Want Better News on North Korea by the Best Sources?

…then support’s Kickstarter Campaign titled “North Korea Borderlands Reporting Project!

This project will send two North Korean defector journalists to the Chinese-North Korean border to source news and share their findings with us all.  Check out the video and support the good work that Chad O’Carroll and team are doing at NK News. (And sign up for their daily newsletter!)

What’s a better way to get news from this regime than from North Koreans themselves who have the skills to source primary materials and write stories to share with the world?



New York City Hosts a North Korea Propaganda Artist / Political Prisoner / Dissident Artist

Song Byeok went from being a North Korean propaganda artist to political prisoner to now a dissident artist. His work will be exhibited in New York City for the next few weeks (May 7 – June 13) and I’d love for anyone in NYC to check his work out. This is an extremely unique show.

The exhibition, titled “Looking at the World’ is “dedicated to all those who have suffered from the physical and psychological abuses of a flawed government pivoted on the lack of human rights and freedom.”

ArtNowNY Gallery: 548 West 28th St.#232 NY, NY 10001; (646) 535-6528;

Past media coverage of Mr. Song:

Please direct all media inquiries/interview requests to Henry Song at 202-341-6767. (BTW — Henry is a really passionate North Korean human rights activist and you all should get to know him!)



song byeok 2

Hack and Frack North Korea: How Information Campaigns can Liberate the Hermit Kingdom

I’ve been working on this research and short paper titled Hack and Frack North Korea: How Information Campaigns can Liberate the Hermit Kingdom for a while now and it finally came out today.

Please check it out and share it with people you think may be interested.  If you have Kim Jong Un’s email address, feel free to forward this to him!


——————-Executive Summary——————-

This paper will make a case for the U.S. government to pursue three strategies if its operational objective is to force North Korea to reappraise its own interests. Individual self-determination and access to information—two properties the Kim regime fears most for its citizens to possess –are the short-term goals for North Koreans. This objective and two goals do not necessarily equate to regime change.

Even at its best, information fracking does not portend rapid changes in North Korea. But it does offer the best prospect for creating conditions for the government to consider incremental political changes. The more informed its citizens are, the less North Korea’s political leadership will be able to simply eliminate all the “bad seeds” in society by relegating alleged criminals and their relatives to political prison camps or worse. Otherwise, there will be no one left to rule over. Success of information hacking requires enlisting a broad range of stakeholders as part of its three-pronged strategy:

  1. Strengthen covert operations to hack into North Korea’s information channels and support internal dissidents.
  2. Increase funding for NGOs in the U.S. and South Korea to transmit outside media into North Korea and provide business skills to North Koreans.
  3. Bolster training for North Korean defectors, the primary liaisons between North Korea and the outside world, in journalism, IT, and social media

Each effort complements the other two; all must be pursued in concert. Read the full paper here.

Help send Stealth USBs into North Korea today

We just launched North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) US website, which makes it easier for everyone to donate to NKIS. Please check out the site and consider making your donation today. You will be helping to make history. Spread the word!


Donate to NKIS on this link today!

HAPPY: The song that connects my college and graduate school experience

Yes, I’m talking about the HAPPY song by Pharrell Williams.

I was going through some old photos and papers from my time in undergraduate and graduate school, and tried to think about what really pulled these experiences together. Then I realized that it all boiled down to this one fabulous song: HAPPY. (OK, well…there are a few other things, but this is a great excuse to share these videos!)

Last year, a few classmates shot and produced this video at Harvard Kennedy School to the HAPPY song. A few days after my graduation, I went to my college’s 5-year reunion and saw a montage of my classmates’ video footage from all over the world stitched together by Emily Lamont. My friends and I are in this one–we shot it on a freezing spring day on Weeks Footbridge!

I love these videos. They’re fun, and they showcase just how mixed, diverse, colorful and energetic the two student bodies were. You’ll probably recognize some names like…Larry Summers, Greg Mankiw, David Ellewood, and some pretty fabulous students. Some are better dancers than others, but the point is that anyone can be happy, anywhere they are in the world, whoever they are.

Oh, and if anyone knows Pharrell Williams…please feel free to forward this to him! 🙂



“Keep Your Eyes On the Prize. And Hold On.” A Must-Watch Talk by Bryan Stevenson

After listening to all of NPR’s Weekend Edition stories, I browsed Ted.Com to find a good talk to listen to while writing emails before heading to bed. I was reminded, once again, that Ted.Com talks simply cannot be put on as “background noise.” It’s all-consuming, and Bryan Stevenson’s talk is the perfect example of this.


Bryan Stevenson is the the Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based non-profit that “provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.”  Check out the incredible work that his organization does. Meanwhile, I’d like to highlight a section of his ted talk titled: “We Need to Talk About an Injustice” that I thought fit this blog content and narrative perfectly. (I’ve added the bolded emphasis.)


“… I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”


Enticing much? Check out the whole talk! It’ll be an inspirational way to start off a new week.

From Palestine to PIVOT — I never stop learning from Asma Jaber!

In March 2013, I went on a spring break trek to Palestine with a a bunch of HKS students, led by Asma Jaber.  I was thinking about going to Morocco, China, or some other trek, but after learning a bit about Palestinian history, culture, and political tensions, I knew that I had to go on this trek. It would be my first trip to the Middle East, and the trek would come to open my eyes, ears, and heart to the region.  (You can read one of Asma’s powerful articles here.)

George was our local tour guide, a Christian Palestinian, and introduced us to this beautiful land with a culture and history unparalleled in its richness, vibrance, and tensions. For seven days, we trekked through the West Bank –Nablus, Ramallah, Jerico, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. We couldn’t get into Gaza Strip (no surprise there), but video-conferenced with some Gaza residents. My one week in Palestine pulled me to return to the Middle East many times since then, and I certainly plan to visit many times throughout my life. It’s one of the most actively misunderstood regions, and by studying and traveling throughout different countries since Palestine, I fell in love with the region.

Fast forward to last year, 2014. With her passion for studying and sharing the history of Palestine, Asma founded PIVOT, “an app that lets you see what a place looked like in the past and digitally streamlines the preservation of culture & history” and is starting with Palestine. Her co-founder and finance Sami Jitan and team won the Harvard Dean’s Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Harvard Innovation Lab and a variety of other awards and recognition.

They’re currently raising money for this project on kickstarter (check it out) and are looking forward to making this a widely useful, relevant, and fun tool for everyone.

Asma’s ability to convert her passion for her ancestry, culture, and her history into an innovative and relevant app is so inspiring. I hope you check it out!


This is awesome.
At the Dead Sea
Bedouin resident sharing with us her business, her home, and her delicious tea
Asma helping someone put her head covering on before walking into a mosque
Asma and Sami <3
Laila Matar — another one of my closest
Me and Sara
Saw this poster in a university

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a doctor who can’t save lives

North Korea has one of the worst — if not the worst — health care systems in the world. I’ve known this for a very a long time, but this point was driven home for me when one of the North Koreans I spent my day with today, a North Korean doctor, told me the following:

“I was trained as a doctor in North Korea, but feel immense guilt because I was unable to save lives in the very profession that is defined by saving lives.”

He, his colleagues, nor his hospital simply did not have the resources necessary to serve patients. Surgeries like appendectomies without anesthetics; sending patients armed with prescriptions and the hope to find medicines on the black market; “sterilizing” syringes with salt to reuse on the next patient; washing blood-soaked cotton balls for future re-use; storing hospital-made saline solution in beer bottles for patients’ IV are some of the memories that this doctor has of his working days in North Korea.

The sheer multidimensional inhumanity of this country is so unquestionably blunt. I hope that the sweeping quantitative descriptions of this regime — numbers of deaths, percentage figure of the population that’s starving, the pennies that the average North Korean citizen makes per month, the number of people in prison camps, the number failed defections — do not make consumers of this information jaded to the individual haunting experiences that painfully comprise these numbers.

If you’re interested in learning more about this doctor’s story, and those of other North Koreans who are currently doing a tour of events on the East Coast, check out my previous post for their event details!


Join the Dialogue on Driving Change in North Korea! (Boston, DC, NYC, New Haven)

The North Korea Strategy Center and Woorihana are on a East Coast tour to share their insights and perspectives on how to drive change inside North Korea. Their public events are listed below. If you have any specific questions about any of the events below, please send me a note!

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I’m also attaching their press releases in English and Korean.

NK Strategy Center and Woorihana Press Release (English)

NK Strategy Center and Woorihana Press Release (Korean)

Please RSVP for these events at ASAP!


A Flower that Blooms Two days After Valentine’s Day in North Korea

Happy Valentine’s Day! As we all gear up for big plans with lovers and friends or bash yet another commercialized holiday that adds stress to men and create unrealistic expectations for women, some of you may have woken up today wondering, “what do North Koreans do on Valentine’s Day”?

Ok, I’m pretty sure no one woke up thinking that this morning. But I have! As Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular among pockets of young people in Russia and China, this day of “true love” is certainly known among a handful of folks inside North Korea as well (according to defectors).

In this deeply socially conservative society focused on social rank, activities like blind dates and casual dating are not mainstream. Young men and women are introduced to each other by friends, family, and classmates. I’ll have to ask North Korean friends about how they think of Valentine’s Day now that they live in South Korea, where silly holidays are celebrated with gusto (go look up Ppeppero Day, White Day, Black Day — a day that mourns those without a love interest–and Duck Day).

In addition to conservative values, and the fact that Valentine’s Day is a foreign idea, it’s no surprise that there’s not much focus on this day of love on February 14 in North Korea, which is merely two days before one of the country’s biggest national holidays: Kim Jong Il’s birthday.

February 16 is a day of huge celebration across the country, involving massive synchronized swimming performances, wreath-laying ceremonies, bows before Kim Jong Il statues, Kimjongilia exhibitions, and more. Kimjongilia is a flower engineered by Japanese botanist Kamo Mototero in 1988 to bloom annually on February 16 to celebrate Kim Jong Il. Even nature is to bow and praise Kim Jong Il. There’s also a kimilsungia. (But neither flower is the national flower; the magnolia is.)

If you google images and videos for “celebrations of Kim Jong Il’s birthday,” I promise you you’ll be shocked. Only if the government spent those celebratory dollars on something else — anything else — more productive…

MIT Talk 2/11/2015: Hacking North Korea with Information

Next week, Alex Gladstein from Human Rights Foundation and I will give a short talk at MIT about hacking North Korea with information. (The movie is mainly to draw people to the event!) Please come if you can! Email me or drop me a note if you have any questions.  Hope to see you there!



Grab your next latte at Cafe Red Cherry, a Seoul-based Cafe run by North Korean “New Settlers”

In a city obsessed with thematic, niche cafes, the most unique–and perhaps most meaningful–cafe has opened its doors in Seoul a few months ago: a cafe started and run entirely by North Korean defectors.

There are over 27,000 North Korean defectors who have settled in South Korea and despite the South Korean government’s effort to assist the new citizens, the needs and challenges of North Korean defectors far exceed the available resources. Due to low skills, low salaries, discrimination, difficulties around cultural assimilation, and often times trauma among North Korean defectors, the suicide rate within this community is two and a half times that of South Korean natives.

YOVEL Col, Ltd, a social enterprise founded by a North Korean defector Joseph Park (or self-described “North Korean Newsettler”) has a mission to bridge the gap between North Korean defectors and South Korean natives in South Korea. They seek to understand the North Korean community in South Korea, identify their challenges and needs, and create business and social enterprise models to foster self-sufficiency. YOVEL established Cafe Red Cherry inside the Industrial Bank of Korea and has hired three full time North Korean employees. These three, among others, have been involved throughout the process of designing, establishing, and running this cafe.

YOVEL’s long term goal is to build community in North Korea. To create a community, according to Joseph Park, one needs self-sustaining economy, education, and healthcare. The community must be self sufficient and cannot chronically depend on churches, NGOs, and the government to provide for every need. So far, there have been many social enterprises run by South Koreans that employ North Koreans. However, Joseph noticed that many of the North Koreans working for these initiatives did not have much passion for their work. He realized that these folks needed ownership. In most initiatives to employ North Koreans thus far, the North Koreans did not have much, or any, decision making power.

For this cafe, Joseph had North Koreans be part of every step of the way, from start to finish of the cafe. Each person who wanted to be a board member had to invest at least a tad bit of money. In July of last year, Joseph went to the chairman of the IBK Bank to ask her for free space in the building. After making a strong case that this cafe run entirely by North Koreans would create value, profit, jobs, and most importantly community among North Korean defectors and beyond, the chairman agreed.

Cafe Red Cherry opened its doors for business in December 2014. On opening day, the Minister of the Ministry of Unification, the Chairman of the Parliament, the IBK Chairman among others came to celebrate the significance of the cafe. They told the employees that although they’re starting small now, they could open branches of this cafe in Pyongyang, Rason, Sinuiju and other cities throughout North Korea once the two countries reunify.

Please check out the cafe when you get a chance! The address is: 183-1, Dongcheon-dong, Suji-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, Korea. 1/3 of the cafe’s profits will support educational efforts for North Korean defector youth.

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Brainstorming session


Brainstorming session continues
...and continues!
…and continues!
The Cafe Red Cherry Team!
Cafe Red Cherry Team!

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“I sell my daughter for 100 won” — Jang Jin-Sung

I Sell My Daughter for 100 Won, by Jang Jin-sung (N. Korea)

Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood
“For 100 won, my daughter I sell”
Heavy medallion of sorrow
A cardboard around her neck she had hung
Next to her young daughter
Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood

A deaf-mute the mother
She gazed down at the ground, just ignoring
The curses the people all threw
As they glared
At the mother who sold
Her motherhood, her own flesh and blood

Her tears dried up
Though her daughter, upon learning
Her mother would perish of a deadly disease
Had buried her face in the mother’s long skirt
And bellowed, and cried
But the mother stood still
And her lips only quivered

Unable she was to give thanks to the soldier
Who slipped a hundred won into her hand
As he uttered
“It is your motherhood,
And not the daughter I’m buying”
She took the money, and ran

A mother she was,
And the 100 won she had taken
She spent on a loaf of wheat bread
Toward her daughter she ran
As fast as she could
And pressed the bread on the child’s lips
“Forgive me, my child”
In the midst of the market she stood
And she wailed.

• Translated from the Korean by Sung Young Soon.


This haunting poem was written by a North Korean defector named Jang Jin-Sung. I recently finished “Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee — a Look Inside North Korea” by Jang Jin-Sung who runs New Focus International. I *highly* recommend the book.

Art Club at Yeomyung School (Alternative School for North Korean students in Seoul)

When working at Google a few years ago, I connected with some North Korean students at Yeomyung school, one of the few private alternative schools for North Korean students who fled their country and currently live in Seoul. Some generous Googlers donated 70 flip cameras to the 68 students at the school and Tribeca Teaches connected with YeoMyung school to teach media literacy to these students who came from a country where all media was centered on state propaganda.

I visited a few times and stayed in close touch with a few students at the school. In particular, I connected with the school’s art club. The art teacher told me that many of the students who enrolled at the school refused to speak, socialize, or share much about their lives. After all, each one of the students went through horrific experiences of defecting from North Korea, some of them having been repatriated, tortured, or worse.  The art teacher said that art helped many of the students begin their journeys of healing. With permission, I took photos of some of the drawing and paintings made by some of the students. See below.

NPR story on Yeomyung School


Carefully look at the drawings around the tree roots; there are public executions, people being hanged, mothers and men toiling, soldiers beating people. These are the roots of children being raised in the communist state of North Korea.
I believe this is a drawing of the boy who defected from his country (and left his only family, his brother).
The title of this work roughly translates to “Like my insides, like my outsides” This work describes the emptiness and hollowness inside and outside of this student’s mind and body.
This drawing illustrates “kotjebi” (a Korean word that refers to North Korean homeless children, that literally translates into “swallows” because they are always searching for scrapes of food and shelter) begging for food while two North Korean soldiers drink.



Srdja Popovich and the Power of Non-violent Resistance Movements to topple dictatorships

I had an extremely insightful conversation with Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of the Otpor! (Serbian for “Resistance”) movement, which has been largely credited for bringing down the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.  Popovic now co-runs the Center for Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS) with Slobodan Djinovic, in Belgrade to train non-violent political activists to bring freedom across the world through people power.


Srdja and I chatted about the possible applications non-violent resistance tactics in North Korea among citizens and defectors. Although I won’t share the content of the specifics here, I will point readers to publicly available material about Srdja and Slobodan’s work that is extremely powerful and can be applied to political contexts across the world.

CANVAS library (free content)

Why Dictators Don’t Like Jokes



Young North Korean Human Rights Short Film Winners Announced

Students Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea [Young NK], a nonprofit organization with members from 18 universities across South Korea advocating for North Korean human rights, held the award ceremony for its user content created [UCC] film contest on December 10th in Seoul. You can read more about this organization and its film competition here

Below are some of the winning entries — check them out! They’re each 60-seconds long.








In light of North Korea’s hacking of Sony (and previous cyber attacks), the Human Rights Foundation is hosting a fundraising campaign called “HACK THEM BACK” to support organizations run by North Korean defectors who work to send information into North Korea. One of the organizations that the HACK THEM BACK campaign will support is North Korea Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS), run by Mr. Kim Heung Kwang. This is an organization I closely work for, and hope that you will support them through the HACK THEM BACK campaign!




Our Divided Families Film — the full documentary — is now online! Please watch the film today!


Divided Families Film Online Launch — Conversation with Directors on Google Hangout on Air! [Tuesday, 11/25, Noon EST]

We’re launching the film online!

Please join the Divided Families Film directors Dr. Jason Ahn and Eugene Chung in a conversation about the making of this film. After six years of working on this project, the DFF team is excited to put the film online. Please join the conversation this Tuesday, 11-25, at 12PM EST. Please invite friends and family, and come with questions and stories!

Register your Korean Divided Families with the National Coalition on Divided Families

Thank you to everyone who came out to our Harvard screening last night! We got a lot of questions about you can get more involved. One way is to spread the word to divided family members about registering on the Divided-USA site to give Senator Mark Kirk and other congressmen more data points to push for this issue. Please click here:

Again, thank you for your ongoing support, and please spread the word about registration!