Category Archives: Google Earth

Power Hungry: 40.179N, 126.350E

You really can’t see any hint of it in this image, but this is the Huichon Number Two Power Station, the one that allegedly caused Kim Jong Il’s fatal vapor lock because the crappy concrete used to build it cracked when the reservoir was filled.  Or so the unverified rumor holds.

Epic Fail-40.179N, 126.350E

You can see video of the dam here, a KNCAP report here that makes no reference to the dam’s problems, some cool pictures here (see #36), and more interesting stuff from Curtis here.

I’m skeptical of the “tantrum death” story, as I am of all stories sourced from within Pyongyang’s palace intrigues.  Nor is it clear that Huichon was an engineering failure, or a great engineering success.  There is some evidence that the dam has helped brighten a few elite showpiece construction projects in downtown Pyongyang, but according to the Daily NK, even most residents of Pyongyang aren’t getting much more electricity than they were before.

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The Fulcrum: 39°24’43.50″N, 125°53’25.70″E

Nearly all of the North Korean aircraft you can see on its airfields are ancient MiGs — 60s vintage or older.  But Sunchon Air Base, the home of the 57th Air Regiment, is where North Korea keeps some of its more modern aircraft — its Su-25 ground attack aircraft, and its MiG-29 fighters.

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 9.17.25 PM

On October 14, 2010, the North Korean ground crews rolled their wares out of their underground hangars.  It was a bright, clear day, giving us an excellent view when a passing satellite snapped these pictures of the aircraft lined up just outside the shelter entrances, like snakes sunning themselves on a rock.

MiG-29 base @ 1400' 14oct2010

MiG-29 base @ 3000'

These two examples, parked on the edge of the runway, give us a better look.

MiG-29s @ 600' 14oct2010

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The Road Not Traveled: 40.013N, 126.154E

North Korean public works priorities are a thing to behold. Not far south of Huichon, in central North Korea, I followed a modern-looking superhighway northward to this dramatic terminus at a Bridge to Nowhere. Older (and newer) images on Google Earth show this project has been stalled for a decade.

The Road Not Traveled - 40.013N, 126.154E

You can scan north from here and see miles of disused roadbed overgrown with farm plots, punctuated by the pilings of the unbuilt bridges.

Now have a look at this new highway that appeared out of nowhere, headed south along the east near Hamhung. This is what it looked like three months ago:

New Hwy Constr. Nov. 2012

This is what it looked like two years ago:

New Hwy Mar. 2011

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Kim Jong Un personality cult now visible to space aliens.

I was snooping around the Hyesan area this weekend, taking in some very recent (October 2012) imagery, when I spotted a propaganda sign — clearly not one of those I’d posted about before. It was next to this reservoir:

Dam @ 11K', Oct. 2012

Look what happens when you switch to the next-most recent image, from October 2005:

Dam @ 11K', Oct. 2005

So all of this is new construction.

Kim Jong Un sign Oct. 2012, 5800'

It says, “Long live Songun Korea’s General Kim Jong Un!,” or somesuch nonsense. But at least they got the damn dam done (I’ve always wanted to say that). In case you’re wondering, this does not appear to be the same dam that cracked as soon as they filled it in, reportedly causing Kim Jong Il’s final vapor lock.

North Korea may be the only country on earth that can be psychoanalyzed from outer space. Imagine what the aliens must think of us. Most likely, they think we’re a backward and obedient species — perfect for enslaving and putting to work in their underground sugar caves.

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Welcome, Reuters and N.Y. Times Readers Entire World

Well, thank you, Reuters Asia Correspondent Paul Eckert.  That was a very nice story, and I’m glad to see that the Times picked it up.

This story needs to be told, and unfortunately, right now, only a few of us are telling it.  My hope is that one day, reporters will work directly with defectors and professional imagery analysts to tell it instead, and I can find a new hobby.

Update: Overnight, the Reuters story was picked up by news sites all over the United States, Britain, and India, and translated into Spanish, Finnish, Russian, Czech, and Japanese. The servers seems barely capable of keeping up with the traffic, so please be patient. Things should be back to normal in a day or two. It’s more than worth it to get this issue into the news.

For those who are wondering what you can do to help, I’d recommend two particularly effective non-partisan, non-sectarian, international groups: the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, which does scholarly research, and LiNK, which helps North Korean refugees. You could even set up Wikipedia pages (see this and this) in your native language.

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Blatant Plagiarism in the London Daily Telegraph (Update: The Telegraph Credits, Links OFK)

pla ·gia ·rism /ˈpleɪdʒəˌrɪzÉ™m, -dÊ’iəˌrɪz-/ [pley-juh-riz-uhm, -jee-uh-riz-] ““noun 1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

You know, I write this with some ambivalence, because I’m always glad to see that the result of many, many hours of scouring North Korea on Google Earth, of poring through scholarly reports, and of cross-checking clues has brought much-needed attention to the horrors of North Korea’s prison camps. Attracting that kind of attention to this story is the whole purpose of all of the work I did to research and publish this information. Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining that major news sites would want to steal my work.

Of course, the readers of this Daily Telegraph photo essay might learn a great deal more if they could see the images in the context in which I published them, along with the text and video clips with which they’re presented. And perhaps because I’ve never seen dime one from all of the hard work I put into this, it angers me to see my work published below slick banner ads from airlines, sports promotions, or advocacy groups with big budgets … without any attribution whatsoever.

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New Camp 25, Camp 12 Pages

Although I don’t claim that my preliminary identification of the site of Camp 25, Chongjin is yet confirmed by witnesses, two of the former Chongjin residents whose stories are told in Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy” provide a degree of circumstantial corroboration. Judge the evidence for yourself here; however, I can’t say for certain that the site is a prison at all until a credible witness confirms it.

I’ve also put up a new page on Camp 12, Chongo-ri. Most of the information there was published previously, although I’ve added some newly available, much clearer imagery. Working through David Hawk and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, I was able to obtain witness confirmation that this is the site of Camp 12 in October of 2009.

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New Imagery of North Korea’s Yodok Concentration Camp Shows Northern, Western Boundaries

Since I had first begun to map North Korea’s concentration camp system on Google Earth, it had been a source of frustration to me that the imagery of Camp 15, the infamous Yodok Camp documented in Kang Chol Hwan’s memoir, was of such poor quality and resolution. The other day, my friend Curtis notified me that Google Earth had released much new imagery of North Korea, and with that new imagery, we now have a much better outline of Camp 15’s circumference (click to expand images):




The imagery shows several of the same distinctive, square guard posts we’ve seen around other camps:



On the northern side of the camp, there is a gate:


There is also new imagery of some of the other camps. I’ll be publishing more in the coming days.

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Revealed: The First Published Images of Camp 12, Chongo-Ri, North Korea

Recently, Chosun Ilbo reporter and North Korean gulag survivor Kang Chol Hwan published this story about a remote labor camp in North Korea, its recent expansion to support a crackdown on defectors, and the horrific conditions there:

The Chongori reeducation center in North Hamgyong Province that went through the greatest change. The center has been reorganized as a concentration camp exclusively for arrested defectors. It has reportedly turned into a living hell, where labor is much heavier than at ordinary reeducation centers and where torture and beatings are routine. [….]

[N]ow, anybody who has crossed the border has unconditionally been sentenced to up to three years of forced labor at Chongori, under instructions that they are to be punished as traitors. [….]

One defector who had a hair’s breadth escape from Chongori, has said, “Chongori is a living hell. Yodok (the notorious prison camp) is a much better place.”

At Chongori, inmates are doomed to die of malnutrition. Forced to work for 14 hours a day, they are given only two whole potatoes and a handful of cornmeal a day. Few inmates stick it out for more than three months, no matter how healthy they are, because beatings are a daily routine there, he said.

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Camps 14 & 18 Google Earth Page Published

It took months to do it, but I’ve finally published a Google Earth page for Camps 14 and 18. This page accumulates all of the newly available witness accounts, scholarly research, and satellite imagery of the camps, which share very little except geographical proximity.

I owe my deepest thanks to a reader who forwarded me a copy of the Korean Bar Association’s 2008 human rights report, which proved to be an invaluable resource for this project, and for others to come. Thanks also to my good friend Curtis Melvin, who helped confirm some of the image locations in the post. I hope this page brings more academic, journalistic, and political attention to what goes on in those camps, and given the attention that these issues have received recently, that hope may not be too fanciful.

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The Palaces of Pyongyang on Google Earth

Congratulations to our friend Curtis Melvin, whose Google Earth imagery of a Kim Jong Il palace in north Pyongyang is currently the Chosun Ilbo’s top story. This palace, I should point out, is one of no less than six very large palaces I know of in the Pyongyang area alone, though I can’t confirm who lives in all of them:




This is the one I posted pictures of previously. A Daily NK piece previously confirmed that it’s one of Kim Jong Il’s palaces. There’s also a small airstrip just a mile away:

Here are a few images of the one depicted in the Chosun Ilbo piece. It has its own private train station:




Off the top of my head, I can also think of two more in Wonsan (also confirmed by the Daily NK) and one up near Paektusan, plus a very large guest house at the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Curtis can probably name several more, and I wish they’d have given him the chance to give a more complete list. Of course, you can always download North Korea uncovered. I’m simply in awe of the amount of detail he’s been able to describe, and it’s great to see him getting recognized for the phenomenal work he’s doing.

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Unsung Misery

From the London Telegraph comes the story of Hyok Kang, a resident of Onsong, quite possibly the most miserable quarter of North Korea that isn’t a concentration camp, in its extreme northeast.

onsong-500-mi.jpg       onsong-46000.jpg       onsong-main-town-5000.jpg

Kang speaks of a hellish everyday life in which people were publicly executed for stealing copper wire to sell:

When the time came, the condemned man was displayed in the streets before being led to the place of execution, where he was made to sit on the ground, head bowed, so everyone could get a good look at him. He was dressed in a garment designed by army scientists for public executions, a greyish one-piece suit made of very thick, fleece-lined cotton. That way, when the bullets are fired, the blood doesn’t spurt out but is absorbed by this fabric, which turns red. The body is thrown on a cart and then abandoned in the mountains for the dogs to eat.  [The Telegraph, Interview with Hyok Kang]

Kang explains why anyone who take such a risk.  Copper is valuable, China is just across the river, and food was desperately scarce:

At school, as time passed, there were fewer and fewer of us at our desks.

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