Kim Jong Un’s visit to the National Defense University was announced in state media: June 13, 2016.

The visit was reported on the front page of the party-run daily Rodong Sinmun that day, showing Kim taking a group photo with hundreds of officials and teachers in front of what the article said were newly-installed statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The date of his actual visit to the campus was not mentioned.

Also shown in the picture below are what appear to be certificates for the 6.13 IT Company and perhaps even a screenshot of a program it produces. The resolution is too low to discern other details, but a brand logo and program title also appear to be printed on booth posters.

KJUNDU’s central presence at the IT fair, the apparent reference to a virtual battlefield program ostensibly under development by the school, and the promotion of the 6.13 IT Company suggest the school is deeply involved in North Korea’s science and technology sector.

The name of the 6.13 Information Technology Company (circled in red) printed on a poster at KJUNDU’s booth at a 2017 sci-tech fair in Pyongyang | Photo: Sogwang

But state censors appear to have attempted to obscure the school’s existence in coverage of that 2017 IT exhibition, indicated by the erasing of its name on the booth banner shown circled in yellow in the image above.

No references to the school have been made in state media, and its previous name, the National Defense University, has only been mentioned in June 2016 reports about Kim’s visit.

Students of Kim Jong Un

In state media coverage of Kim’s visit to the campus, the school was reported to be “one of the universities for which he has the deepest affection and to which he attaches importance.”

It said he would “frequently receive reports on the problems … and personally settle them,” and that he “promised to turn the university into the most prestigious one in the country and an iconic university training hardcore personnel and talents … [in] national defense science.”

The Korean-language Rodong Sinmun report also quoted Kim as saying his mission with the school was to “further consolidate and shine the status of the East’s nuclear power and the pillar of Songun Choson’s great military power.”

Kim was quoted as saying the school “solved necessary scientific and technological problems to realize the modernization of military equipment” and “develop high-tech arms” for the country’s armed forces.

Joo Seong-ha’s original report on KJUNDU also said the school reserved the right to select the most talented students from around the country, and that rocket engineering was a key program.

Kim Jong Un posed with hundreds of officials and teachers at what was referred to only as the National Defense University in June 2016 | Photo: Rodong Sinmun

Hiding in plain sight

Kim Jong Un has renamed an existing university to attach the name of a DPRK leader before, having dedicated the People’s Security University to his then-recently deceased father Kim Jong Il.

State media announced in late 2012 the renaming to Kim Jong Il People’s Security University (KJIPSU), and it was officially re-inaugurated in July 2013.

KJIPSU also happens to be situated in northern Pyongyang, directly adjacent to the school Kim Jong Un approved to be named after himself.

Kim Jong Un has also attached symbols of his personal details to highly significant state institutions before.

Writing for NK Pro last year, expert on North Korean politics and the military Fyodor Tertitskiy revealed that Kim Jong Un had injected two special dates related to him and his rule into the names of two new military branches he established.

These were the Strategic Forces, codenamed Unit 108 of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and the Special Operations Forces, codenamed Unit 506 of the KPA.

108 is believed to signify Kim’s birthday, January 8, Tertitskiy wrote, while 506 likely refers to the date he received the title of Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), May 6, 2016.  

During the February 2018 military parade, a Strategic Forces group and flag revealed their code number was 108 | Photo: KCTV

He added that the announcer on state television narrating the military parade where the flags of the new branches appeared even directly referred to Unit 108 as “Kim Jong Un’s branch” (김정은 군종).

But while the state’s propaganda naturally promotes the stature of Kim Jong Un as one of its primary objectives, larger symbols of the leader have only gradually been introduced in the over seven years since he came to power.

For instance, there are still no known statues of Kim Jong Un in the country, and his official, illustrated portrait still is not known to be hung next to those of his father and grandfather.

However, what may become his official portrait was introduced in the flip-card background of the new mass games which premiered earlier this week.

Tertitskiy told NK Pro this week that the existence of the university named after Kim Jong Un is another indication that the North Korean leader’s “cult of personality appears to be slowly growing.”

But another reason for hiding the renaming of the university and its activities since Kim visited in 2016 is likely due to general sensitivities over national defense, especially considering what is known about the school and the district on the outskirts of Pyongyang where it is located.

Activity in the defense district

Kim Jong Un’s university is situated near at least one other significant – and active – site related to North Korea’s national defense: the Sanum-dong missile research center just down the road, where ongoing activity was reported in March by South Korean intelligence.

Imagery of the campus from October 2018 through May 2019 | Click to enlarge | Photo: Planet Labs, edited by NK Pro

Promoted during Kim’s visit as a key player in the development of the North’s nuclear and high-tech defense industry, KJUNDU has also seen construction in recent months, with a new section of buildings beginning to go up in April, according to satellite imagery.

Medium-resolution daily imagery provided by Planet Labs shows that clearing on a patch of land on campus began late last year, and that construction began on at least one new, large building in the first week of April.

This followed the building on campus of the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues platform and another large building directly adjacent in the months leading up to Kim’s June 2016 visit, Google Earth satellite imagery shows.

Another site situated between the Sanum-dong missile research center and the KJUNDU campus – and just 900 meters from the new statues – is a former Kim Il Sung statue platform that was destroyed in summer 2014 to make way for what appears to be a new mural platform and pair of large buildings, mostly completed by fall 2016.

Photo: Google Earth, edited by NK Pro

Meanwhile, a review of satellite imagery shows there has been major construction since 2016 on new facilities at the KJIPSU and another likely significant but unidentified university or institution campus nearby to the northeast.

But the ongoing construction at Kim Jong Un’s university and his professed, particular focus on its success, is likely yet another sign North Korea continues to make advances in its high-tech military sector.

Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham

Featured image: Rodong Sinmun