North Korea’s Clandestine Arms Trade-Open Source Intelligence Notes


Intelligence Research Observatory


[Photo Image Courtesy of DPRK Government]


North Korea’s Clandestine Arms Trade, Reconnaissance General Bureau Operations-Open Source Intelligence Notes

Methodology-OSINT research

Background & Analysis

North Korea is likely the worlds most prolific and secretive major exporter of small arms.  Under international sanction for a variety of offenses, North Korea remains a productive smuggler and exporter of ballistic missiles and heavy weapons.  The small arms trade is a lucrative business of $6 billion dollars, which largely goes unaccounted for. This leads experts to believe that North Korea is exploiting the illicit arms market.  The Hermit state is remarkably competitive on the open market; often undercutting competitors, making arms export one of the most profitable revenue sources for the regime. (UKDJ, 2017)  North Korea also provides military and economic support to nations that have limited military resources. By providing military training and advisory to third world nations, North Korea plays a large role in foreign political and economic initiatives.  Under resourced nations that do not normally support North Korean agendas, will temporarily prop up North Korea’s initiatives as a means of gaining military and economic assistance.  North Korea likes to present itself as a revolutionary nation struggling against superpowers; in order to align itself with smaller nations hesitant to commit to the influence of powerful nations.  In return North Korea earns hard currency, offset agreements and political chits to be redeemed later. (DIA, 1981) KOMID and Green Pine Associated Corporation are both arms traders operated by North Korea’s premier intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.  KOMID exports ballistic missiles and other weapons systems, while Green Pine specializes in maritime military craft and armaments, such as submarines, military boats, missile systems, and has exported torpedoes. (UN, 2014) Given the vast success of North Korea’s intelligence apparatus to trade military equipment for hard currency and political influence; the hermit state will continue to undermine embargoes and the nations that seek to restrict them.



Key Points


Arms Trafficking

North Korean Arms Companies, Shell Companies Operated or Suspected to be Operated by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s “premier intelligence agency”


  • Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) is Pyongyang’s premier arms dealer
  • KOMID Exports equipment for ballistic missiles and other weapons
  • KOMID’s main financial arm, is the Tanchon Commercial Bank
  • Tanchon Commercial Bank and KOMID are sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for deceptive Financial Practices to Support its Weapons Programs (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, 2013)
  • KOMID is blacklisted by the United Nations


Green Pine

  • Sells conventional arms (NBC News, 2019)
  • Green Pine Associated Corporation (“Green Pine”) has taken over many of the activities of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) (UN, 2014)
  • Green Pine is also responsible for approximately half of the arms and related materiel exported by the DPRK
  • Green Pine specializes in the production of maritime military craft and armaments, such as submarines, military boats and missile systems, and has exported torpedoes and technical assistance to Iranian defense-related firms (UN, 2014)
  • Green Pine is blacklisted by the United Nations


Global Communications Co (Glocom)-Malaysia

  • Sells military communications equipment
  • Glocom-founded in 1996
  • As of 2014, the company claimed it employed more than 50 engineers and other staff members
  • A visit to the company’s offices in Malaysia, ended at an unmarked, locked black door in a shabby, poorly-maintained corridor
  • Malaysian police said that “no company by the name of Glocom exists”
  • The company’s website was registered by International Global Systems (IGS)
  • The Malaysian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment regarding North Korean companies operating in the country (CNN, 2017)


Pan Systems

  • Pan Systems Pyongyang is operated by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s “premier intelligence agency”
  • IGS and Glocom, are fronts for Pan Systems Pyongyang, a North Korean firm engaged in procuring and marketing arms-related material
  • Pan Systems Pyongyang used an extensive network of agents, companies and offshore bank accounts in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East to bypass sanctions
  • Three North Koreans arrested in 2014 and accused of attempting to smuggle around $450,000 in cash out of Malaysia “identified themselves as representatives of Pan Systems Pyongyang” and claimed the money belonged to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur (Foreign Policy, 2017)


Countries North Korea Exports or is Suspected of Exporting Weapons to,

  • North Korea sells weapons to State & Non-State Actors
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea
  • Somalia (Diplomat, 2018)
  • Peru
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Syria
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Yemen
  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Madagascar
  • Mozambique
  • Seychelles
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe (DIA, 1981)


What About Big Weapons Systems & Heavy Ordinance?

  • North Korea is known to have supplied or loaned military hardware to many states

Weapons supplied or on loan include,

  • T-54 tanks
  • Armored personnel carriers
  • Trucks
  • Artillery
  • Air defense artillery systems (DIA, 1981)


What are Some of North Korea’s Big Military Arms Deals?


  • Beginning in 1981, Zimbabwe was North Korea’s most ambitious effort. Building on a relationship developed with Robert Mugabe before he took power in 1980, North Korea equipped and trained the Army’s 5th Brigade. North Korea provided equipment, including T-54 tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks, artillery, air defense artillery, and about $18 million worth of small arms and ammunition. Training included political indoctrination and Korean-style martial arts (DIA, 1981)



  • In the early 1980s, North Korea loaned Madagascar MiG-17/FRESCOs and trained pilots for the MiG-21/FISHBEDs Madagascar had purchased from the Soviet Union. North Korea also gave the Navy four P-4 torpedo boats and constructed a small arms factory before concluding military assistance in 1984



  • Tanzania received a 77-man North Korean police team to provide personal security for the leadership



  • North Korea probably provided similar North Korean Security teams to President Rene of the Seychelles



  • Between 1981 and 1985, Uganda received counterinsurgency aid until the National Resistance Army forced the North Koreans to flee (DIA, 1981)


What Small Arms Does North Korea Sell?

  • North Korea emerged in the 80s as a significant arms exporter of inexpensive, technically unsophisticated, but reliable weapons

In a report by experts in Geneva, North Korea has been highlighted as one of the major exporters of small weapons including the North Korean variant,

  • Kalashnikovs (AK 47s)
  • Machine guns
  • Rockets-PG-7 rocket propelled grenades (UKDJ, 2017)



Foiled North Korean Arms Shipments


  • A North Korean vessel was intercepted in Egypt in 2016, hidden beneath iron ore was 30,000 Rocket Propelled Grenades and their sub components



  • Thailand intercepted $18 million worth of North Korean small arms on a plane in 2009, destination Iran (Guardian, 2016)


An Unnamed Country

  • In July 2016, a shipment of goods were seized en route from North Korea to Eritrea, the tiny east African nation which is also subject to stringent UN arms sanctions
  • Around 45 boxes of military communications equipment sent from China to Eritrea were seized
  • All bore labels from “Glocom,” a shadowy company purportedly based in Malaysia which specializes in radios and other gear for “Military and Para-military organizations,” (CNN, 2017)



  • Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean vessel stopped in Panama in 2013 found to be transporting anti-aircraft missile systems, MIG jets and other equipment from Cuba to North Korea (CNN, 2017)


Why Does North Korea Trade in Arms and Military Gear?

  • North Korea gains hard currency, alternative oil sources, and access to restricted technology (DIA, 1981)




UN Investigating Suspected North Korean Arms Dealers in Iran-NBC News- Dan De Luce (2019)

GREEN PINE ASSOCIATED CORPORATION-United Nations Security Council (2014)

North Korea flouting sanctions with illegal arms trade, report finds-CNN-James Griffiths (2017)

FOREIGN POLICY GOALS-United States Government-Defense Intelligence Agency (1991)

North Korea’s Military Partners in the Horn of Africa-The Diplomat-Samual Ramani (2018)

North Korea’s secretive small arms exports under spotlight in global-The Guardian- Sandra Laville (2017)

North Korea: Global small arms exporter revealed-UK Defense Journal-Oliver Steward (2017)

Treasury Sanctions Bank, Front Company, and Official Linked to North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs-US Government-US Department of Treasury (2013)

Confidential U.N. Report Details North Korea’s Front Companies in China-Foreign Policy- COLUM LYNCH (2017)

Image-Kim Jong Un-DPRK Government Gallery (2020)

Image-DPRK Military Parade-DPRK  Government (2020)