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Balloons And Flash Drives: How A Private Organization Is Trying To Incite Rebellion In North Korea

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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The U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has worked with North Korean defectors to smuggle flash drives and other tools into their dictatorial homeland to counter the regime’s propaganda throughout 2017.

HRF director Alex Gladstein claims that his organization has successfully smuggled up to 10,000 flash drives into the country containing documentaries countering state narratives, according to The Telegraph. The organization also uses massive hydrogen balloons plastered with news bulletins to float across the boarder into North Korea in hopes that citizens will realize their true situation and bring the country down from within.

“This is to liberate minds,” Gladstein told the paper. “We’re creating little windows to the outside world so that the North Korean people can make decisions for themselves about what they want to do with their lives.”

HRF’s “Flash Drives for Freedom” campaign sees volunteers go to great risk smuggling USB sticks through black markets on the China-North Korea border. The majority of North Koreans have devices that can read the flash drives, and since the program began, HRF has smuggled in 2 million hours of footage and 48 million hours of reading material, reaching an estimated 1.1 million North Koreans. According to HRF’s website, the flash drives contain ebooks as well as an offline version of Korean wikipedia.

HRF began the program in 2013 by simply filling hydrogen balloons with DVDs and leaflets and floating them across the border. High level North Korean defectors have said that causing the general population to question their living conditions is one of the most effective ways to attack Kim Jong Un’s regime.

“Given the history of Eastern Europe, I hope that people can think about the potential of information rather than reckless conflict and provocation and totally failed diplomacy,” Gladstein said. “There is nothing the government can do with information, they can’t manipulate it. It’s a very powerful thing.”

Thae Yong-ho, who was once second in command at North Korea’s U.K. embassy before defecting in 2016, calls the general population of North Korea Un’s “Achilles heel.”

“We cannot change the policy of terror of the Kim Jong-un regime,” he said. “But we can educate the North Korean population to stand up by disseminating outside information.”

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