Criminal activity is very much a way of life for the North Korean government. The government actually has a specific section called Bureau 39 that oversees the drug trafficking, counterfeiting of currency, money laundering and other criminal ventures. Defectors say that government trucks and facilities are used to transport opium and turn it into heroin for export. Diplomats regularly smuggle contraband. In 2003, Australia intercepted a North Korean ship trying to deliver 150 kilograms of heroin. The Australians were so fed up with North Korea’s sponsorship of drug trafficking that they blew up the seized ship in 2006.
It is estimated that the leaders of the country earn about $1 billion annually from this black market activity to help fund their lavish lifestyles while their people live in poverty. In addition, about 40 percent of North Korea’s exports are said to be arms sales. The regime makes at least $2 billion from sales to Iran alone. This illegal trade has already reached the United States. In 2007, it was discovered that a Chinese crime group had smuggled drugs, money, illegal cigarettes, and $1 million in weapons including machine guns and rocket launchers into the country from North Korea.
North Korea is increasingly unstable. Proof of this comes in the delicate succession process Kim Jong-Il has undertaken to transfer power to his youngest son. His sister has been given the rank of a four-star general and his brother-in-law has also been given power. As one expert explained, “The entire bureaucracy is just a personal staff for Kim Jong-Il.” At the same time, the information blockade imposed by the regime is coming apart and about 100 military defectors officially begun a campaign on September 9 to topple the regime, marking the start of it with the mock execution of Kim Jong-Il. They claim to have a total of 200 members that will begin operations to encourage dissent in the military.
Many officials are comfortable with the black market trade and can be expected to turn to it without regret when they find themselves with dwindling income and an uncertain future. For a large amount of these officials, any concern that they should have about the destruction such sales will cause has been neutralized by decades of anti-Western indoctrination. All the ingredients exist for North Korean weapons and expertise to reach the black market. And they exist in high quantity.
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