Europe Human Rights The Camps WMD

N. Korean biowar researcher defects, will testify about human experimentation

[Update, 4 Aug 2015: I inquired with well-connected friends in Europe about when this testimony was likely to take place. Those friends instead questioned the accuracy of Yonhap’s report. Last week, I wrote to a Yonhap correspondent, and asked whether Yonhap stands by the story. Although the correspondent passed my question along to the author of this report, I have not heard back from Yonhap. The lack of a response is further reason to question the accuracy of Yonhap’s story.]

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A long-time reader emailed me this afternoon (thank you) to point me to this story in the U.S. edition of the Korea Times, which in turn cites a potentially explosive, game-changing report hiding in Yonhap’s business section. According to the report, a North Korean scientist has defected to Finland with some of his government’s most carefully guarded secrets: a storage device, probably a flash drive, filled with 15 gigabytes of “human experiment results.”

The 47-year-old researcher, identified only by his surname Lee, at a microbiology research center in Ganggye, Chagang Province, bordered by China to the north, fled to the European country on June 6 via the Philippines, said the source from a North Korean human rights group.

“His ostensible reason for defection is that he felt skeptical about his research,” the source told Yonhap News Agency.

Lee held a data storage device with 15 gigabytes of information on human experiments in order to bring North Korea’s inhumane tests to light, according to the source.

The North Korean defector will give testimony before the European parliament later this month. [Yonhap]

Depending on what the researcher’s information is and how credible it is, it could be of incalculable value to our understanding of Pyongyang’s asymmetric warfare capabilities—and also, of other, infinitely more important things about this regime.

For years, newspapers had published defectors’ unconfirmed allegations of chemical and biological experiments in North Korean prison camps (see here, here, here, and here). Of these allegations, the best known are the reports of a gas chamber at the since-closed Camp 22.

The account that Mr. Lee’s disclosure most closely resembles, because it alleges the use of biochemical weapons, is that of Lee Soon-Ok. I’d long harbored doubts about Ms. Lee’s account because of internal inconsistencies I saw in versions of her story I read at long-dead links. The new evidence may call for us to reexamine her story:

North Korea is suspected of having weaponized smallpox and anthrax, which is why your correspondent endured the small discomfort of seven anthrax vaccination injections (it would have been six had I not misplaced my shot record one day) and the low-grade fever that followed each of them.

If this witness presents credible evidence supporting North Korea’s responsibility for additional crimes against humanity, it will strengthen the calls for Kim Jong-Un’s indictment by the International Criminal Court, or failing that—and thanks to China, it will fail—the formation of an ad hoc coalition to raise the financial pressure on Kim Jong-Un and his regime. The revelations will give the UNHCR’s Seoul Field Office an important question to investigate, shortly after its opening. Politically, the EU’s active involvement in publicizing the new evidence would be a welcome departure from the ambivalence European nations have often harbored about holding Pyongyang accountable.

One wonders how much sooner this witness, and others like him, might have emerged from North Korea had Congress enacted the North Korea Freedom Act of 2003, with its informant asylum provisions in Sections 206 and 207. Perhaps that proposal could be revived if, one day, there’s still need for a North Korean Freedom Act of 2016.


  1. Wow, this is huge. I’ll be following the developments very closely. I hope the Finns are giving him a lot of personal protection because I’m sure the Norks would like to see him very dead.


  2. This story is particularly timely in that for the past few week, pro-North
    groups and websites in the US and abroad have been making the
    absurd claim that the MERS virus was developed by the US military for the express purpose of waging germ warfare against the Korean people! Like the fake germ warfare stories of the Korean War, which
    were repeated by Cumings in the late 1980s (but which we learned were a propaganda hoax after the opening of the Soviet archives in the early 1990s), this ridiculous MERS accusation shows that the North’s defenders are willing to say and write virtually anything
    and that some who should know better are willing to believe them.


  3. This story seems a little strange, the Philippines and Finland. He has been in Finland for a month and only one source for this story. If it is true it could be a game changer, however China will bring all its power to stop this story from taking hold. If there are any video files of families or children or disabled people being killed, game over North Korea. China will pull out all the stops to save North Korea, can Finland stand the pressure, they didn’t invent the word Finlandization for nothing.


  4. I think that’s probably right. I contacted some friends in Europe who say this isn’t consistent with the EP’s recess schedule, and haven’t heard a word about it. I will contact the reporter and ask him/her if she/she stands by the story.



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