This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea has begun cracking down on government officials responsible for handling sensitive documents after dozens of incidents where the documents went missing and secrets were leaked, officials in the country told RFA.
Every North Korean government office operates on written directives from the central government, some of which are meant only for the eyes of those in charge. These officials are supposed to follow strict guidelines in handling and storage of the secret documents, but security in some of the offices has become lax.
Several officials who should have been diligently keeping and cataloguing the documents delegated the task to their subordinates, and in some cases, the documents were lost, or sensitive information got out.
The Central Committee of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party dismissed the responsible officials and warned others that future such leaks will be punished severely, sources said.
An official in the northeastern border province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service this week that a lower-level party official in charge of a railway factory in the province’s largest city of Chongjin got in trouble when authorities recently inspected the party’s internal documents there.
“The vice secretary violated the rules by making ordinary workers handle the documents, and internal secrets were leaked to the outside,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“The Central Committee dismissed the vice secretary for neglecting to handle the documents properly and instructed the other officials on the right way to keep confidential documents,” said the source.
According to the source, the vice secretary had been a repeat offender. Authorities had warned him several times… to comply with the regulations for handling and storing the documents, but he repeatedly ignored the warnings and violated the rules.
“He was in charge of registering the confidential documents, which included directives from higher party agencies. Just as he had done before, he made ordinary workers register the documents with the excuse that he was too busy with his own work. That is how the internal secrets were leaked,” the source said.
“In September of last year, the vice secretary had not properly managed employee access to the document storage room and he did not handle the documents in accordance with regulations. He even handed over the key for the storage room to an ordinary worker, so the workers could look at the secret documents at any time. So he was warned about it. After failing to change his ways, he was punished severely to the point of dismissal,” said the source.
The Central Committee threatened the officials that further leaks due to their negligence would be met with more severe consequences. The punishments were not spelled out.
“The committee’s directives include a warning that in the event of a leak of even a low-priority secret, the responsible officials will be severely punished regardless of their position,” the source said.
Another source, an official from the northwestern border province of North Pyongan, told RFA on the same day that a similar case occurred there.
“A low-level party secretary from the convenience management office in Chongju secretly handed over seven confidential documents to an ordinary worker in the office in return for special favors, and the information got out,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“The secretary took responsibility and has been dismissed. The public security department investigated the leak,” the second source said.
Leaked secrets have been a chronic problem over the past year, according to the second source.
“There have been dozens of cases in which important documents are lost or leaked because officials do not properly manage them. In this case, the ‘party project guidelines’ document got lost, and law enforcement has started an investigation to find where it went, but its whereabouts are still not known,” said the second source.
“The Central Committee has tried to improve education for the officials because leaks like this keep happening. Now the officials are nervous because the committee is threatening more severe punishments and dismissals for those found responsible for secrets getting out,” the second source said.
A third source, an official in the central northern border province of Ryanggang, told RFA April 1 that authorities investigated each government agency there also.
“They found that some confidential documents were lost or leaked because agencies were not properly handling them according to regulations. The Central Committee issued strict directives to try to prevent this from happening again,” said the second source, who requested anonymity on fear of reprisal.
“A few agencies, including the Taebong Mine and Wood Processing and Export Office No. 121, did not keep proper records of the documents, so they are unsure when they were lost. The authorities who were authorized to handle these documents delegated the task to others, which is how the information was leaked,” the third source said.
This year dozens of documents like lecture and educational materials were lost because the officials did not collect them on time, according to the third source.
“There will be no way for the officials who are responsible for the missing documents to avoid punishment.”
In North Korea, being fired from a government job is not merely a professional setback. After falling out of the party’s grace, former government officials and their families can be banished to rural areas of the country or even worse, sent to the country’s brutal prison camps for their crimes. RFA was unable to confirm the degree of punishment for any of the dismissed officials.
RFA reported in 2015 that North Korean authorities sent an army officer to a prison camp after he helped leak information about living conditions in the country to the outside world. In 2019 and 2020, authorities began targeting leaks by cracking down on illegal Chinese cellular phones to prevent secret information about Kim Jong Un’s security from getting out.