Inside North Korea’s State-Sanctioned Criminal Empire

By Christina Gathman

Abstract: The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has managed to develop an elaborate state-run criminal enterprise with both domestic and international dealings despite the extremely closed-off nature of the North Korean state. The DPRK runs its highly-organized criminal organizations out of an office known, among other names, as Bureau 39. The activities managed by Bureau 39 range from international narcotics trafficking, to the manufacture of counterfeit goods, to insurance fraud. Over the years, in the face of greater visibility, both the activities undertaken by Bureau 39 as well as its means for carrying out these activities have adapted, however they have not necessarily decreased. Thus, North Korea’s sophisticated criminal network continues both to enable the state to acquire hard currency to be used domestically for its own nefarious purposes as well as allow the state to export its criminality, posing a dual threat to both regional and international security.

About the Author: Christina Gathman is a Master’s candidate in International Affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where she specializes in the Middle East and International Security Studies. Her studies at the Elliott School brought her to Beirut, Lebanon, where she lived and worked for eight months. Christina received her B.A. in International Relations and Philosophy from Tulane University.

Kim Jon Un, painted portrait by Thierry Ehrmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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