Date: January 11, 2019 (permission to reprint received May, 2019)
In an attempt to keep an eye on defectors, North Korean secret police agents from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) are studying the Bible. The move was designed by the secretive state to also extract information from South Korean citizens, pertaining to developments in the latter's country and to find the whereabouts of North Korean defectors in China and South Korea.
According to Daily NK, agents who study the Bible target South Korean churchgoers in China and get close with them. They would then strike up a conversation and eventually get the required information. A source told the news outlet knowledge about the Bible can prove to be a useful tool while trying to gain the attention of the worshipers.
"MSS agents are not studying the Bible in its entirety or to complete memory. They are just studying it piecemeal to better infiltrate churches established by South Koreans and Chinese nationals in China. Knowledge of the Bible can go a long way in helping them to interact with missionaries and blend in with the church communities,” the source told Daily NK.
The source added agents were trying to comprehend the defector system in China, where Chinese brokers help North Korean citizens escape to either South Korea or other countries. According to rules in North Korea, citizens are not allowed to leave the country without prior permission. Once defectors are identified, they are reported to Chinese authorities, who arrest and repatriate them to North Korea.Another source in China, who keeps track of North Korean affairs, said, "Agents in the MSS office in Dandong (Liaoning Province) [in China, just across the border from North Korea] and some trade officials are tasked with jobs handed down by the government. One of these jobs is to initiate business endeavors with South Koreans that can earn money for the regime, and learn more about South Korea."
Another source in China, who keeps track of North Korean affairs, said, "Agents in the MSS office in Dandong (Liaoning Province) [in China, just across the border from North Korea] and some trade officials are tasked with jobs handed down by the government. One of these jobs is to initiate business endeavors with South Koreans that can earn money for the regime, and learn more about South Korea."
South Korean worshippers frequenting churches in China are mostly made up of people from the business community. The agents use this as an opportunity to earn money for Pyongyang. Though information about the country is mostly hidden from the outside world, North Korea is a poor country, lacking money and technical advancements, especially when compared to its neighbors in the regions — China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
Reports also said while such activities have been recorded since the early 2000s, it has become more prominent in recent times, helping North Korea bolster its limited earnings in foreign currencies, following sanctions imposed on the nation by the international community. The most recent rounds of sanctions came after the United States imposed them in December on three North Korean officials, including a close aide of Kim Jong Un, for disregarding human rights in the country.
An insight into what life is like in North Korea was found out after a soldier defied his fellow officials and defected to South Korea. The soldier, who was shot five times while he tried to run across the heavily-fortified demilitarized zone, was later dragged into the other side, and to safety, by South Korean soldiers. While undergoing operations, parasitic worms were found in his intestines, revealing the poor health and hygiene conditions in the country.