A former North Korean high-ranking intelligence official says the regime of President Kim Jong Un was so desperate to make cash that he resorted to drug deals, weapons sales, and terror in order to maintain his tight grip on the hermit kingdom.
Kim Kuk-song broke his silence for the first time this week after defecting 7 years ago, telling BBC News that the young 37-year-old dictator is eager to prove himself as a "warrior" to his people and the world.
That warrior-like spirit was on display as Kim and his top leaders watched bare-chested North Korean soldiers break through layers of bricks and glass, as others performed various unusual martial arts-like routines marking the 76th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.
North Korean state media says the strength of these soldiers was "bestowed upon them" by their dear leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea put on one of its largest displays of military hardware and advanced weapons systems in decades to mark the anniversary.
"His arsenal is becoming more sophisticated," Anthony Ruggiero, with Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told CBN News.
Flanked by rocket launchers, tanks, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, including a new long-range hypersonic missile, Kim Jong Un vowed to build an invincible military to counter America.
"It is our party's invariable priority policy and goal, and unwavering will to possess and further strengthen a military capability which no one would dare challenge," Kim said during a lengthy speech at the national defense exhibition. "The United States has frequently sent signals that it is not hostile to our state, but its behavior provides us with no reason why we should believe it."
North Korea tested several nuclear-capable weapons in September that could reach targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there.
"The effort there is to, in a conflict or near conflict, to give the United States a pause or pause the U.S. coming to South Korea or Japan's defense," said Ruggiero.
Meanwhile, North Korea's economy and people continue to suffer dramatically. The United Nations warns that children and elderly people now face possible starvation.
"Many people who rely on trade and commercial activities in the border areas in the north of the country have lost their income," Tomás Ojea Quintana, a U.N. investigator, said in a report to the U.N. General Assembly. "People's access to food is a serious concern and the most vulnerable children and elderly are at risk of starvation."
Ruggiero says the regime in Pyongyang only cares about holding on to power and keeping the Kim family in charge of running the country.
"This is a regime that does not care about the North Korean people. If they did, they would not waste money and resources on these weapons systems," Ruggiero told CBN News.
Meanwhile, the regime continues to torture and imprison people of faith.
"Those charged with Christianity often face execution or are forced to live out the rest of their lives in political prison camps," testified Inje Hwang, an investigator with Korea Future Initiative, during a webinar hosted by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in September.
A report by USCIRF details how the communist Workers Party of Korea led by Kim Jong Un targets and tortures Christians and other people of faith while going to great lengths to conceal its crimes.
The report spells out the acts of terror committed by the regime "designed to remove all traces of Christianity" and reveals "the campaign to exterminate all Christian adherents and institutions...has been brutally effective."
The report also details how North Korea's secret police are often rewarded when they arrest Christians.
"One victim was arrested for the possession of a Bible, was detained in solitary confinement, and beaten with a metal rod used for cleaning rifles," explained Hwang.
According to Open Doors, North Korea is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. An estimated 75,000 North Korean Christians are reported to be languishing in prison camps across the country.