Kim Jong-un Doesn't Run North Korea — A Mysterious Organization Does, Apparently

Since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011, the 31-year-old has been trying to make his mark as Supreme Leader of North Korea. However, a recent interview with a North Korean defector from Kim Jong-il's inner circle indicates that Kim Jong-un is nothing more than a symbolic head, and that the real power belongs to a mysterious organization called the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD). Even weirder? Its director was none other than Jang Sung-taek, the uncle whom Kim Jong-un executed in December. The execution has, apparently, cut all familial ties between the organization and the country's supreme leader.

In the interview, North Korean defector Jang Jin-sung explains that the OGD is like "an old boys' network" made up of Kim Jong-il's university friends. Kim Jong-il rose up the ranks with the men who run the organization, and these very men, most of which the world has never seen, are still running the show.

"When Kim Jung-il died and Kim Jong-un succeeded him, people saw the transfer of power from father to son," Jang Jin-sung told CNN. "What they did not see also was what happened to the apparatus of the totalitarian system that supported the rule of Kim Jung-il."

That apparatus is essentially the OGD, a body of the government that Kim Jong-un may not have close ties with the way his father did. And now that his uncle is out of the picture, there is nothing that ties him to the institution. Jang Jin-sung assesses that the current situation means that Kim Jong-un has no real power as Supreme Leader of North Korea. 

"Kim Jung Il had the OGD as his old boys' network," Jang said. "Kim Jong-un may have friends in his Swiss school, but he has no one inside North Korea."

So who are the OGD and what do they do?

  • The OGD is considered the most important department of the Korean Workers Party Central Committee.
  • It was formed in 1946 as part of the Department for General Matters of the KWP.
  • It focuses on four main areas: affairs related to the KWP headquarter, matters related to the North Korean army, administrative matters, and party matters.
  • The military desk was formed by Kim Jong-il in the 1980s as the North Korean military grew.
  • Kim Jong-il succeeded his uncle Kim Yong-ju as department director in 1974, but never officially left his post, so it was succeeded by the first deputy director after his death.
  • The first deputy director was Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Sung-taek, who led the organization until his execution in December.
  • It is currently led by Jang Sung-taek's wife, Kim Kyong-hui, though several reports have speculated that she may be either dead or in a vegetative state.
  • The OGD expanded so much in power and influence under Kim Jong-il that party bureaucrats refer to it as the "party within the party."
  • Only the very elite those proven to be the most loyal to the regime are permitted to work in the OGD.
  • The OGD's current first vice directors are Cho Yon-jun, Min Byong-chol, and Kim Kyong-ok. Most pundits are not familiar with them, but they are the link between Kim Jong-un and second and third tier leadership. In other words, they are the power behind the throne.

Image: Flickr/Richard Loyal French

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