North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

State Security Department

SSD Main Complex in Pyongyang

The State Security Department is one of the DPRK’s chief security and intelligence agencies.  Within the DPRK, the SSD constitute a secret police tasked with enforcing the monolithic ideological system (which establishes Kim Family rule in the country) through surveillance and investigations of political and some economic crimes.  SSD monitors the population’s political or public activities that contradict or contravene the regime.  SSD also has certain border policing functions and is the primary agency that monitors DPRK citizens traveling to and from China.  SSD also monitors telephone (including cellular) communications at the country’s borders.  Outside the DPRK, SSD is an active intelligence collection organization, as well as a protective service for DPRK diplomats, embassies and other missions.  SSD own two foreign trading corporations that have operated in Japan, as well as the border area between the DPRK, PRC and Russian Federation.

The State Security Department’s personnel who reside and operate inside the DPRK are dispersed in official and unofficial capacities throughout the country: from provincial cities, to cooperative farms and factories.  SSD’s 2nd Bureau is responsible for the surveillance of foreigners.  For a number of years SSD was responsible for monitoring Japanese and ROK citizens repatriated to the DPRK.  SSD has certain policy responsibilities with the country’s dealings with ROK.  SSD’s 7th Bureau is responsible for the management and operation of the DPRK’s notorious political prison system.  The 16th Bureau manages (in coordination with NDC agencies) electronic eavesdropping, which includes active surveillance on members of the country’s leadership.

The State Security Department also has subordinate bureaus that manage training and education, the SSD hospital and general administrative and logistical support.

Institutional Ties

As noted above, SSD personnel are dispersed throughout the DPRK.  Since 1998, the State Security Department has been technically subordinate to the National Defense Commission.  SSD links to the Guard Command to provide security escort service for DPRK leaders.  It links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide diplomatic security, and the Ministry of Post and Telecom for the purposes of electronic surveillance.  SSD also links to the KPA General Staff Communications Bureau for intelligence collection.  SSD links to the Ministry of People’s Security, which is responsible for remanding political criminals to SSD.  SSD also links to several departments subordinate to the Party Central Committee, including long-standing ties to the CC KWP Organization and Guidance Department, Office #35 and the United Front Department.

Command and Reportage

Gen. Kim Won Hong was appointed Minister of State Security in April 2012.  He took over from Gen. U Tong Chuk, who served as the senior deputy (1st vice) minister of State Security.  MSS is directly subordinate to the National Defense Commission.  Daily reporting and management of MSS is conducted through the Korean Workers’ Party Administration Department.

It is highly likely with the death of OGD Senior Deputy (Vice) Director Ri Je Gang in June 2010 that party control of SSD resides entirely with the CC KWP Administration Department.  SSD was already tending toward consolidation, when the Ministry of People’s Security was subordinated to the NDC in the spring of 2010.  This arrangement concentrates the DPRK’s political and domestic police in one place.


The State Security Department was carved out of the Ministry of Public Security in the early 1970s, and subordinated directly to Kim Il Sung.  The SSD’s tasks included personal security protection for senior DPRK elites, and political security in the Korean People’s Army.  In 1997 the top management of SSD were dismissed from office, and several reportedly executed.


Bermudez, Joseph S., Jr. The Armed Forces of North Korea (London: IB Tauris, 2001)

Chong, Bong-uk (editor).  A Handbook on North Korea (Seoul: Naewoe Press, November 1998) p. 23

Gause, Ken. “Scenarios and Signposts: Managing Future North Korean Crises” (Alexandria, VA: CNA, June 2009)

“Narrative Biographies of DPRK Figures” Seoul Singdong-a (Seoul: January 1995) pp 210-278

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