News / Asia

Small S. Korean Church Strives to Expose North's Secrets

Pastor Kim Sung-eun of the Caleb Mission
Pastor Kim Sung-eun of the Caleb Mission



A little-known South Korean Christian group is doing its best to expand what outsiders know about neighboring North Korea. The Caleb Mission has gained some recognition in recent months for releasing clandestine video of life inside the reclusive North. And now it has provided VOA with what it says is a secret North Korean military manual that regional security analysts consider authentic.

One of South Korea's smallest and most obscure religious communities is making a name for itself by providing rare glimpses of life inside North Korea, and revealing some of its secrets.

Reverend Kim Sung-eun runs the Caleb Mission in Cheonan, about 80 kilometers south of the capital, Seoul. His wife, he says, is a former lieutenant in North Korea's army. She is one of 30 or so defectors from the North who are frequently seen at the mission.  

Kim says he is in regular contact with collaborators inside North Korea. Some secretly videotape what is going on in the country, which is virtually sealed off from the outside world. Others, he says, smuggle out official documents.

The pastor gave VOA a partial copy of what appears to be a 2005 North Korean military manual that details electronic warfare countermeasures, such as using radar-absorbing paint to camouflage jets and ships.

He did not go into detail about how the Caleb Mission acquired the manual, but U.S. and South Korean officials who have seen it consider the document authentic.

A South Korean newspaper also has obtained part of the manual and has reported on its contents

Kim says they decided to release the manual because their colleagues inside North Korea are taking great risks by working on their projects. Thus, he explains, he wants to see some recognition for their efforts.

Daniel Pinkston, a long-time North Korea scholar and an analyst in Seoul for the International Crisis Group, considers the document important. "It's certainly useful for analysts on the outside. And I would agree anyone in North Korea, any KPA (Korean People's Army) soldiers or officers who would smuggle such a document out of the country, if they were to be caught, would suffer serious consequences. It would be a great risk to them, of course," he said.

In communist North Korea, those suspected of disloyalty face imprisonment. Convictions for treason or espionage - and many lesser offenses - usually mean a death sentence.

At Caleb Mission, Kim says he has or can gain access to other sensitive materials, including videos and documents, but he needs to provide compensation to those who risk their lives to provide it.

He hopes that by releasing the information more widely in South Korea, he can generate funds to pay his collaborators in the impoverished North.

Kim says he has information detailing North Korean-sanctioned manufacturing and exporting of illicit drugs and the country's extensive network of internment and re-education camps for political prisoners.

The U.S. State Department has warned in the past that North Korea was involved in drug trafficking.

Analyst Pinkston says the apparent willingness of North Koreans to provide such documentation - whatever the motives - could be a significant signal of societal change. "If we see more of these things coming out - materials, information, people - especially from the military, then that could be a sign of some breakdown in discipline and control. I'm not saying that's the case here," he states, "but when we do see these things coming out, that's something we have to think about."

North Korean media unfailingly praise Kim Jong Il and his father, the country's first leader, creating a personality cult that dominates the government. The state controls almost all aspects of life, including food supplies, access to the media and employment.

Human rights groups consider North Korea to be one of the most repressive nations in the world. The government also has struggled for nearly 20 years to feed its people. After the collapse of communist governments in Europe, which had supported the North financially, its economy has nearly collapsed and it relies heavily on international food aid to avoid mass starvation.

Change, however, could be coming to North Korea. A rare meeting of the ruling Workers Party is expected to start soon to fill leadership slots. Many North Korea experts believe supreme leader Kim Jong Il will name his third son, Kim Jong Un, to a prominent post as part of grooming him to be his successor. The son is believed to be about 27 years old and has yet held no official position.

There are reports, however, of growing dissatisfaction among North Koreans about passing power to a young, little-known member of the Kim family.

The country faces renewed food shortages and continuing economic instability. In addition, its people are increasingly aware - through clandestine exposure to outside news media - of the huge gap between their country and most of the rest of the world, especially neighboring South Korea.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs