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.

Update, Jan. 11, 2012:  So as of today, this has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Romanian, Italian, Finnish, and Japanese, and also ran in newspapers in India, the U.K., the Philippines, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. The Chosun Ilbo also got hold of it eventually, and appears to think my name is Joshuya, that I’m a human rights lawyer (not quite), and that I lived in Korea in the 90s (actually, until 2002). Also, no link? Really? But at least someone in South Korea is talking about this topic.

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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.

Compare and contrast. Screen grabs from the Telegraph on the left; my original images on the right. Click any image for full size, and you’ll see that the altitudes match down to the foot, and that the coordinates match down to the thousandth of a degree:

telegraph4.jpg Camp 22 guard post

telegraph3.jpg Camp 22

telegraph2.jpg camp 22 gate

The Chosun Ilbo, which cites the Telegraph’s photo essay, but had no way of knowing what the Telegraph’s original source was. I don’t blame them. And again, I’m glad to see these images in front of more eyes. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent wondering who these people were and what ever became of them. Now, others will wonder, too, which means that I’ve accomplished something here.

In the next image, you can still see my distinctive yellow arrow placemarks on the screen grab from the Telegraph, and the caption for the image is copied verbatim from this page.
telegraph1.jpg sinuiju prison

The Telegraph’s caption:

Labour-rehabilitation camps, or kyo-hwa-so, are usually built in a penitentiary style with perimeter walls and guard towers, and hold populations of up to 10,000 political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals

My text:

Labor-rehabilitation camps, or kyo-hwa-so, are usually built in a penitentiary style with perimeter walls and guard towers, and hold populations of up to 10,000 political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

To be clear, I am accusing the Telegraph of stealing images and text directly from this website and republishing them on its own website for commercial use, without my permission, and without attribution. As of the time of publication of this post, there’s no link or attribution at the Telegraph’s site. That is something no ethical journalist would do.

I’ll let Curtis speak for himself, but the Telegraph appears to have borrowed liberally from his research, too. “Research” is the operative word here. I don’t claim any rights over the satellite imagery; it’s the analysis that’s my intellectual property, without which you might not know what you’re looking at.

Really — if the Telegraph had just bothered to ask me for permission, I would have gladly given them permission to republish, asking only for attribution in return. I’m not in this for the money. The Telegraph can keep the ad revenue, or better yet, let me designate a charity to receive it. All would be forgiven.

So is a little attribution so much to ask?

Update, June 3, 2010:

The Daily Telegraph is now crediting OFK for the four images in question, and even added some nice links. I want to publicly thank the Telegraph for doing the right thing, crediting this site, and for taking the extra step of inserting the links and the complimentary words.

Above all, I want to thank them for showing interest in Camp 22 at all, and informing its readers about atrocities that are paradoxically both massive in scale and widely ignored.

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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. [Chosun Ilbo]

After reading Kang’s story, David Hawk contacted me to see if I could identify Chongo-ri in satellite images. I immediately asked Curtis Melvin if he had a Korean language map of North Korea, but he did better. He sent me this overlay from MSN Encarta:


Switching off the overlay, we find ourselves here:


Let’s get in closer:



Unfortunately, the camp is not covered by Google Earth’s high resolution. Below 5,000 feet, things start to get blurry fast. By contrast, some of the high-res imagery of Camp 22, about 25 miles northeast of Camp 12, is clear at under 1,000 feet.

My wife provided another essential clue when she assisted me with a Korean-language google search, which pulled up the Korean version of this Daily NK article. I’d already seen the article and had in mind that labor-rehabilitation Camp (kyo-hwa-so) Number 12 was supposed to be in the same area, though I’d forgotten that the name “Jeongeo-ri” was also mentioned as the name of the camp described in the Daily NK story. Survivor Lee Jun Ha had given a very detailed set of directions to Camp Number 12, where he’d been imprisoned:

The No. 12 Reeducation Camp can be found about four kilometers east along the mountain slopes from a small rural town called “Jeongeo-ri,” which is itself about 12 kilometers from Hoiryeong in the direction of the big east coast port of Chongjin. Travelling to Chongjin by bus, you can see Jeongeo-ri on the left side and Poongsan-ri on the right. Heading off for Jeongeo-ri from the main street, you pass under a railway bridge. There lies the entrance to Jeongeo-ri.

If you keep going along this road for about 1.5 kiltometers, you will find a checkpoint. This checkpoint is manned by the security forces of the No. 12 Reeducation Camp. Pass through the checkpoint, walk for about 30 minutes, and the Camp itself will drift gently over the horizon. [Daily NK, Account of Lee Jun Ha]

I should clarify that Lee was no political prisoner — he admits that he was in Camp 12 for killing his alcoholic uncle by bashing his head into a wall during a fight. Lee claims that he didn’t intend to kill him. The most recent date he mentions in his diary is 2003, meaning that the reorganization of Camp 12 for repatriated defectors is probably more recent than Lee’s time there. The Google Earth imagery does not say when these images were taken. (I’ve already made inquiries about purchasing some commercial satellite imagery, in cooperation with the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.)

Based on Lee’s directions, I’d been searching a location to the north of Chongo-ri’s actual location. After many hours of hunting, I’d found another location that fit some parts of Lee’s description, but not others. The location I had found, however, just didn’t seem right. It also had a key detail that left me unpersuaded that I’d found the camp: the huts there had walls around them. After failing to find any location that seemed right, I shelved my search for the time being.

Now, let’s unpack Lee Jun Ha’s narration. First, we’ve already found that “Chon’go-ri” on the Encarta overlay puts us here.


The distance from Hoeryong is actually closer to 26 kilometers — more than twice as far south as Lee said, but distances are easy to misjudge if you’re not driving, and driving is a very rare privilege in rural North Korea.

Lee places the camp four kilometers east of Chongo-ri, but the actual distance is closer to 2.5 kilometers:


After that, however, things begin to fit very well. First, Lee tells us that Chongo-ri is across the road from another village, and that after you turn east, you go under a railroad bridge:


Down the road, we find the checkpoint Lee described:


Again, Lee appears to misjudge the distance. It’s actually a little less than a kilometer. Continuing down the road, we come to an orderly grid of huts without gardens or exterior walls, typical of those in North Korean camps:



Finally, the clincher — Lee says that there is a large copper mine 1.5 kilometers southeast of the main building:


Lee’s overestimation of distances is nothing if not consistent. The actual distance is about half a kilometer.

While we can’t identify the mineral product from satellite photography, the gray color of the ore is a clue. For one thing, we know this isn’t a coal mine. For another, copper is usually mined from sulfide ores, which I remember from my mine geologist days for their distinctive gray color. It’s true, of course, that other minerals may also occur in the “porphyry” deposits where copper is commonly found. So we can say that the color of the ore in this image is consistent with a copper deposit, though not only a copper deposit. What appears to be green-tinted water at the bottom of the pit is also characteristic of a copper mine.

According to Lee, the camp’s population was relatively small — just 2,000 prisoners and an almost equally miserable guard force of 300:

Among the 300, 60 are enlisted sentries- people directly pulled out of the army to join the Jeongeo-ri Prison. Another 10 are 30 to 35 year-old sentries who live with their families; another 10 of them are unmarried sentries of “sergeant major” rank. The remaining 220 are security officials with stars on their shoulders, from second lieutenant up to captain.

The enlisted sentries are selected from among the freshest young junior middle school kids who have joined the army not via military recruitment but through the People’s Safety Agency. It’s not a good job, so only people with no financial or political backing are picked to be prison sentries. For in reeducation camps, sentries go through almost as much grief as prisoners.

This is because they are duty-bound to monitor the prisoners, which means that they always have to follow the prisoners around come rain or snow. When the prisoners climb mountains to gather firewood, they have to be at the top too. Where the prisoners go, the sentries are never far behind.

While the camp’s boundaries are faintly visible in a few places, mapping them with any degree of certainty may have to wait for better imagery. But Lee does give this very interesting detail:

The concrete walls of the main camp make a 120 meter-long square. Beyond the walls are places for each section; prison cells, a warehouse, carpentry section, drafting section, public affairs section, the kitchen, tree felling section, hospital, pharmacy, a cargo labor section, an auto repairs section and so forth.

Another similar compound is apparent from the imagery of Camp 14. From the low resolution imagery, I can’t confidently match the area Lee is referring to an area in the imagery. The rectangular areas marked “1” and “2” in this image are approximately 130-150 meters by 120 meters:


The southern edge of area “2” measures 135 meters; the east wall is almost exactly 120 meters.

[Update: Here is a high resolution image from an eye altitude of 500 feet. The image shows what appear to be walls and guard towers. Look for the shadows of the towers:


End update.]

Lee describes something of the camp’s history as well:

By keeping my ears open I learned that Jeongeo-ri Prison was founded in 1970 as “No. 22 Juvenile Reformatory,” and that back then the concrete walls of the prison were just 6 meters high.

Then in the mid-1980s the name was changed to “No.12 Reeducation Camp” and the concrete walls rose to eight meters. Even now, you can clearly distinguish the added wall, piled up more than 20 years ago.

Lee Jun Ha has written a 23-part (so far) prison diary about his life in Camp 12. His story may predate the expansion of the camp. Still, I’ve linked all of the installments here:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12

Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21 Part 22 Part 23

I will leave you with this excerpt from Lee’s diary:

I followed clumsily behind taking glances here and there. To the right written in large black letters were two frightening warnings “Those caught trying to escape will be shot!”, and “Escape is suicide!” Shaking with fear, I continued to follow. Off to the left I saw a group of inmates with sanitation tags on their arms haphazardly loading logs onto a big truck labeled “˜Independence #82′.

Or I thought they were logs, anyway. As I looked closer I realized they were corpses. My heart rose into my throat and I went stiff. Only one thought came to me, “I’m a dead man; that rumor about 80% of all prisoners either starving or being worked to death is not just a rumor after all. [Daily NK, Account of Lee Jung Ha]

Update 9/15: The latest installment of Lee’s prison diary recounts the execution of a prisoner who tried to escape.

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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. The teachers sat shapelessly in their chairs, cane in hand, while we repeated by heart lessons we had already learned about the childhoods of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Yet work in the fields was still compulsory despite the fact that the remaining pupils and teachers were extremely weak. We actually went there not to work, but to glean anything we could find to keep from starving to death.

In the end, just before I escaped to China with my family in 1998, there were only eight or nine of us in class. The rest were too weak even to walk.

Given the death-stalked state of existence in Onsong and its proximity to China, you may wonder why anyone sticks around.  People cross the border anyway, some to trade and earn money, and others to leave for good.  The North Korean regime stops at nothing to prevent its subjects from escaping.  The first odd thing you notice about this large town, located beside a river that forms an international border, is that no bridge crosses it.  Long ago, one did.  In this image, you can see the pilings of a bridge still jutting out of the Tumen River.


The bridge was probably blown during the Korean War.  The North Korean regime, obsessed with secrecy and isolation, never rebuilt it.  Incidentally, I believe this New York Times article incorrectly identifies the bridge pictured here (more photos here) as crossing into Onsong.  Based on this map, this article, and this article, I believe that this bridge actually span the Tumen River between Tumen, China and nearby Namyang, North Korea, approximately eight miles to the west.  Google Earth shows no bridge crossing the river at Onsong, although it is a much larger city than Namyang.

In Onsong, the illusions of the state coexist uneasily with the grim realities of life and death.  What North Korean city would be complete without a grandiose political monument and a hill covered with shallow graves?

onsong-23000.jpg     onsong-political-monument-5000.jpg         onsong-graves-4000.jpg

Onsong is only visible in medium resolution.  The graves are faint and barely visible, but compare them to what you see here.  South of the city, you can see a string of coal mines, as Kang describes:

onsong-mine-5000-1.jpg        onsong-mine-5000-2.jpg          onsong-mine-5000-4.jpg         onsong-mine-5000-3.jpg

To halt a burgeoning traffic in refugees, smugglers, and food traders, the regime was recently reported to have built a tall wire fence across most of its border.  But the fence wasn’t all:

Side by side with building the wooden fence, North Korea is also preparing traps at strategic spots along Yalu and Tumen rivers that are frequented by people.

A defector who recently crossed the border said, “The traps set up by the border guards are about 3 to 5 meters deep and have sharp metal or wood spikes at the bottom so people are killed or seriously injured when they fall into them.”

These traps, which were installed outside political prison camps to stop inmates from escaping, have now made an appearance along the national border.  [Chosun Ilbo]

More recently, border guards summarily executed 15 people, most or all of them women, for trying to cross the border.  The mass execution contributed to a rare display of public anger by residents, though there have been other reports of discontent in Onsong for years.  The few outsiders who have heard of Onsong probably remember it for the 1987 massacre of 5,000 prisoners of a nearby concentration camp who rose up against the guards there.  After the guards machine-gunned the prisoners and retook the camp, they leveled it.  I have been unable to locate the site of the former camp.

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