How One Group Is Infiltrating North Korea With USB Drives and Balloons

North Korea is very famously closed off from the rest of the world, but one organization—Fighters for a Free North Korea—is working to breach the walls of the regime by airdrop. But they're not using conventional means and fancy technology; they're delivering info via balloon, The Atlantic reports.

From a launch site near where the Imjin and Han Rivers, not far from the North Korean border itself, volunteers—many of whom are themselves defectors—put together balloons packed with supplies that will fly over the border to be delivered to citizens that would otherwise be left in the dark, without internet, and without any kind of access to the rest of the world:

The balloons rise and drift toward the border dividing democratic South Korea and Kim Jong Un's totalitarian regime in the north. Each balloon carries a bundle containing DVDs, USBs, transistor radios, and tens of thousands of leaflets printed with information about the world outside North Korea. Once the balloons travel far enough north, a small timer will break open the sturdy plastic bags and shower the contents of the packages over the countryside. The text printed on the leaflets is changed from launch to launch; the leaflets we are using today contain a cartoon depicting Kim Jong Un's execution of his uncle as well as pro-democracy and human rights literature.


The guy heading up the group leading the info charge, Park Sang Hak, escaped North Korea by swimming across the river 15 years ago. Since then, he's faced assassination attempts, death threats, and has had people try to thwart his efforts at almost every turn. But he's persevered in consistently sending messages of democracy to the country and its citizens, using these creative tactics:

Smuggling is the only way to bring information and technology to the North Korean people, and it is punishable by death. DVDs, USBs, and even laptops are making their way over the Chinese border into the hands of North Koreans, helped along by NGOs based in South Korea. Some groups engage directly in smuggling activities to provide information and equipment, others use short- and medium-wave radio broadcasts, and Park Sang Hak uses balloons and other creative methods of sending help over the border.

Who knew a clown's accoutrement could be a potential standard bearer for regime change? Head over to The Atlantic for the whole story. [The Atlantic]

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Ok first let me say this; I think the work that this group is doing is great. I commend them for doing something to try to help those who live in North Korea, and I'm sure they are helping some amount.

However I see two big problems. First of all North Koreans don't have much access to technology, are they really going to be able to use those DVD's and USB drives? And secondly, one of the scariest thing about North Korea is that the people in charge are really good at building positive public sentiment (they basically worship their "glorious leader"). So even if they see a pro-democracy DVD, its likely they won't believe it and will see it as enemy propaganda.

Anyways. I'm sort of ranting and not offering any solutions. I really do think this is a good thing that Park Sang Hak and his volunteers are doing. Plus they are using balloons, which is fucking awesome.