In June 2009, shortly after Kim Jong Il had come to inspect a hospital in Chongjin, the road in front of the same hospital was covered with leaflets saying, “The Party Center which lives off the blood and sweat of the people has to go.”
“Party Center” was referring to Kim Jong Il.
The leaflets, scattered at night some 20-30m from the hospital, were everywhere, blown around by the wind. About the size of a school notebook, they also contained criticism of the Party, “Those Party men should all be killed,” people, “Don’t just sit there, we must move,” and leader, “We are being deceived by Kim Jong Il.” The contents made the blood of the authorities run cold.
Chongjin was all a-flutter after they found the leaflets. People desperate not to get involved left the scene of the crime in a hurry, trying to act as if they hadn’t read it. Security agents were mobilized to collect the leaflets from the streets and alleyways.
Chongjin NSA was put in charge of the case. They eventually withdrew from the scene having arrested ten or so people who had read the leaflets at around 8AM that day. These people were released having been made to vow not to disclose the information therein. The NSA, recognizing that the handwriting was by a single person with a grudge, began a focused investigation.
North Hamkyung Province NSA held a meeting. HQ decreed that the agent who resolved the case be invested with the title ‘Hero’, but that if it was not resolved within a month the director of the investigation must lose his position.
The provincial NSA embarked on an investigation of the handwriting and identities of the entire population of Chongjin. Informants were injected into locations of even the slightest suspicion.
They started with paper merchants and, after finding out that the statement was written with a left hand, they also ordered the people of Chongjin to give writing samples with both their left and right hands.
The NSA eventually narrowed the investigation down to a 50-70 year old with accumulated complaints against the regime. In addition, they decided that the 200 handwritten leaflets gave the impression of having been produced in revenge by someone with no job and a lot of time on their hands.
Every day new people were reported as possible suspects. Informants were reporting on literally anyone who responded to the leaflet with a “these things can happen” attitude, so the number of suspects increased exponentially. Each NSA agent was looking after fifty more informants, while agents looking to get the title ‘hero’ even came in from other regions.
Anyone who so much as mentioned the leaflets was assumed to be an informant, so people avoided them. Eventually, the investigation grew so confused that all informants and secret agents were withdrawn.
Nevertheless, twenty days later a suspect was arrested in the Songpyeong district of Chongjin, and this appeared to resolve the problem. The suspect had been taken in after telling an informant that he “intended to scatter leaflets too” and eventually gave a forced confession under torture. The interrogation took six months.
However, during the final screening process the confession was rejected. The suspect had said, “I could have” in response to the question, “Would you scatter leaflets if you resented the regime for some reason”, but on the next day under torture just confessed that “I did it all.” HQ acquitted him.
And that was that. The head of Songpyeong District NSA was dismissed for taking 26 days to arrest the suspect then interrogating him for six months. The local NSA head of anti-espionage who had been in charge of the investigation was sent to a labor-training camp. The two security agents who had been so desperate for the title ‘hero’ that they had subjected an innocent man to arrest and torture for half a year were merely dismissed. The case was closed, and the National Security Agency quietly ordered its Songpyeong branch to take care of the man they had arrested for life.