Jieun Baek on Information Strategies for North Korea



This blog has long supported information strategies vis-à-vis North Korea (and other closed regimes for that matter). Just as it is important to get people in and out of these countries, so it is important to get information in and out as well. In a new paper for the Belfer Center at Harvard (“Hack and Frack North Korea: How Information Strategies Can Liberate the Hermit Kingdom”), Jieun Baek has outlined in some detail what such a strategy would look like. Baek herself has an interesting background, managing some information access projects for Google for several years and advising North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS), which is involved in such information strategies; her blog “Inalieanable” can be found here.

The effort would consist of three core strategies, the first of which is an aggressive package of covert operations. Baek is not talking about the scattershort strategy of sending balloons over the border. She goes for the jugular: using hacking capabilities to alter Rodong Sinmun content, send text messages through KoryoLink and infiltrate the state-run intranet to provide real news about the regime. This would be coupled with dissemination of information on the activities of real citizens, both in the market and in opposition, with the aim of fostering civil society.

The second strategy is to increase funding for NGOs involved in these projects and to train North Korean citizens in business skills thus expanding the scope of the market (Choson Exchange is in this business). A particularly interesting idea (if the Chinese are willing to look the other way): “establish and fund ‘convenience shops’ in areas where North Koreans are working in China that sell CDs, basic IT training materials, and foreign content at discounted prices.”

Finally, Baek advocates training young North Korean defectors in journalism, IT and media (again, credit where credit is due: Jiro Ishimara’s Rimjingang operates in this space).

Baek’s account is sophisticated. She does not argue that information will dissolve the regime on contact. Indeed, we can even imagine the elite of Pyongyang crediting the regime for greater openness as it gains selective access to outside information. But this is a long-game play: as she puts it, the immediate objective is to limit the scope—the outrageousness—of what the regime can claim and get away with.

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