China: Ling and Lee Weren’t Seized on Our Territory

But they don’t say how the know, what they’re basing that conclusion on, or offer any further details to support that conclusion.

The journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee said in an article in the Los Angeles Times (http:/ that they strayed into North Korean territory in March when visiting a frozen river that marked the border with China. They said they rushed back to the Chinese side but North Korean guards chased them and dragged them into North Korea.

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu rejected their account. “According to the understanding of the relevant (Chinese) departments, they did not find the situation as you described it,” she told reporters in answer to a question about the two U.S. journalists’ account.

Jiang deflected repeated questions about how the two were seized, telling them that her meaning was plain enough. She did not give details of how China reached its conclusions, except to say that the investigation was carried out by local authorities on the border. [Reuters]

Obviously, the Chinese are humiliated by more exposure of the fact that they allow North Korean agents to operate on their territory and kidnap refugees (and the occasional foreigner) with impunity. We are again reminded of the near-certainty that the North Korean agents who kidnapped the Rev. Kim Dong Shik must have moved him through China and across its border with North Korea with the assent of Chinese officials.

Odds are, the Chinese are lying. Unless they were surreptitiously watching the whole scene play out and laughing into the palms of their hands, there aren’t many possible sources of evidence on which they’re basing their contradiction of Laura and Ling and Euna Lee, who insist they were kidnapped from the Chinese side of the river. Let’s consider the short list of possible sources:

– The North Koreans. Enough said.

– Ling and Lee’s video, which we still haven’t seen. I’ve been very critical of Ling and Lee’s decision to cross into North Korea — especially with cameras — but it sounds implausible to me that they were still filming as they were running away. Not likely.

– Chinese-Korean guide Kim Seong-Cheol, whom the Chinese arrested after the March 17th incident. There’s a big problem with Kim S.C.’s credibility, however — Ling and Lee suggest he was on Kim Jong Il’s payroll with instructions to lure them across the border. For what it’s worth, I believe Ling and Lee on this point. It makes sense, it’s consistent with what I’ve heard all along, and the timing was extremely convenient for Kim Jong Il. Even Chun Ki-Won, who introduced Kim Seong-Cheol to Ling and Lee, claimed in an interview that he warned Ling and Lee against crossing the border. Why, then, would a guide who was on Chun’s “white list” violate that warning unless he sold Ling and Lee across the river, as it were? Of course, you’d think that Chun himself would be a bigger prize for His Withering Majesty, but then again, Chun is probably a much tougher, craftier target than these naive Americans. But Chun wasn’t there, of course. The persistent rumors that this group of Americans was lured could only have come from the last remaining witness ….

– Mitch Koss.


  1. In terms of Koss, more specifically, HIS video and-or audio. It would take a fairly intricate footsteps-to-feet calculation, but perhaps China is basing this on a running audio gleaned from the veteran producer’s camera.

    As I tweeted @LiberateLaura, it would greatly serve all concerned at this point if Koss confirmed the Chinese grab-back aspect of things.

  2. Sorry, but the Reuters report you’re relying on here is straight-up wrong. Can no one be bothered to read the original source, the transcript of the press conference? Jesus…

    Just for clarity: Chinese press conferences are conducted in Chinese. Jiang Yu, the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) spokesperson, gives her answers in Chinese.

    The Chinese version of the press conference was made immediately available and should serve as the unimpeachable source for what the Foreign Ministry said. And it should not be so difficult, as she limited herself to one sentence of comment, exactly 20 Chinese characters, on this matter. If anyone gives a damn about veracity (a notion which I will readily admit can get in the way of making emotionally satisfying accusations), this is what she actually said: 据向有关部门了解,没有发现你所说的那种情况.

    Unfortunately, two things happened:

    1. The Reuters reporters took liberties with the translation. That should be obvious from the fact that in their story, her sentence has a parentheses in it. “The competent (Chinese) authorities…” Who talks like that? It’s a bad translation. In fact, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson was very careful specifically not to indicate the nationality of the authorities from whom she got the information. And why would she? The DPRK Vice Foreign Minister is in town and the whole function of the L.A. Times editorial was to throw a wrench into those bilateral talks. This is all explained in further detail here.

    2. The second problem arises from the fact that, for whatever reason, the MFA took 24 hours to produce an English-language version of their press conference. It wouldn’t matter to Reuters, though — they didn’t even follow that, accepting instead the flawed translation of their reporter in Beijing.

    Here, for the record, is the MFA version of Jiang Yu’s comment: “We checked with competent authorities, there was no such thing as you described.”

    I absolutely agree that it would be humiliating for China to admit that North Korean troops were operating with impunity on its territory.

    And we don’t have anything approaching all the facts in the Ling/Lee case, and you could even be right in implying that China was complicit (disinterested) or actively involved in arranging their abduction.

    As for the idea that you repeat here about North Korean agents moving around freely on the Chinese side of the border, I agree that there should be more discussion. There are several posts on my site that extensively examine this particular episode as well as the (unfortunately flawed) Daily NK and Congressional reports which you recommended in support of your claim.

    In general, I think that the factual basis for the various reports needs to be examined before we state with certainty that China and North Korea are arm-in-arm in this stuff.

    It would be very foolish and counterproductive to miscalculate or ignore the growing rift that emerged this year in the Chinese-North Korean relationship. And as good as it feels (and I can sympathize with Dana Rohrabacher when he gets on the high horse of moral clarity), we simply cannot dismiss China as a purely evil actor here which is complicit in all the misadventures of the North Koreans. How the refugee issue, and the still-unfolding narrative of Ling/Lee/Koss fits into all this, is something we should be thinking about carefully.

    I appreciate your attention to the Rev. Shik episode and I intend to do some more reading about this via the extensive resources offered on your site. And thanks for calling the Reuters story to our attention as well.

  3. Yet if Mitch Koss ran away, then how much did he see behind him? Maybe he just kept running like Forrest Gump and didn’t see Laura and Euna get snagged and dragged.
    Even if he did witness Laura and Euna’s predicament on Chinese soil, there’s not much he could have done unarmed (and toting a video camera) to save them in that situation.

    Notice that in the editorial it is said that 2 North Korean soldiers with rifles ran toward Laura and Euna and their guide. If this was a not a set-up arranged by the guide beforehand, then why only 2 soldiers chasing 3 or 4 trespassers? My guess is Mitch stayed closer to China’s shore of the Tumen and watched from a safe distance. The girls were spotted first and easily captured. Why wouldn’t a third guard be summoned to pursue Mitch; maybe they only wanted Laura and Euna?

    The North Korean court evidence includes only one video camera, which is believed to be a smaller personal one used by Euna. It is the video from this camera that allegedly has Laura narrating their own trespassing. That means the Chinese police would have confiscated the Current TV video camera that Mitch always carries on assignments.
    If Euna filmed the border crossing then what did Mitch do? Is it possible that he didn’t film anything that morning? We really need Mitch’s missing link in order to clarify exactly what happened.

    The Chinese detained Mitch and the guide. The guide got six months in jail while Mitch got to go home after only a couple days in Beijing. Why was Mitch released so soon? Maybe he didn’t cross the border after all; the editorial does not provide sufficient details. The Chinese could have pressed their own charges for illegal entry if Mitch crossed the border and came back with only a single entry visa. Yet if he never crossed the border then they could only fine him for falsifying visa documents and travelling as a journalist on a tourist visa.

  4. The DPRK Vice Foreign Minister is in town and the whole function of the L.A. Times editorial was to throw a wrench into those bilateral talks.

    You’re serious? Sounds like a classic case of confusing coincidence with causation.

    Here, for the record, is the MFA version of Jiang Yu’s comment: “We checked with competent authorities, there was no such thing as you described.”

    Frankly, Adam, I’m not seeing how that clashes with the Reuters report. Now, you can read Chinese and I can’t, so tell us — if the original Chinese clashes with the Reuters translation, can you explain how, exactly?

    As for the “growing rift” you cite between China and North Korea, we’d both be speculating if we stated with any certainty whether it’s (a) real or cosmetic, or (b) temporary or enduring. We don’t know. I see some evidence for it, but not compelling evidence. I also see some fairly recent evidence to the contrary. I laid out the evidence for both sides of the argument here.

  5. Chinese Foreign Ministry news conferences are consecutively translated into English by official translators — often the same ones used at meetings with foreign dignitaries. The Ministry transcripts are only partial, not complete. They do not, unlike, say, the State Department, reproduce the banter or follow-up questions. I would not expect a question challenging the veracity of the statement or demanding more verification to be reproduced in an official transcript by the PRC.

    When a Chinese official speaks at a podium representing her government and uses the expression 有关部门 it can only refer to one nationality. And, yes, they do talk like that.

    (I was not in the room on the day in question, but have been in that briefing room hundreds of times since 1996)

  6. I can read Chinese! Allow me to break it down for you:

    据向有关部门了解, 没有发现你所说的那种情况.

    据向 According to
    有关部门 the department concerned
    了解 understanding
    没有 did not
    发现 find; discover
    那种情况 that sort of situation
    你所说的 which you are speaking of

    As a former professional interpreter/translator with government experience, I can assure you there is no way you can extract the word “competent” out of this sentence.
    有关部门 is “the department concerned” or “the related departments” but there is absolutely no indication of “competence” suggested. There is also no doubt that she is speaking about a department in China’s government.

  7. In this particular context, I take “competent” to be a synonym for “responsible.” Of course, both words could have completely different meanings in other contexts. I have to go with Slim on this. That seems like a triviality. My mind is open to there being a problem with the translation, but I haven’t seen evidence of it yet.

  8. “Function” in the sense of “effect,” not asserting “intent.” I don’t have any idea of the mitigating factors on the timing of the editorial, simply calling attention to its diplomatic fallout. I continue to find the timing curious, but then again, this whole thing has been strange.

    On the translation ascribing Chinese nationality to the investigating officials, I’ll thank “slim” for the clarification. It had seemed to me that Jiang Yu’s signification of “concerned authorities” left the door open to the implication that China had talked to North Korean authorities about this (at, for instance, the provincial level) and I felt that by inserting “Chinese” where there wasn’t any explicit mention of such by Jiang Yu added certainty where ambiguity was intended. Now, there may be something more in the follow-up questions, but again Reuters doesn’t make it clear: Is Reuters’ statement that the investigation was carried out by local authorities on the border just the reporters elaborating on Jiang’s original statement, or did she use a particular designation which actually means “local authorities on the border”? Because “concerned departments,” in my view, does not mean “local authorities on the border.” Apparently I need to hunt down the full press conference on CCTV (assuming it was broadcast at all, although they often are), because neither the Reuters report nor the MFA transcript (both English and Chinese version) gives me any idea. And how does you guan equal “competent” rather than “concerned” or “related”? — Even dictionaries of PRC official-speak don’t render it that way. Anyway… I hope this quibble makes sense.

    I work at (though not for) the Foreign Ministry Archives for what amounts to five weeks a year, so I suppose I could gather more information about translation procedures from people at the ministry when I am next in Beijing.

    My wariness on this might also be a function of my learned obsolescence as a historian: many of the documents I read about North Korean-Chinese relations in the 1950s are much clearer about “responsible cadre” when it comes to North Korean troops, French journalists, American POWs, etc. being shuttled between North Korea and China. But even then the two sides didn’t like each other particularly much.

    Final thing on the MFA press conference: China would talk about this issue if they felt it served its purposes in pushing North Korea further into a corner; obviously, that’s not the strategy. What is worth watching is the extent to which Chinese media outlets show further hints of criticism of North Korea and North Korean society. Internet discussion about North Korea in China is increasingly open (plenty of open-throated criticism of the DPRK on various internet chat rooms and BBS) although to my knowledge the refugee issue usually gets squashed.

    Two final points/questions:

    1. Please recognize that Daily NK translations into English are sometimes compromised! These are full of little quirks that I personally believe need to be checked before they are deemed fully credible. Because the translations/edits tend to push these reports into a more sensationalistic mode that makes the North look worse than it is. (I have a few examples on my site and plan to add more over time, again in the interests of getting a clearer picture from the Daily NK, which all things considered is a pretty important source of information for both of us.) My view is that reality in North Korea is bad enough and doesn’t need to be exaggerated in order to adequately motivate thoughts among readers of how to stimulate change there.

    2. Prior to now, has any indication or record from either the DPRK or PRC emerged that there was any kind of coordination whatsoever on the arrest or the gathering of evidence? Old Spelunker might have something on this from his Phoenix TV report.

    Thanks for the link to your Sino-Korean relations post. The “(a) real or cosmetic, or (b) temporary or enduring” rubric you lay out above, along with your previous posts (particularly June 12, June 29, and July 31) about China’s participation in sanctions, are also helpful in assessing how the Chinese posture toward North Korea will move in the coming months.

  9. The differences between the two translations are insignificant as both convey clearly an official denial of the account given by the two women.

  10. Internet discussion about North Korea in China is increasingly open (plenty of open-throated criticism of the DPRK on various internet chat rooms and BBS) although to my knowledge the refugee issue usually gets squashed.

    Chinese netizens have been openly critical of the DPRK for awhile. I’m not sure what you mean by the refugee issue getting “squashed.” My perceptions from what I’ve read is that Chinese netizens are concerned about a possible wave of refugees in the event that the North Korean government collapses and thus some Chinese favor PLA intervention to stablize the country and keep the US army away from China’s border. I’ve never detected a hint of sympathy for refugees themselves although Chinese acknowledge that the North Koreans live miserably.

  11. 2. Prior to now, has any indication or record from either the DPRK or PRC emerged that there was any kind of coordination whatsoever on the arrest or the gathering of evidence? Old Spelunker might have something on this from his Phoenix TV report.

    I’ve previously linked reports to the effect that Chinese police raided Durihana orphanages shortly after Ling and Lee were arrested, based in part on leads developed from Ling and Lee. So yes, I think it’s fair to assume that China and North Korea cooperated in persecuting these refugees and trying to break up the underground railroad.

    What I haven’t suggested (and rather doubt) is any collusion between China and North Korea in leading Ling and Lee across the border or plotting to have them arrested. I think that’s the kind of embarrassment the Chinese would rather not have. I think this whole episode — but for Koss escaping — was made in Pyongyang. What China really wants is to have as little involvement in this as possible. Their lie was probably a matter of pure reflex, told without having made any inquiry about the truth of the matter at all.

  12. Spelunker: You mention that the Chinese-Korean guide got “six months.” Is this an official Sino sentence you read somewhere, or just a turn of phrase? If former, it is the first time I have seen such a framing put on the guide’s incarceration. Please confirm.

  13. i don’t think the media ever followed up on the fate of the guide, Kim Seong-cheol, after Durihana minister Chun Ki-won reported that he had been detained by the Chinese PSB.

  14. More interesting than the quibbling over English interpretations of vague Chinese denials, Adam Cathart makes a great point on his blog about the language used in the women’s account:

    “We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us,” they write. “We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers.”

    A little ghost-writing help from the State Dept., perhaps?

  15. There certainly appears to have been ghost-writing by someone, but I’d be more likely to suspect a publicist or a lawyer, not State. State would love nothing more than to throw these two under the bus to appease China. They might even have thrown in “we were treated well” for good measure.

  16. Sorry for the late reply, I was in a live fantasy football draft. Here is the source for the guide’s six month sentence, it was from a Wall Street Journal article interviewing our friend here at One Free Korea Mr. Paul Song and quoting our Dear Leader Joshua Stanton:

    Activists in the U.S. also have criticized Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling. “If it didn’t occur to them that they were jeopardizing the lives of people, [it] should have,” said Joshua Stanton, who runs a Web site, One Free Korea, focused on North Korean human rights.

    The two women were accompanied by Mr. Koss, who escaped capture and left China, as well as by an ethnic Korean citizen of China who was acting as their guide. That man was arrested by Chinese police and sentenced to six months in jail, according to reports received by Mr. Chun.

  17. Ghost-writing? Sonagi and Joshua, how can you tell that Laura’s and Euna’s statement, or part of it, was ghost-written?

  18. I also see no reason to speculate about a ghost-writer. I’d need some strong reason to go that route. All that quote says is that the soldiers caught them and had to drag them away and they were grabbing at things to prevent that from happening…

    Give what I know about NK, if I had been them, I’d probably have included a line about how I soiled my trousers and lost fingernails dug into the earth as I tried to prevent being taken into NK by the guards — or if caught in NK, taken away from the scene where I was at. I’d have do anything remotely humanly possible to get away.

  19. I can’t “tell” that it was ghost-written. I suspect that it might have been, hence, my use of the word “perhaps” and choice of a question mark as punctuation. The words seem crafted by a writer skilled in creating literary imagery. I know Laura has a journalism background but have not seen her work.

  20. So the Chinese guide was with the Current team for the whole trip? Was he hired before they got to China? How long had he been communicating with his NK masters? And did the team tell him in advance where they were going and when? They entered China under false visa applications, but did they use their real names? I guess so, because their passports would have to match, but as Ling and Koss have worked in China before, who were they going to fool?

    His “luring” them across the border seems weird–if Koss and Ling were experienced journalists, why would they listen to this nobody about what makes a good shot or where to get a great shot inside NK?

    Koss is never going to say anything that deviates from Ling and Lee’s version. Never. Not matter if they both stripped down to thongs and partied with the NK border patrol. His career would rest upon his agreement. Ling and Lee, while naive, are heroines, and their legend will stand. As John Ford would say, print the legend. (Ford, just to be pedantic, was talking about striking a film print from a negative, but same diff.)

    I don’t think their piece was ghost-written, but I think it was vetted by umpteen dozen lawyers.

  21. I see now that some of my questions were answered in the comments to the Ling and Lee Speak post.

    However, if the team knew the guide was on the shady side, why did they trust him with any extra information?

  22. Mitch Koss and Current don’t have anything to do with each other any more, as far as I can see. I hope he’ll speak frankly and soon.

  23. “To this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap.“

    Somehow when I read this sentence the voice sounds exactly like Lisa Ling doing another TV interview.

    The guide, whose name in Chinese is 金成哲, was hired back in January of this year according to Pastor Chun Ki-won:


  24. Kushibo, I saw your latest post on this:

    [F]or the time being I want to point out that there are a lot of people heavily invested — as Joshua himself once was — in the idea of these women’s (and Mitch Koss’s) innocence and, well, lack of culpability.

    I think this sort of hubris calls for a review of the record.

    You immediately concluded that Laura and Euna crossed the border. I think the preponderence of evidence at the time was to the contrary, but you were right about that. On the other hand, you’re now making a retroactive claim of clairvoyance for this, despite the fact that you also made a lot of wrong guesses, too.

    For example, you invested in rejecting the idea that NK border guards grabbed Ling and Lee from the Chinese side, when that now appears to be the case.

    For another, you invested in rejecting the idea that Ling and Lee were lured, but that also appears to be the case.

    In other words, you’ve assumed (though more cautiously then than now) from day one that every bit of this was Ling and Lee’s own fault, when the truth is actually a bit more nuanced than that.

    So what gives with the harrumphing? You seem to want to recast your right guesses as bold predictions and your wrong guesses as cautious hypotheticals. Look, you’ve asked a lot of good questions and made a lot of good comments here, but please don’t become a legend in your own mind. I think the best analysis is the analysis that doesn’t make bold predictions at all — it just follows the evidence, even when the evidence turns out to be different than we’d expected.

  25. Appears to be the case? There is no corroborating evidence to support Ling’s and Lee’s claims. They probably did flee back across the river, and they may have reached the other side or they may not have. They still bear responsibility for their detention because they did cross and thus gave cause for North Korean border guards to pursue and arrest them.

  26. I don’t dispute and agree emphatically that it was dumb of them to cross. But are you saying that they bear SOLE responsibility for their own detention? Do you assume that everything Ling and Lee are saying to be false because of that? Do you find it implausible and thus unworthy of belief that the North Koreans would cross the border to abduct foreign nationals?

    I think that’s a departure from your previous sentiment, which is that Ling and Lee’s crossing of the border didn’t justify a detention of that length. And if the North Koreans have a right of international cross-border hot pursuit, can we please get the same thing for our guys in Afghanistan?

  27. Joshua wrote:

    For example, you invested in rejecting the idea that NK border guards grabbed Ling and Lee from the Chinese side, when that now appears to be the case.

    I may be going out on a limb here, but I am having difficulty believing this part of that statement of theirs. I think they tried to make it across, but did not.

    Simply put, even if the Chinese know that Nork soldiers sometimes end up on the Chinese side of the Amnok or Tuman Rivers, they would have been particularly pissed if in this very high-profile situation that had been the case. They would have sternly but quietly pressured North Korea to release Laura Ling and Lisa Ling Euna Lee.

    As for my mention of you in the post you linked, I was simply referring to your incredulity (followed by apparent disappointment) that the two might have deliberately gone to North Korean soil of their own accord.

    If you feel I’ve mischaracterized that in the blog post, I will happily augment or amend it to reflect that. The same post also quite clearly refers to “Joshua Stanton’s probably excellent take on the issue.” For reasons I’d stated there, I hadn’t read your take yet, but I have great respect for your diligence and insight (not to mention your dedication to this issue), so I absolutely meant no disregard whatsoever.

    I also didn’t mean to sound like I’m trying to turn myself into a legend. My track record on predictions is 50-50 at best, and I happily point out when they’ve been wrong (such as my prediction that Bill Richardson, not Bill Clinton, would be sent).

    Rather than puffing myself up by mentioning I was right about this early on, I’m trying to make a strong case about the niggling queasiness I feel about how this is all going down in the media, especially for the financial benefit of the Ling sisters.

  28. But are you saying that they bear SOLE responsibility for their own detention?

    No, the guide is responsible, too. Detention of illegal border crossers is reasonable. Imprisonment is not.

    Do you assume that everything Ling and Lee are saying to be false because of that?

    No, of course not. I don’t assume anything they say to be false. I suspect some of what they say is false or distorted.

    Do you find it implausible and thus unworthy of belief that the North Koreans would cross the border to abduct foreign nationals?

    No. They did abduct Kim Dong-shik. The women have admitted to entering North Korea. I do not know whether the North Korean guards crossing into Chinese territory to arrest two fleeing trespassers is considered kidnapping under international law.

  29. I think Mitch Koss is also at fault, perhaps even more than Ling and Lee since he was the senior member of the group.

  30. According to his 2003 L.A. Times editorial promoting using the refugee issue as a lever for regime change in Pyongyang, Mitch Koss boasts about traveling the breadth of the Sino-Korean frontier. (Although the only place he discusses with any detail is Dandong, which makes me a little skeptical.) In any case, it’s probable that Koss is the only U.S. member of the crew who had been in the general area of the Chinese city of Tumen before.

    Also, I would love to see anyone offer up a blog post or essay isolating what went on in Onsung county (of which Onsung city is the administrative center), the area where the reporters were seized, for the period bracketing their detention and release. There is ample material on the Good Friends reports as well as in Daily NK reports to do so. This exercise would give a better sense of day-to-day struggles in the area (supposedly why the reporters were there, in a way), perhaps raise consciousness about this peripheral yet significant corner of North Korea, and reveal greater detail about the perceived security threats for the DPRK in that particular county.

    Perhaps Laura and Euna were thinking on their feet and will be sharing further details about the soldiers that brought them in. Nary an adjective was shared in their editorial, other than “determined.” I should imagine!

  31. Laura Ling is the vice-president of the Vanguard journalism unit of Current. She was responsible for the whole project, including the decision to follow Kim Seong-Cheol across the Tumen. She and Mitch Koss are experienced journalists.

    I see no reason to doubt her and Euna Lee’s factual assertions, and I believe she’s capable of literary composition, without any ghost writer. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the legal department reviewed Laura’s and Euna’s statement before it was posted on the company web site.

    Since Mitch doesn’t seem to be affiliated with Current any more, I don’t think anyone at Current can control him. I don’t know why he hasn’t published his version of these events.

    The North Koreans accused Laura and Euna of two things, illegal entry and the “hostile acts” of working on a video report unfavorable to the regime. There was no accusation of espionage.

  32. So if Current TV’s legal department reviewed the story, might they not have suggested edits? In other words, the published account may not be a full, complete, and accurate account.

  33. I doubt it’s full and complete. If nothing else, they want to leave parts of the story untold. But the only part of their story that doesn’t make sense to me is the suggestion that they weren’t immediately searched, with all their papers and videotapes seized.

    I find the idea of them briefly crossing the border, while not at all easy to explain, just barely understandable. Try to put yourself there, early in the morning along a very forlorn, isolated, and hostile place, with a guide to whom you’ve pretty much entrusted your life. Imagine yourself being as naive and insecure as they were. Then, this guide you’ve been referred to as a trustworthy person beckons you to follow.

    I can try to put myself in their place and imagine myself as equally naive, and understand how they’d have followed … briefly. It doesn’t make it sensible, just very nearly understandable.

  34. Glans: What makes you say that Mitch Koss doesn’t appear to be affiliated with Current TV anymore? I heard he had gone back to work there shortly after release of Ling, Lee.

  35. Laura and Mitch weren’t naive. They’re experienced journalists. Somtimes, even experienced folks make mistakes. And Euna wasn’t naive, either. As a South Korean, she learned about North Korea. Laura’s and Euna’s statement says, “Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China.” I suspect that Euna was the most nervous person there.

    I don’t know if the legal department reviewed the statement, but it wouldn’t shock me. That’s very different from ghost-writing it. Besides, I wouldn’t expect a lawyer’s words to seem crafted by a writer skilled in creating literary imagery. I attribute the skilled writing to Laura Ling.

    I doubt that Current lawyers would counsel Laura and Euna to lie, and I don’t see any reason to deny the accuracy of their statement. We know, however, that it is not complete: “There are things that are still too painful to revisit,” and “… what we have shared here is all we are prepared to talk about…”

    Mitch Koss wasn’t at Bob Hope airport to greet Laura and Euna, and I don’t see any sign of him at If my conjecture that Mitch has left Current is false, it should be easy to refute.

  36. I don’t think the legal dept. would advise the pair to lie outright. There are sandbars in the area of the river where they crossed. “Firmly on Chinese soil” could mean the riverbank near Yueqing or it could mean a sandbar. I certainly don’t think a lawyer actually wrote any portion of the story, either. On the other hand, I don’t think Laura and Euna sat down over coffee and penned the piece and then waltzed into the legal dept. office without any else at Current even having a look.

    I have stood at two border points, one in Dandong and one in Tumen. There is no way in heck any guide could have persuaded me to cross into North Korea. Period. I know there are tourists and amateur agents who hop across sandbars for bragging rights, but those people are taking a foolish and unnecessary risk for nothing. So you walked on North Korean territory. BFD. You can trample all over the same dirt and grass on the Chinese side without fearing a hail of bullets.

  37. I have one more thing to say. The reason why I’m so skeptical and rolling my eyes at Ling and Lee’s account is that border hops like theirs trivialize the danger that North Koreans face in crossing that same border. American journalists Ling and Lee were lucky to be arrested by North Korean guards while “firmly on Chinese territory,” rather than being shot and left to die in the middle of the river.

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