“Undercover in the Secret State”: a documentary about North Korea

This is a CNN video from 2005, but it has some rare and disturbing video taken from inside North Korea, as well as chilling stories from those who managed to escape. Even in 2005, people were risking a lot just to watch videos from outside North Korea—an act punishable by internment in prison camps, equivalent to death. This is well worth watching.

The CNN notes:

“CNN Presents” follows Korean-American journalist Jung Eun Kim as she tracks down a new breed of dissident in North Korea. These dissidents are using small digital cameras and cell phones to show the world the brutal life inside North Korea.


  1. Posted September 1, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  2. Liz
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    That was good. The filmmaker sounded calm for someone involved with people taking very serious risks. I couldn’t figure out if South Korean soap operas were actual soap operas like “Days of Our Lives” or if they were something else. I think they were actual soap operas. The North Korean people would watch them and then realize that the rest of the world was actually not worse off. The train scene was disturbing.

  3. Randy schenck
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I recall seeing news documentaries on the smuggling into N. Korea of videos, cds and tapes of reality on the outside. Sometimes they even sent them in by air on balloons. The idea is to let them see something, anything from outside N. Korea to show them how bad they have it. They have no idea how the rest of the world lives for the most part.

  4. Paul S
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Heartbreakingly disturbing.

  5. Kevin
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    That was depressingly expected from what I’ve already seen or heard from people who have been there.

    Here is a very different take on North Korea that is also informative:

    VICE North Korea

    • somer
      Posted September 2, 2017 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      Great series of videos

  6. Sastra
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Not long ago I read the book Without You There Is No Us, written by a journalist who taught English in one of the “elite” North Korean universities, taking secret notes documenting the sad, intellectually stunted conditions even there. Wealthy top students majoring in computers had never been on the internet, and many of them didn’t even know it existed.

    Watching this film I was struck by how quickly and easily the discipline against the North Korean people could go from bad to worse, and for trivial reasons. And I wondered what consequences Trump’s ham handed, blundering threats and insults might have had on innocents. It’s a powder keg in there.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it is a live study in how inhumane some people can treat others and it has been going on for years. Now, the truth is, China and it’s leaders are guilty as hell, as well, because they are the one force that has created this condition and allowed it to flourish. We basically let them off the hook because trade with China is far more important than humanity.

  7. Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    “Secret State” – not to be confused with The Secret City, run by the benign Commander Mark.

  8. Barry McGuire
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    That was 12 years ago. Has anything more positive come to pass in the intervening years? I would like input from those who may know.

    Numerous videos of recent origin to be found on Youtube make it seem that things have improved considerably, at least for some. They appear to have their elite as do we. And their very poor as do we. Pyongyang looks to be a lovely, clean and bustling city despite a paucity of private cars. Just what is the real story? Does anyone know? They now get a lot of tourists.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      If you are insinuating that N. Korean people have it about like us, you need a change of diet maybe. If you were talking about South Korea, you would be making some sense, but North Korea??

    • Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      They have a lot fewer “elite” and a lot more “poor” than we do. Citizens are still ruthlessly policed and sent to prison camps to die for minor infractions. Pyongyang is a silent city with no cars, no nightlife, no goods. Seriously, are you implying that it’s a good life in the DPRK?

      • Barry McGuire
        Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        I had no intent of implying or insinuating anything. I was just trying to square conflicting reports about life in the DPRK and asked for info from those who might be better informed.

        Despite the tree lined boulevards of Pyongyang, the water park, the circus theater, the Disneyland and Sea World replicas, the beautiful parks, the palatial subway stations,life there appears to be a deadly routine. Also really deadly for the many harsh and cruel penalties for what seem minor or even non-existing offences. I should not care to live there.

        Life for the majority must be a living hell. But is it (just asking, not implying nor yet justifying) all that much worse or even as bad as life in most any country in Africa, the Middle East, Central America, India, to give but a few glaring examples?

        And just what should we do about it anyway? Apply even more sanctions and make life for the citizens even worse? Perhaps bomb and kill them all to “save” them from their misery? Leave them alone to work it out for themselves?

        Again, relevant and informative commentary from readers will be gratefully accepted.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          I have been to South Korea many times but cannot give you a personal view of the North. Nobody but really serious journalist should even consider it. I have been to Panmunjon and I can tell you the South Korean Army soldiers (ROK) are very tough guys. Seoul, S. Korea is a massive city only about 40 miles from the DMZ. If you have ever been to a third world country, such as the Philippines, North Korea would be about 10 times worse and far more dangerous.

        • Steve Pollard
          Posted September 1, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          FWIW, I have no direct knowledge, only what I have gleaned from other, more recent, news reports.

          In most ways the place has not changed since 2005 – apart from bigger and better rockets, as John Taylor says. But there have been some interesting recent indications that the monolith may be fracturing. People are now being encouraged to grow and sell produce, rather than being Gulaged for trying to do so. Kim Jong-Un was educated in Switzerland and may have actually seen what private enterprise can do. I have few illusions that much will really change soon; but once a little private enterprise is allowed in, a bit more may follow.

          People shouldn’t think that KJU is irrational. He may be very nasty but his main interest is in preserving his regime. It is not in the regime’s interest to have 80% of its population starving. If to prevent that requires a bit of private enterprise – well, good.

        • pali
          Posted September 2, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          One admittedly sloppy way to estimate living standards in North Korea versus India, Africa, the ME, and so on: how many lights do you see at night?

          India: https://i.ndtvimg.com/i/2017-04/nasa-india-at-night-650_650x400_81492057786.jpg

          Africa: http://subdude-site.com/WebPics/WebPicsEarthLights/africa_arabia_lights_600x568.jpg

          The Middle East: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f6/39/f5/f639f5041797c9a6db7f27a9122f7f22.jpg

          Central America: https://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/central-america-at-night-satellite-science-photo-library.jpg

          Now North Korea: http://i.imgur.com/mes1F91.jpg

          Hopefully I linked those right, or at least posted the addresses so that you can go to them (none took more than a few seconds of Googling anyways). India, the Middle East, and Central America are all pretty lit up; Africa has some pretty noticeable gaps, especially in the Sahara and dense jungle regions in the interior, but lights are still spread around a fair bit.

          North Korea at night has just Pyongyang and a handful of tiny spots.

    • John Taylor
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      They have improved their rocket technology considerably.

    • John Taylor
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      You should travel there and report back. Try to get the slip on your minders so that you get the true picture. Let us know how that works out for you.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        I doubt they will let you go there now. I think they stopped letting anyone go after that last death of the kid. Who would want to go there anyway? Better idea, take a flight to Seoul and see the sights there. See if you can get a tour up to the DMZ and look across freedom bridge. Panmunjon is lovely this time of year but don’t wait until winter.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      It’s a paradise for astronomy buffs!

  9. Diane G.
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 12:21 am | Permalink


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