Sunday, November 10, 2013

A digital escape from North Korea's secret state: Kim Jong-un faces threat from undercover films posted on the web

This short article front The Independent should give some hope to psychological operations professionals and unconventional warfare strategists.   There is growing resistance potential.

David Kang of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California, told Channel 4: “It’s these DVDs and USBs being smuggled in. Information and knowledge of the outside world is beginning to widen out. That means central control is breaking down.”

Recall that we define regime collapse when there is no longer central governing effectiveness combined with the loss of coherency of the military and security services.

I recently attended an off the record conference (ROE is we can discuss the ideas but not for attribution).  We discussed the concept of "byungjin" which is the regime's policy of simultaneous pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic development (e.g., Guns AND Butter).  One of the comments by one of the speakers was that the economic development is leading to a rise of the "princelings" or "outer elite" in Pyongyang.  They are starting to gain economically.  As we know from studying Ted Gurr and Why Men Rebel, those that are starving and only trying to survive have no motivation to seek political change.  However, those with food in their bellies who see the potential for more and a better life are the ones who may be motivated to seek political change.  We have long focused on the 2d tier leadership as key to influence in any post regime scenario but now with the rise of this nascent "princeling" or "outer elite" class we should be focusing on that we well.  The anecdotes in this article indicate the psychological operations potential.

The irony is that from among the emerging outer elite who are benefiting from "byungjin" and its economic development could arise potential resistance leaders who could begin the long hard task of developing resistance among the population.  However, it will not be able to be established, let along grow until there is further breakdown in the military and security services.  But that could be coming.

This of course all bears watching because we do not know what will happen or when.

Kim Jong-un has almost total control over what North Koreans see of the world. But he is fighting against a digital revolution, in which pop culture, not guns, might bring down his totalitarian regime
James Jones
Sunday, 10 November 2013
Eight-year-old Min staggers forwards, unsteady on his feet from hunger and exhaustion, wearing a shabby, blue overcoat discarded by an adult twice his size, and tells the hidden camera: “My mum tried to look after me but it got too hard so she told me I have to go, so I left and now I live outside.”
Min is among dozens of homeless street kids who gather around North Korean markets begging for money and looking for scraps of food. Their lives are featured in undercover footage to be screened this week in a Channel 4 documentary.

A network of ordinary North Koreans have been filming secretly inside the country and smuggling the footage out across the border with China. The footage gives a rare insight into the most isolated nation on earth, revealing the reality of everyday life in North Korea and showing the first signs of cracks in the regime’s control.

The network is run by Japanese journalist, Jiro Ishimaru, who has been training undercover reporters for 15 years.

“In North Korea, even filming everyday life is considered a form of political treason. If they are caught they’d be locked up and may never be let out again,” he said.

Unseen footage filmed by Mr Ishimaru’s reporters earlier this year shows Kim Jong-un’s speeches being pumped from speakers on street corners. One speech, promising his people a bright, economic future, had been on a continuous loop for three months. The footage shows whole villages rounded up to build monuments to the new Supreme Leader.

Even making a joke at the expense of the Supreme Leader can lead to life in a political prison camp. Satellite imagery shows that since Kim Jong-un came to power two years ago the political prison camps have grown. Today it’s estimated that almost one in 100 North Koreans is a political prisoner.

One former political prisoner who features in the documentary to be screened on Thursday is now leading the opposition to Kim Jong-un by revealing the reality of the outside world to North Koreans.

Mr Chung was caught crossing the border with China while doing business illegally in April 2000 and accused of being a spy. He spent three years in North Korea’s most notorious political prison camp, Yodok, where he was beaten, tortured and starved.

“Before I got arrested I weighed 75kg,” he said. “After 10 months I had a physical examination. When I looked at what I weighed I was 36kg. I couldn’t endure it anymore.”

After serving three years of his sentence Mr Chung was released when the authorities decided he wasn’t a spy after all. Soon after, he illegally crossed the border again, but this time he escaped for good. He now lives in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and works with other defectors plotting against the regime. He realises that the best way to break the spell of North Korean propaganda is by exposing the people to popular culture.

Mr Chung smuggles radios, USB sticks and DVDs of soap operas and entertainment shows into the North, posing as a mushroom importer.

“The men prefer watching action films,” he said. “Men love their action films! I sent them Skyfall recently. The women enjoy watching soap operas and dramas. The more people are exposed to such media the more likely they are to become disillusioned with the regime and start wanting to live differently.”

In September he filmed himself secretly travelling to the China-North Korea border, the same spot where he was caught and branded a spy 13 years ago.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power border control has become much tighter. He realises that his power depends on maintaining a tight grip on information flows across the border and stopping people like Mr Chung. Border guards have a shoot-to-kill policy. Being caught with illegal DVDs could mean immediate imprisonment, but it’s now estiamted that half of North Koreans have watched foreign television.

David Kang of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California, told Channel 4: “It’s these DVDs and USBs being smuggled in. Information and knowledge of the outside world is beginning to widen out. That means central control is breaking down.”

In interviews with more than a dozen recent defectors a picture emerged of a rapidly changing society. Each has a story of the moment they saw the outside world in foreign films and television shows: the cars, the tall buildings, the abundance of food and the apparent freedom all caused the scales to fall from their eyes.

Far from regarding their South Korean cousins as American puppets and slaves, as portrayed in North Korean propaganda, they see they speak the same language but live in a country that is decades ahead in technology and prosperity.
(Continued at the link below)

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