There seems to be a real fascination with Kim Jong Un's security and how exactly he goes about his business while paranoid of assassination attempts and decapitation strikes from afar and from potential competition within his own circle of power. It turns out that Kim doesn't just have a Secret Service-like agency tasked with his protection. He has his own 100,000 man army with a stove-pipe command structure that reports directly to him. This elite unit is known as Guard Command.
Kim's personal protection unit, which is made up of the best that Guard Command has to offer, usually melts into the shadows during his appearances. But recently, members of a select offshoot of this special outfit have become something of an international sensation, as they have appeared running in unison alongside the Supreme Leader's Mercedes Pullman Guard armored Limousine on multiple high-profile occasions.
This human phalanx of fit North Korean commandos dressed in tailored business suits with earphone pigtails dangling from their heads definitely appears to mean business when it comes to defending their principal, but they also serve a major propaganda tool. The spectacle visually highlights Kim's near-sacred importance and the might of his sprawling security apparatus.
Back home, Guard Command serves to protect the ruling family's interests throughout the country and includes a range of capabilities, as well as a large assortment of equipment used to carry out its unique missions. In the fabulous research document
North Korea House Of Cards: Leadership Dynamics Under Kim Jong Un, the Committee For Human Rights In North Korea describes Guard Command as such:
Various subunits within the GC's structure execute a wide variety of roles. These include maintaining and guarding the Kim family's palaces and shrines, controlling access to the Capital via checkpoints, providing medical care not available to any other North Korean in order to prolong the "Dear Leader's" life, and protecting other North Korean elites. A logistics group supports all these endeavors in a traditional sense but also procures the luxury items and consumables only available to the Kim family and the regime's top power brokers.
One unit, the Rapid Response Force, is made up of a couple thousand hardened soldiers with a fleet of armored personnel carriers and heavy weaponry who are dispersed throughout Pyongyang. Their sole responsibility is to counter a coup attempt at a moment's notice, by grabbing and holding strategic command and control and information facilities to ensure that the regime is not successfully overturned.
The Second Guard Department of the Guard Command works to protect Kim and his family directly and has some of the most capable troops in the entire order. They work directly with an even more select group of bodyguards that are part of the so-called Office Number Six, to coordinate Kim's personal protection operations.
Office Number Six is made up of highly experienced GC operatives with at least a decade of dedicated service and provides the innermost protective circle around Kim Jong Un. They also provide a key administrative function—planning and executing the Supreme Leader's events and travel arrangements. The CFHRINK report describes this shadowy unit in detail:
Here is a chart showing how Kim's security is organized for events:
In some ways, this arrangement is somewhat analogous to America's Secret Service Uniform Division and the President's Protection Detail, but in North Korea, the whole operation is highly militarized and operates on a much grander scale.
The SSD, or State Security Department, that is mentioned in the organizational chart above, doesn't have to do with Kim's personal protection primarily, but considering we are talking about the North Korean police state, their involvement in Kim's travel planning and protection during visits is worth noting. The CHFRINK report states:
The MPS, or Ministry of People Security, acts as the state police in North Korea, so their involvement with Kim's movements doesn't need explanation.
Guard Command supposedly goes to North Korean highs schools to find the best specimens to fill out its ranks. According to defector Lee Young Kuk who was the personal bodyguard for Kim Jong Il for over a decade, well-proportioned bodies and the lack of scars are desirable features for candidates, and they must come from families with impeccable loyalty to the party dating back multiple generations.
Training, which lasts years, includes smashing granite slabs on your chest with a sledgehammer, breaking light bulbs with a single finger, and crushing tiles with your head, as well as a lot of fairly brutal martial arts.
CNN did an interview with Lee Yong Kuk, it stated:
Lee noted that even with all his power, Kim Jong Il was an uneven and violent man that was struck with fear at all times:
But his successor, the man now negotiating on equal footing with the U.S., is even more brutal according to the veteran bodyguard:
Regardless of who in the Kim family is crueler, the massive security apparatus surrounding the top echelons of the regime is a manifestation of what it takes to sustain a reclusive military dictatorship with a royal-like family at its pinnacle. And all of it costs gobs of money, which could be used to satisfy the basic needs of North Koreans, namely clean water, consistent electricity, and especially a steady diet of basic nutrition.
Yet considering the closed society they come from, one in which the common man must be an idolator of the Kim family and the party they rule, as well as their extreme training, indoctrination, and not lack of distractions, North Korea's top bodyguards are no laughing matter and their dedication is likely among the most extreme on the planet.
Guard Command's workload and repertoire seems to be on the precipice of a drastic expansion as Kim Jong Un's profile rises on the world stage. Just the idea of a "Young General" that travels outside of North Korea's own borders is a new concept, at least in the years since Kim Jong Un rose to power, and his father wasn't much of a globetrotter either as he hated to fly. But the unit was behind the impressive logistics ballet that brought the young ruler to Singapore for the historic, albeit hollow, summit with the American President.
With all this in mind, we are likely to be seeing a lot more of the General Guard and Office Number Six's 'unique' capabilities, and they may even be descending onto Washington, D.C. in the not so distant future.
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