LAW TV's interview with Yun-keol Lee(Chairman of NKSIS)
Language: Korean Subtitle: English
Chairman Lee talks about his life back in North Korea, and how he escaped from there. Giving his views and analysis on the North Korean currents, Lee also discusses on the neccessity of strategic information for the unification process as well as the role and vision of the North Korean defectors who have made their home in the South.
Interviewer: With the protests for democratic change in Libya and Egypt has come a renewed interest in North Korean currents. A reading of the situation surrounding the third generation Kim family succession and precise information and analysis of its internal matters are essential in any preparation for unification. With this in mind, the North Korean Strategic Information and Services Center was launched in December, 2010. Today we welcome Lee Yun-keol. the President of NKSIS and a defector from North Korea to the South. Welcome to the program.
Lee Yun-keol: Hello.
Interviewer: I know that since the North Korean Strategic Information and Services Center opened last year you have been exceptionally busy in its operations. Could you start by telling us what the center does, please.
Lee: I came to the Republic of Korea in 2005. As soon as I arrived I continued research in my field. I had worked in biotechnology in North Korea. But as any defector from the North will tell you, we have a real sense of duty with regards to the country of our birth. And so I was always seeking out the views of Korean and foreign North Korea experts in seminars and articles and the like.
In doing so, I came to appreciate that there isn't much in terms of valuable strategic information out there, although I understand of course that the definition of 'strategic information' is unclear. I am a graduate of Likwa University in North Korea. Seeing things from the perspective of a graduate in that field from that university, I feel that there is an absence of information about North Korea's strategic weaponry and tactics, and related scientific research. And so I founded NKSIS in th belief that the people of South Korea ought to be better alerted to strategic information about the North and that we ought to respond to North Korea with strategic information.
Interviewer: In truth, the concept of strategic information itself is not a familiar one. The notion would seem to carry military connotations. Could you develop the definition of what strategic information is, please.
Lee: My fundamental notion is this. Recently in North Korea, cell phones have come into use, as, variously, have communication methods like the intranet. Of course, North Koreans are not yet free to receive and exchange information from abroad but a lot of information is spilling out from around the border regions with China. The problem is that so much of this information originates in the markets. It is passed on through the small private markets in Chinese whispers and hence can be unreliable. The word "kadora", originating in South Gyeongsang Province to describe a questionable rumor could be used to describe a lot of it.
Interviewer: So it's all just rumor?
Lee: Much is. In my view, what is meant by strategic information is for example what we can learn about the relationship dynamics of the regime's core upper echelon figures or their tendency with regard to new policy formation. Secondly, it is intelligence with regards to North Korea's nuclear missiles, organized state computer hacking, its disturbance of GPS and denial of service attacks -what moves are being made in the North about these issues and what lie behind them.
A recent example would be the commemorative event held on March 26th, the anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan. Why did North Korea carry out that attack? There's a real lack of information about this incident. What was the real motivation behind the attack, who was responsible for the first order to sink the ship, who was responsible for the operation itself -we're still in the dark about so much. I thought that I could come to be a provider of solid information about this kind of thing because I mixed in well informed circles in North Korea.
Interviewer: There are many quarters in South Korea that also try to collect information about the North. So why do you think there is a lack? Tell us a little about your expectation levels.
Lee: Yes, I think a lot of people are already doing some good work and based on that foundation I think I can do more. My opinion as a defector is that can it not be a little more precise, somewhat quicker in being relayed, more objective and more reflective of the impressions of North Korean people? I don't think others are doing a bad job. But it is put out in the context of South Korea's liberal democracy, through that free market environment's politics and culture. The popular media is numberless and multifarious. But in North Korea its not possible for an objective media to report on events. Our human network is spread across North Korea, China, and the South and we have the ability to report promptly and in detail on what's going on. That is our strength.
Interviewer: And so in the main you have defectors working for you?
Lee: We have defectors as well as prominent figures and experts form South Korea all working together. After I came to South Korea I did an MBA in Business Administration. I've completed a Phd and will soon receive the degree. Defectors have a keen sense of responsibility when it comes to the North and may also have much useful knowledge in the field. But I think we and those South Koreans who are interested in finding peace on the peninsula must unite in the struggle. I wouldn't advocate that North Koreans do it only amongst themselves.
Interviewer: You mentioned numerous times that you carry a certain sense of duty. Can you talk about it?
Lee: My family background was considered inferior in the North. “Social foundation or the make up of one’s ancestry,” which may sound unfamiliar to some is a rather well known concept, is it not? My grandparents on both sides had been wealthy and I grew up thinking that this was bad because we are taught early on that the rich were all ‘exploiters’ of the poor. As I began to form my own set of values, I realized that this was not so. I faced many limitations throughout my life in the North because of my own family background, and realizing that things were not going to get any better, I made my mind to defect to South.
In time, I realized that North Korean defectors living in the South had no concrete plans on how to develop the North in the future process of South-North integration. While they cry out “Democratization!” “Human rights!” in reality, they themselves are struggling to adapt in the South. Without proper understanding of the liberal democracy and market economy, it is nonsensical to think that they would be able to help democratize North Korea.
Therefore, the first step in democratization of DPRK is for defectors to fully and properly understand democracy and to find their niche in this country. It is a small but important step toward reaching a far greater goal. That critical step of settling down and collaborating with others who share a similar vision is what needs to happen among defectors from the North. Unfortunately, that is not happening right now.
My sense of duty lies in aiding the defectors to collaborate in sharing knowledge, information, and opinions. It has not yet happened, but I am hopeful that it will.
Interviewer: Do you mean you feel obliged to work as a “bridge” to the North?
Lee: Yes, and that is not an unrealistic sense of duty. It means defectors who understand South Korea properly, passing their acquired knowledge onto their family, friends, and network of people living in the North. That is ultimately the beginning of process of unification and integration. We are off from that path at the moment, but I would like to change that.
Interviewer: You mentioned that your family background was considered to be inferior in the North. But I understand that you were from an elite class in North Korean society, having served as a military officer of the Presidential Security Command. How did you accomplish that?
Lee: In regular circumstances, given my family background, it would be nearly impossible for me to go to college. But in 1984, North Korea adopted “Inclusive Politics” system, which allowed personnel to positions regardless of their backgrounds. This system opened doors for students with superior grades to apply and be accepted to universities of their choice. I was admitted to Likwa University, an institution equivalent to “KAIST” or even higher in the South. At that time, this institution was under direct command of the Party’s Organization Department.
Interviewer: Would you say that future is somewhat secured for graduates of Likwa University?
Lee: Yes, once you graduate from that school, you can go all the way to the top positions in the research institutions in various scientific fields. Here in the South, you need to pass a separate set of examinations to become a government official, but in the North, as part of planned economy system, your path in life or career and promotions thereafter are pretty much decided upon entrance to college. For example, an alumnus of my school who graduated 9 years before me is currently serving in a position equivalent to that of South Korean Minister of Education. He did not have to go through any special screening process.
I was able to serve under the Presidential Security Command because I was the youngest person ever to receive a master’s degree for my field of research and pioneered work at Kim Il-sung Longevity Research Institute. They needed me.
Interviewer: In other words, you entered Likwa University under special favor and circumstances. Your future was secured.
Lee: Yet, in the end, I was ousted from my position because of my family background.
Interviewer: Please elaborate on that.
Lee: Since 1989, just before I went on to serve at Presidential Security Command, some socialistic communities under Soviet Union and the Easter European block began to erode. Nicolae Ceausescu, dictator of Romania, who kept close connection with his own security forces (Presidential Security Command), ended up being executed by the Romanian people. His security forces resisted opposition to the very end.
In another part of the world, dictator of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam, was opposed by the chief of his own security force. This chief was a pro-North Korean government who studied in Kim Il-sung Military Academy.
Seeing these two events unfold, where security forces played crucial role in defending or ousting the leader of a nation, Kim Jong-il ordered for an internal “clean-up” of his Security Command officers. He ordered that anyone with inferior social background, regardless of his ability or status, be terminated. I was subject to immediate termination. A superior officer informed me on this secret mission. I don’t know why he did this because he was not supposed to.
Anyway, I was ineligible to serve my nation after studying and working so hard for it, simply because my grandparents had been wealthy in the past. Events like this are typical occurrences within the North Korean Supreme Leader’s dictatorship.
Moreover, at about that time, economy was losing it balance. Even before “The March of Tribulation”, civilians were not getting their basic food rations, while some people would not even touch pork because it was not to their taste. The gap between classes was enormous. In theory, socialist ideology dictates that all people should live equally; but in reality, people toiled like slaves while the upper class enjoyed lavish lifestyle. I was taught early on that I must work twice as hard, like a “beast of burden”, because I had the mark of a descendant of landowner and capitalist who exploited workers. I saw that the upper class in North Korea was the true exploiter of the people than any landowner in the past.
My grandparents and parents taught me the value of hard work. They were able to acquire more wealth because they worked harder and had been more generous to others. We owned a large orchard and hired additional laborers in the spring. As we offered them better pay and fed them, we had more efficient and qualified workers working our land. Inevitably, we produced better harvest. I knew this to be true because my family told me these things without sugarcoating the truth.
I saw how the privileged class in the North exploited the fruits of the laborers, enjoying even more opulent lifestyle than landowners of the past. Their privilege was based only upon their social foundation. My parents taught me this was against the theory of social evolution. I was not sure at first whether to accept my parents’ comments as truth, but having seen with my own eyes, I knew that the current system was in discord with the ideals of socialism and communism. The socialist ideal was desirable in theory but was farfetched in reality. I saw how Kim Jong-il’s closes aides lived. I came to realization that this society would not last. My views have completely shifted.
Interviewer: According to your previous comments, you were ousted from your position as they realigned the office of the Presidential Security Command. I assume you must have realized the irrationality of the system way before, while you studied abroad, for example, if you did. Do you think that you would have still escaped the North had you not been ousted from your position?
Lee: People who were after me already knew that I had been gradually getting involved in anti-establishment activities, since some of my close friends had already been arrested for them.
In the North, if someone gets arrested as a political criminal, they try to get everyone involved with that person in the jail. They don’t have a proper judicial system as in South, so people have no way of defending themselves. Government can make up a charge and execute people based on their false accusations. I was the victim of that, and I knew I had to get out of there.
I was not allowed to study abroad even though I passed all screening tests with good scores. They feared that I would escape because I had relatives living abroad.
If communist ideal is indeed great, if North Korean socialism is indeed something desirable, they should have an open-door policy, where no one would want to leave North Korea because it is so great. Throughout my studies, I sensed something was not quite right, and these suspicions were confirmed when I began working as a high-ranking official. Friends who had been abroad told me all about the outside world and what was happening there. I had no choice but to leave North Korea...(more)
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