A North Korean defector is fighting back against the oppressive communist regime from his new home in South Korea with some unlikely weapons — chief among them being balloons and flash drives.
Park Sang Hak, leader of the Freedom Fighters of North Korea, has been fighting Pyongyang for years with 36-foot-long balloons carrying thumbdrives full of Wikipedia entries, anti-government leaflets, DVDs of TV shows and even American dollar bills to buy food on the black market.
Some of the balloons barely make it through the demilitarized zone and over the border while others have traveled all the way to the capital city, dropping 52 million leaflets alone in the last few years.
“This particular visit has a lot of meaning,” Park said during a Monday interview with Ars Technica in California, where he is seeking tech donors for new air drops. “Not only do we get support from the people, but we find out practical ways to increase effectiveness of the balloon, and I believe that this visit will give me more and more impact in terms of sending more messages.”
Launching 10 balloons alone costs $5,000, hence the reason for Park’s visit to Silicon Valley’s successful entrepreneurs. The Human Rights Foundation set up the trip, and plans to organize a hackathon to encourage development of a more cost-efficient balloon design.
Park also hopes to incorporate new elements like GPS into the balloons to better track where the information is being distributed, since very little information is successfully leaked out of North Korea.
“I believe that if we can get 100 times more balloons, then we will make [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong Un paranoid—sending more and more balloons to North Korea is more effective than sending a bomb on North Korea,” Park said. “The thing is that if South Korea or the United States Air Force dropped a bomb, there’s a way that [North Korea] would react to it, but the thing is with leaflets there’s no way to react.”
North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA) has since labelled Park as “human scum” and a “vicious deserter” since his defection in 1999. The infamous defector survived an assassination plot in 2011, and is regularly arrested by South Korean police when launching balloons out of fear of incurring the North’s nuclear-armed wrath.
“In case the projected leaflet scattering operation will push the present situation to a grave phase, the US and Park group will be held wholly accountable for it as they have hurled these human scum into such provocation,” KCNA said in June 2013.
Park already has his next balloon launch planned for March of 2014, when wind shifts to blow north across the peninsula. The defector believes the organic growth of a resistance from inside North Korea’s borders is the only way ensure a successful revolution.
“We know that they have that will and that ability to fight for freedom, and what they don’t have is a tool to see the reality, and that’s why we keep sending the balloons,” Park said. “They’re too brainwashed. There has been no one to tell them that they have to rise up against the dictatorship, and we can give them this idea of freedom.”