Kim Jong-un's Horde of Spy Cameras Makes It Harder to Escape North Korea

The Atlantic

With more and more defectors heading south, Kim Jong-un's North Korean regime spent $1.66 million on over 16,000 border-security cameras in the first 11 months of 2012, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports, as he continues to build a spy network on his own citizens. And that's not good news for anyone under the watching eyes of the Supreme Leader who's trying to seek refuge amidst, you know, democracy. The data, according to Chosun Ilbo, is based on Chinese customs data:

[T]he North imported a total of 16,420 CCTV cameras worth about US$1.66 million from China from January to November last year.

In 2009, the first year China published statistics on bilateral trade, the North imported a whopping 40,465 surveillance cameras from China. In 2010 the figure was 22,987 and in 2011 22,118. Altogether the North has imported over 100,000 cameras worth about $10 million.

That's a lot of surveillance equipment for such a small country: North Korea's addition of 100,000 closed-circuit TV cameras over three years is a gain of about one for every 244 citizens, compared to the approximately 1.85 million in all of Britain — or one for every 33 of its population. London, which has upwards of a third of those British spycams, is of course more densely packed than Pyonyang.

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But Kim Jong-un isn't focusing on the cities — he's looking for runaways. As analysts tell Chosun Ilbo from South Korea, "cameras are being positioned at key points along the long border the two nations share in order to detect and capture would-be defectors from the North." As The Telegraph's Julian Ryall explains, it's part of a larger push to keep North Korean citizens from crossing the border:

Kim Jong-un has carried out a crackdown on people hoping to escape their repressive homeland, as well as anyone using a mobile phone to communicate across the border and smugglers bringing in banned newspapers, books and recordings of television programmes that show the lives of people in prosperous South Korea.

And the North Korean regime's efforts seem to be working, with the number of defectors coming out of the country dropping sharply over the past three years, just as the camera trade has ramped up. "Just over 1,500 North Koreans arrived in the South in 2012 compared to more than 2,700 the previous year, according to the South's Unification Ministry," reported the BBC, which notes that the figure is a seven-year low. "Most North Korean refugees escape across the border with China and then make their way to South Korea via third countries." 

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