Thursday, January 18, 2018

North Korea's Great Barrier

I first wrote about North Korea's caged population in 2013, where I showed the fences that surround the country. Since then, I have been able to map the full system of fences, guard posts, and gates. And since the general situation regarding population movement has changed since then as well, I want to revisit the topic and also provide you with the Google Earth file so you, too, can explore the miles of fences and blocked off beaches, as well as to provide added evidence of the horrific human rights situation that exists. If you're primarily interested in getting the KMZ file, click here.

Guards maintaining a section of border fence along the Yalu River. (Source

First, a quick refresher. Much of North Korea's coastline and land borders are fenced off. According to multiple defector and media reports, some portions of fence are electrified while others are simply guarded by police. Of course the southern border (aka, the Demilitarized Zone/DMZ) has been turned into, perhaps, the most impenetrable 820,210 feet (155 miles) of border in the world. Ever. Apart from the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed along the DMZ, it has over 1,000 observation towers and forward military posts. Finally, the border with China (and the small section with Russia) is protected by large reservoirs, rivers, and in many places, fencing as well.
The purpose of these barriers is to keep people inside the country. Construction was sped up during the famine as the regime tried to cope with the mass movements of people, risks of defectors stealing boats, and as the government struggled to maintain their control in all sectors of society.

All of this means North Korea's population really is caged. A more colorful description of the country would be as an open-air prison.

The following images show the extent of the national fence system. Click on images for an enlarged view.

I was able to map nearly 1,400 miles (1,399.36 to be exact) of fencing. There are lots of small coastline sections where the paths of fencing can still be seen, but the fence itself is gone - likely pillaged for scrap metal by locals, however, most of the gaps you can see (and all of the large ones) are due to either natural barriers or where direct access to the sea/border is blocked by an industrial site, military base, or other construction that serves as a barrier.

Many coastal towns and villages lack a fence and instead the coastal portion is lined with dockyards and factories which requires locals to go through any number of gates or checkpoints, if they're permitted through at all. I've tried to map as many gate houses as possible that provide direct access to the coast. Ones that simply allow access to a factory or other site adjacent to the sea are not marked.

This next image shows the reason for each of the the major gaps in the fence system.

This image shows 837 identifiable police border guard posts and 434 stand-alone watchtowers along the the DMZ.

Under Kim Jong Un, miles of new fencing have been erected as well as older fencing upgraded in certain areas. A large number of additional watchtowers have been added along the fence routes as well, particularly in the northern regions. However, border controls extend well beyond fences and watchtowers. Cell phone single jamming towers, cameras, and other surveillance equipment have been deployed along both borders, but efforts have particularly increased along the Chinese border (which is the route most defectors take).

A related issue is the increased border protections China has been implementing. As with North Korea, China has begun to build fences (of a far greater quality than the DPRK) along certain key border sections to stem the flow of defectors. They have also constructed signal jamming towers and increased police and military patrols. China's active attempts to catch defectors by checking train stations, setting up road blocks, and patrolling neighborhoods, occur not only in the immediate border region, but far into the interior in major cities like Jilin.

The following series of images clearly show the individual fence posts and come from different parts of North Korea. Additional images can also be found in the original 2013 post, A Caged Population.

As both Kim Jong Un and China have taken a much harder line regarding border security, there has been a real and measurable effect on the numbers of successful defections. In 2017 there were 1,127 defectors who made it to South Korea, which is a decline of 27% from 2016. That was the lowest figure since 2001. The total number of defectors peaked around 3,000 in 2009, meaning there has been a decline of ~62% overall.

Despite the barbed wire fences, guards with automatic weapons, the high risk of women being sold into sexual slavery, and the risks of repatriation and imprisonment (or execution), people still brave the cold waters of the Yalu River and the forests of northern China to find their way to a better life. Even soldiers posted along the DMZ, who tend to belong to elite families and are generally more well off than soldiers stationed elsewhere, accept getting shot at 40 times (or even kill other DPRK soldiers) to cross into South Korea.

Kim Jong Un may have been successful in curbing overall defections, but the drive to feed one's family and the desire to experience the freedoms of the outside world (that North Koreans are increasingly being exposed to) will continue to inspire and embolden people to take the risks and seek a better life.

To download the full KMZ file and explore the sites yourself, click here. (Must have Google Earth to access.)

--Jacob Bogle, 1/18/2018

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

AccessDPRK 2018 Update

2017 was an incredibly busy and important year for all things North Korea. From the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the unprecedented number of nuclear and missile tests, and even to the large construction projects that were seen in Pyongyang, last year certainly kept analysts and watchers chugging the coffee. Last year was also a big year #AccessDPRK: web traffic was more than double that of last year (for which I thank my readers very much!), I had the opportunity to give multiple radio interviews on different DPRK topics, social media presence grew, and most importantly, I was able to release the completed version of a very big map.
I intend 2018 to be a busy and big year, too. Let me tell you what I've been working on and about some future plans for this new year.

I published Phase I of the #AccessDPRK Mapping Project in March 2016 and Phase II was published a year later, in March 2017. Phase II became the largest and most comprehensive map of North Korea ever made public with over 53,000 locations mapped; far surpassing any previous public work. In the time since the initial publication, I have continued to highlight important and interesting finds via this blog and social media. I have also been working on the "topic specific" files that I mentioned in the Phase II release post. At the same time, I have continued work on keeping the main project up-to-date and have added scores of new sites of all types: military, monuments, and domestic.

It wouldn't quite be accurate to call this beginning a "Phase III", but I want everyone to know that I am certainly not finished with this undertaking and a true Phase III will be forthcoming at some future point. Over the course of this process I will be re-categorizing hundreds of "compounds" to reflect the greater importance they may now hold, I will be working to resolve a long-standing issue in identifying many interior HARTS locations (are they artillery sites or simply tunnels?), I will keep marking places that were inadvertently missed the first time around (like a monument or irrigation pumping station), and of course work on the topic specific files will continue.

Additionally, it's important to realize that all of the articles on this site are part of the broader #AccessDPRK project and are meant to enhance the work by giving it greater depth. There are a number of articles that I am currently drafting, and I have begun to use a range of new resources which will allow me to use more recent satellite images in a number of cases. That means I can provide you with better information and occasionally even help break some news.

Considering all of these things and the amount of time and effort it requires (I am just an individual and not backed by any organization), I am also thinking about setting up a Patreon (or similar) account to enable those who appreciate and enjoy what I produce to take part and assist. I'll have more on that later.

So I am looking forward to this new year and anticipate North Korea will provide us with ever more things to talk about and analyze. I appreciate your continued interest and all of the emails, comments, and interactions on social media. If you haven't already, please follow me on Twitter @JacobBogle and you can add me on Facebook, too. If you'd like to email me, the address is I'm always open to suggestions on what topics to cover.

Finally, here's a small New Year's Bonus. (As always, click on the image for an enlarged version.)

A small military training base was recently constructed and it is one of several to be built over the last few years.

Located 7.8 miles (12.6 km) east-northeast of Sariwon, N. Hwanghae, it is situated in a valley that also holds multiple other small military sites like tunnels and munitions/equipment storage depots. The location of the base is marked with a star icon and labeled, and all of the small yellow markers are the numerous other military sites in the region.

This next image shows the immediate area surrounding the training site. The several storage sites and tunnel group have also been marked out.

This is a 2014 image of the area, before the training facilities were constructed. Based on satellite data, the facilities were constructed between October 2016 and April 2017. I'm using a 2014 beforehand image because it's the best looking image showing the area.

In the latest satellite image, a number of changes to the old base can be seen. An assembly/parade ground has been established, new barracks constructed alongside the old observation hut, a small training site for fighting in trenches was set up, the water course has been updated, and a vehicle training course has been constructed.

Here is an enlarged version to make some of the details more visible. (Click on image for larger view.)

--Jacob Bogle, 1/3/2018

Monday, December 25, 2017

Pyongyang's Thirty Years of Growth

Image of Mirae Scientists Street along the Taedong River. (Image Source: Rodong Sinmun.)

Like any national capital, Pyongyang is a dynamic and growing city whose fortunes rise and ebb as the fortunes of domestic and international affairs fluctuate. Pyongyang was founded in 1122 BC (according to legend) and served as one of the capitals of ancient Korean kingdoms. Over the course of the Korean War, the city - like much of the peninsula - was completely destroyed. Kim Il Sung spent enormous resources rebuilding the nation and redesigning Pyongyang into a showcase capital.
The attempt to use the capital to project power and showcase the miracles of socialism resulted in massive 'people's palaces' and numerous monuments, and peaked with the construction of the Ryugyong Hotel. Construction of the hotel, which was to be the tallest hotel in the world, was halted in 1992 (it still sits unfinished to this day). The fall of the Communist Bloc between 1989-1991 and the following famine of 1994-1998 resulted in the near total collapse of the North Korean economy.

Pyongyang itself suffered stagnation and large swathes of the city degraded. In the early 2000s, as gray and black markets began to rise, so too rose the fortunes of Pyongyang and the government has since embarked on a modernization program. The process was relatively slow under Kim Jong Il, but Kim Jong Un has overseen one of the largest building booms in North Korea's history.

One good and simple measure of the growth and strength of a city is population, unfortunately, population statistics are considered a state secret in North Korea, so getting accurate figures can be difficult - especially when you consider the widely varying figures concerning the number of deaths during the famine and the fact that there have only been two national censuses since 1980. Fortunately, the use of satellite information can help fill in some of the gaps by showing which areas have undergone urban growth. Contrary to what one may expect, despite all of North Korea's economic problems and the vast sums spent on military projects, the change in Pyongyang over the past 30 years is pretty astounding. A resident from 30 years ago would scarcely recognize the Pyongyang of today.

Thanks to Google Earth, historical Landsat and Copernicus satellite imagery dating as far back as 1984 is now easily available and covers most of the planet. Using this resource one can see the growth of cities and the spread of human development; an asset for studying a large number of topics. The outlines in the images below are densely populated urban areas that are contiguous within the outlined area. In other words, if there are two urban spaces separated by a large area of forest or farmland, they won't be included within the same outline.

In 1984, Pyongyang had an urban area of approximately 70.2 square miles (+/- 1 sq. mi) and by 2017, Pyongyang's urban area had grown to 103 square miles (+/- 1.5 sq. mi). At this point it's important to make the distinction between the capital region of Pyongyang and the core city of Pyongyang proper. The Pyongyang region is 1,233 square miles and has a population of over 2.5 million. However, within the region are 19 wards and two counties, and within all of those are dozens of smaller towns and villages. One of the larger areas within the region is Kangdong, which has a population of 221,000 and is around 20 miles away from downtown Pyongyang. So when considering population and population density of Pyongyang proper, it's necessary to exclude the populations of these satellite areas.

Here is a map showing the nine largest urban/industrial areas within the Pyongyang capital region as of 2017.

Outside of the city of Pyongyang and the growth of the airport, little has changed in the expansion of other urban areas with the exception of the city of Sangwon, which largely grew up as the Sangwon mine was established and the cement complex opened (in 1989).

To determine the land area of urban spaces, I outlined the areas and cut them into easily measurable geometric shapes. The white area is Pyongyang's main urban coverage in 1984, and the yellow represents 2017. It required over 200 individual measurements. You may find some areas that look like irregularities (yellow lines inside of white areas), and that's due to the fact that the image resolution for 1984 is much lower than that of 2017, making the 1984 area slightly less precise. I have tried to correct for this.

Beyond the simple growth of urban boundaries, the density of buildings has also changed drastically, particularly in a few key areas of the city. The change in total area of Pyongyang from 70 to 103 square miles is a comparatively slow growth rate when you look at other major world cities. Even my own medium-sized town has doubled in land area over the last 30 years. One reason for this limited growth is, of course, that residency in the capital is tightly controlled and has tended to stay at 10% of the national population. Another reason is the fact that there is no private land or home ownership (officially), so there aren't the endless subdivisions of single-family houses as seen in the US and other countries.

Pyongyang in 1984 showing some of the major areas of future construction. The Mansu Street area is already under development by this time. Image based on Google Earth and Landsat/Copernicus. 

Because of those facts, most residential units are in apartment complexes and single-story multi-family houses. There are three areas that really stand out to me as seeing the most growth and change over time: Ryomyong Street (which recently was 'opened'), Mirae Scientists Street, and the Tongil Street area which has been growing for the entire 30 year period.  A quick comparison of satellite images from 1984 )above) and 2017 (below) clearly shows the expansion of these and other areas, but I will only go into detail for the three I mentioned.

Pyongyang in 2017. You can see the large amount of development in the Tongil and Kwangbok regions as well as other changes such as the construction of the Ryungyong Hotel, the expansion of the Palace of the Sun, and the May Day Stadium which was built in 1989.

I'll begin with Tongil.
Tongil Street is a major road that runs east to west on the southern side of the Taedong River. Planning for the construction of the street (and associated buildings) began in the early 1980s along with several other smaller "street projects" like An San Taek, Munsu, Kwangbok, and Yanggwang streets. However, Tongil didn't see much real construction until 1991 when a speed campaign turned the area from farmland into a booming work site.

The Tongil Street area in 2017. 

As you can see in the 1984 image of Pyongyang, nothing existed in this area at the time. Since construction first began in the 1990s, Tongil Street has undergone almost continual growth. Other areas have also grown out from Tongil and now include the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), Chollima Building Materials Factory, and the Pyongyang Catfish Farm.

Google Earth image of Mirae Street on May 10, 2001.

The next street is Mirae. Mirae runs along the northern bank of the Taedong River, across from Yanggak Island. "Mirae Scientists Street" was developed to house faculty and their families as well as various institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology. The development included over 2,500 apartments and boasts one of the tallest buildings in Pyongyang, the 53-story Mirae Unha Tower. However, many of the apartments on higher floors of the various buildings remain uninhabited due to a lack of electricity to power elevators and heating units, despite being completed in 2015. Additionally, the development came after a 23-story apartment building collapsed, killing dozens of people. These two factors have likely played a role in the slow pace of occupancy.

This brings me to a larger issue that plagues North Korea. The country has relied on Stakhanovite mass-mobilization speed campaigns (like the Chollima Movement) to construct large projects at a neck-break pace. From hydroelectric dams to large buildings, the government forces their completion within a year or two at most (if they get their way) when in reality, these things should take upwards of 5 or 10 years to be done safely. While Pyongyang may now be bustling with rather striking looking and shiny new buildings, the soundness of their construction and long-term safety is deeply questioned.

Google Earth image of Mirae Street on May 1, 2012. You can see some apartment buildings have been built since 2001.

Modern Mirae Scientists Street, also nicknamed "Pyonghattan".

The last major development I am going to focus on is Ryomyong Street, which was only opened in April 2017. Running roughly southwest to northeast, the street connects the 15 April House of Culture and the 92-meter (302 foot) tall Tower of Immortality with Kim Il Sung University and the enormous Palace of the Sun, which now serves as a billion dollar mausoleum for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il's bodies. The new towers offer thousands of additional housing units.

The bright buildings of Ryomyong Street at night along with the newly renovated Tower of Immortality. (Image Source:

Kim Jong Un ordered the construction of the area's redevelopment in March 2016, meaning the multiple residential buildings (including one that has 70 floors), stores, and restaurants were all completed in less than 13 months - which again calls into question the quality and safety of the buildings. There is a second phase of the project, which is still ongoing, that is expanding Kim Il Sung University and constructing new housing further up the street. Funding for the "200 day speed battle" to build the area came (at least in part) from the government's demand that families hand over $50 to pay for it. While $50 may not sound like much to us in the West, it's enough to purchase 80 kg (176 pounds) of rice on the market. It's also the approximate equivalent of 2 weeks pay. These funds are on top of a seemingly never ending demand for "loyalty payments" and other fees citizens are required to regularly come up with.

There has also been inevitable change to the more rural areas of Pyongyang. Multiple small villages have been demolished and rebuilt along more efficient lines. Not only does this help with local housing shortages and the badly needed replacement of dilapidated homes, but the greater efficiency of the layout results in more usable farm land in the aggregate, even if it's just a few added acres here and there. 

Some of the rural areas with newer housing.

Here is a close-up example of the demolishing of a small village, with its older housing and more haphazard layout, and at the same time, the construction of modern houses in another village about a kilometer northeast.

Unnamed village in Pyongyang that was demolished in 2017.

Finally, here's a map showing many of the areas of Pyongyang that have experienced major new construction or redevelopment since 2009 (includes some industrial areas). I chose 2009 because that was the first year after Kim Jong Il's stroke and the year Kim Jong Un officially began to be groomed to take over for his father.

Pyongyang, like the rest of the country, continues to grow despite sanctions or the highly unstable and wasteful model of having parallel military and domestic economies which has governed the country since the early days of Kim Il Sung. The rise of markets and an unofficial middle class means that there is more individual interest in living in nice apartments - and that there's money to go around to make construction happen. Additionally, Kim Jong Un is keen to make his mark in all areas of concern, with major construction projects being seen in every large city across the country. Kim III will undoubtedly go down in history as the man who brought North Korea's nuclear program to completion, but he will likely also be noted for spending billions on national construction; perhaps the largest builder since his grandfather. However, history will also mark whether or not all of the energy and wealth poured into these projects was worth it, or if it had no net positive effect on the people and only served to drain badly needed resources as the skyscrapers of Pyonghattan eventually collapsed one by one.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/25/2017

Additional reading
1. 2008 DPRK Census Report (PDF)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Possible NK Atmospheric Nuclear Test

North Korea is the only country to have tested nuclear weapons since 1998, when India and Pakistan both held their final underground tests, and all of North Korea's six nuclear tests have been carried out underground at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site beneath Mantap Mountain (which is adjacent to the Hwasong Concentration Camp).

The firing of the Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Nov. 28, 2017. Image from Rodong Sinmun.

Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs have become incredibly advanced and the speed of their accomplishments have often taken analysts by surprise. The development of these systems has occurred under the "two-track" or byungjin philosophy which seeks to develop the country's nuclear program and domestic economy in parallel. While their economy creeks along, it is becoming apparent that their nuclear and ballistic missile programs have been able to become largely self-sufficient and are produced with indigenous materials and technology.

The September 2017 nuclear test was their largest test by far with a yield estimated to have been between 100 and 250 kilotons, which places it several times larger than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. Furthermore, it is possible that the tested device was a hydrogen bomb and that the warhead could have a variable yield, allowing North Korea to "dial" up or down the warhead's power.

On the ballistic front, their November 2017 test of the Hwasong-15 ICBM showed that they could theoretically hit any part of the United States (and a majority of the rest of the world). While questions remain about the missile's ability to survive reentry, there is no doubt that this is a huge step forward. Its size, range, and changes to the reentry vehicle over the Hwasong-14, all point to a program that is rapidly nearing completion.

At this point you may be asking what all of this has to do with the title? In October 2017, North Korea's Foreign Minister, Ri Yong Ho, said that Kim Jong Un was committed to testing a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere. And rumors of such a test have been heard prior to this statement, too. Atmospheric nuclear testing was last carried out in 1980, by China. The US, Soviet Union, and UK each ended their atmospheric testing in 1963 with the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT).

North Korea's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in red, South Korea's in green. Data from Marine Regions.

The purpose of such a test would be, ostensibly, to prove their ability to attach a nuclear warhead to a missile and then to fire it off toward the sea and have it detonate - demonstrating they are indeed a fully capable nuclear weapons state. Any test would have to be carried out within the limits of North Korea's territorial waters, or at a maximum, its exclusive economic zone. Firing a nuclear missile outside of their EEZ would trigger a major world crisis the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Korean War.
Of course such a test (regardless of whether or not it occurred within their own territory) would likely permanently alter regional relations, could easily drive China out of whatever remaining alliance with the DPRK they have, spur Japan into full-on re-militarization, and could even lead to an attack on the North by either South Korea or the US. It's also highly unlikely that the US would sit idly by and watch as North Korea mounted a nuke onto a missile and fire it. So the chances of an atmospheric test are rather low in my estimation.

Beyond the geopolitical implications, the environmental impact would also undo progress toward addressing the radioactive genie that was released after the Trinity Test in 1945.

Atmospheric testing releases huge amounts of radiation into the environment. A 2013 study that looked at atmospheric radiocarbon showed that 2010 levels were at their lowest since the late 1950s, with the PTBT being the seminal moment when radiocarbon rates began to sharply decline.

Chart showing the percentage of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere from 1950-2010. (Source: Atmospheric Radiocarbon for the Period 1950–2010)

Above ground tests (atmospheric or otherwise) also release large amounts of radioactive Iodine, Strontium, Uranium (obviously), Caesium, Xenon, and other radionuclides. The half-lives of these materials range from a few hours (as in the case of Xenon) to hundreds of years and longer. Above ground testing can throw radioactive particles as high as 50 miles into the atmosphere where they will then be carried by the winds for many miles (with minute amounts traveling the globe) until they eventually settle back down to the ground and sea where they will continue to release radiation for years to come. Local radioactive fallout can extend in a plum easily over 100 miles long, placing each regional nation at risk of receiving fallout depending on the specifics of the test and weather conditions at the time.

All of these risks - the overt threats to South Korea, Japan, and the US, the dangers of spreading fallout over Chinese or Russian territory, etc. - are why I hold strong doubts that North Korea would ever conduct an above ground test. However, while thinking on the subject, I also considered what ground locations may exist that North Korea could use to conduct an old-school non-atmospheric above ground test.

Analysts have determined that the Punggye-ri test site may have experienced tremendous damage, particularly as a result of the latest test. While activity at other tunnels around the site has been seen, continued nuclear testing greatly raises the risk of a major collapse and release of radioactive materials. So the next best thing may be an above ground test.

Possible suitable locations for an above ground nuclear test.

I searched for the criterion of a 12-mile diameter circle (an "exclusion zone") that didn't overlap with any populated areas or, in the case of islands, that didn't overlap another island group or cross onto the mainland, and that wasn't too close to China or Russia. I was able to locate four such places. Three of which are islands/group of islets, and one is the Punggye-ri site itself. Punggye-ri is isolated enough that there are no cities or towns within the 12-mile circle and the nearby concentration camp (with its thousands of prisoners) would partially be protected from the immediate radioactive fallout effects by the mountain itself.

The other three sites are far enough away from the coast and any populated islands that the civilian population would be safe from the actual blast of a nuclear device, so long as it wasn't too large. These sites also have the added benefit of being within North Korea's internationally accepted territorial claims, which would give Pyongyang some degree of diplomatic cover.

We can only wait and see if Kim Jong Un thinks it's worthwhile to set off a nuclear device in the open, be it fired from a missile into the sea, set off on an island, or even detonated in the ocean from a barge, but one thing we can be sure of is now that he has a bomb and a missile, he won't be giving them up for cheap.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/12/2017

Additional Reading
1. Nuclear Weapons Testing and Environmental Consequences: A Global Perspective, Remus Prăvălie, February 2014 (Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Is North Korea's Prison System Far Larger than Expected?

By now, nearly everyone in the Western world has heard about North Korea's collection of massive prison camps. There are 10 known "re-education" camps and six concentration camps in the country, all holding around 200,000 prisoners. However, there are estimates that there may be another 10 re-education camps and there are other smaller prisons as well.

Locations of North Korea's main prison camps.

An October 2017 report by The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) titled, The Parallel Gulag, details a system of prisons that operate through the Ministry of People's Security and are called "an-jeon-bu". The report focuses on 22 possible sites. But something that really caught my eye was the design of these sites.

Within the #AccessDPRK Map are over 1,000 "compounds". These are generally unspecified groups of buildings or walled-off compounds. I didn't know what they were for certain but they occurred with such regularity that I felt it was important to map as many as I could. They could be small factories, perhaps barracks or police stations, food distribution centers, or even jails. The places within the "compound" classification vary widely in their configurations, but a good many seemed to follow the same basic design.

Here are a few satellite images of sites discussed in The Parallel Gulag.

The site above was identified by HRNK as Kyo-hwa-so No. 2 and is located at 39°52'5.88"N 124°44'59.48"E near Tongrim, North Pyongan Province.

The site above was identified by HRNK as Kyo-hwa-so No. 88 and is located at  39°11'58.80"N 127°20'44.93"E between Munchon and Wonsan.

And this site was identified by HRNK as a likely jail in Sangtong-ri (40° 5'35.61"N 127°21'26.26"E) in South Hamgyong Province.

This next set of Google Earth images show a few of the "compounds" that were mapped as part of #AccessDPRK.

This is a site in Kangwon Province and is located at 39°13'41.87"N 127°20'22.79"E

Back in April 2017, I took to Twitter and asked people what they thought these places were. I received several suggestions, but most said they were probably associated with agriculture or food distribution. And we do know that grain warehouses and distribution points are well guarded. However, defector testimony has also revealed that during the famine many places were set up as detention centers to handle the huge number of orphaned children. The government simply took over any available buildings it needed and converted them to this use. They were described as little better than prisons in terms of design and security. If you have no food but need secure buildings, former food distribution centers may have filled the role. Of course how long the regime continued to use them for this purpose, or if they were changed to serve as another type of detention center isn't known.

With the publication of The Parallel Gulag, we can now definitively say that North Korea's system of concentration and labor camps, prisons, and local detention facilities is much larger than many realized. Considering I knew of so many similar facilities throughout the country, I reached out to North Korea analyst Joseph S. Bermudez (who also aided in the analysis of satellite imagery for the HRNK report). I gave him a small list of sites I had mapped and he gave me his opinion on each one. Depending on the site, he felt the group of compounds was a mix of detention facilities, barracks for local military/paramilitary units, and agricultural related facilities.

Map showing the 505 sites of interest located.

Without further study and defector testimony, we may never know precisely what each of these locations are. However, I have located 505 such sites all over North Korea, which would mean there is a full order of magnitude more of these sites than fully functional hospitals in the whole of the country. With stories of "orphan jails", the now revealed parallel system of jails, the knowledge of historical "black sites" (like "The Barn"), and the highly secretive nature of the regime, it's safe to bet that at least some of these facilities are previously unknown prisons.

Here is a map of all the sites. If you open it up in Google Maps, you can save it as a KML for Google Earth as well.

If you have any additional information on any of these sites, please let me know!

--Jacob Bogle, 11/2/17

Saturday, September 16, 2017

NoKo's Underground Nuclear Nightmare

UPDATE: On October 31, 2017, Japanese media are reporting that a large tunnel collapse occurred at the site, killing around 200 people. This has yet to be confirmed.

On September 3, 2017, North Korea conducted its sixth and largest (by far) nuclear test. North Korea's only nuclear test site is Punggye-ri in North Hamgyong Province. At this point I want to say that this post is speculative in nature and that there is little concrete evidence to support what I am suggesting. However, there is anecdotal evidence and a logic to it. Enough so that I feel this is worth discussing.

The main tunnel at Punggyi-ri also happens to be less than 2 miles away from the boundaries of the Hwasong concentration camp (Kwan-li-so 16).

The apparent location (based on USGS information) of this most recent nuclear test lies a mere 0.3 miles (0.5 km) away form the camp fence, and North Korea's first test in 2006 appeared to have taken place inside the camp itself (underground, of course).

I believe the proximity of Punggye-ri and Camp 16 (with its 20,000 prisoners)  may be important.

There are multiple reports by defectors (including testimony by Ahn Myong-chol, a former guard at Camp 22), that North Korea has a history of using prisoners in medical experiments, including testing chemical weapons, as well as prison labor for the construction of sensitive military facilities, including underground sites.

Based on the relative locations[n1] of each of the nuclear tests, the underground tunnel system is massive, with the majority of test sites more than 3 miles away from the main tunnel entrance. The Sept. 3, 2017 test is almost 5 miles away! This means lots and lots of tunneling work.

A few small mounds of debris can be seen at the entrances of the various tunnel entrances, however, the amount of debris is no where near enough as would be required for excavating a tunnel a mile long, let alone multiple tunnels. A very basic tunnel 1 mile long, six feet tall, and six feet wide would create 190,080 cubic feet of material. However, an image released by North Korean TV suggests their tunnels aren't simply a straight line (which could easily become disastrous during testing).

This suggests that the North Koreans are using material from new tunnels to back fill the old tunnels after each nuclear test, as the growth of the outside debris mounds do not entirely reflect the growth that would be needed if they were dumping all of the excavated materials outside. The fact radioisotopes can be detected outside of the country after some tests, shows that their testing site is far from sealed, thus it would be necessary to mitigate the slow continual release of radiation by filling up used tunnels with the material taken to construct new ones. Unfortunately, the discovery of visible changes to the surface of the mountain raises the likelihood that further releases of radiation will happen.

Back to Hwasong, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the regime is taking advantage of this nearby and captive workforce to do the difficult and dangerous task of constructing these testing tunnels. There is a fair amount of evidence that prisoners are used to construct the thousands of tunnels and underground facilities that have turned much of North Korea's ground into Swiss cheese. And, there are even occasional but brief comments that can be found in media sources that touch on the idea of these prisoners being used to do the hard work at Punggye-ri.

Average citizens are subjected to terrible conditions in the country's coal mines, and even in uranium mines and enrichment facilities safety is practically nonexistent, with workers developing multiple radiation-related illnesses. Political prisoners on the other hand aren't even considered citizens. Their very title of "human" appears to vanish along with every right and privilege that otherwise exists in North Korea.

Using these men to dig, repair, and fill the tunnels has several benefits to the regime. Here are four benefits that immediately come to mind:

1) The government doesn't have to worry about paying wages or properly feeding them, saving large sums of money.
2) There are no families to deal with whenever a loved one comes home with a shattered leg or dying from radiation exposure (or coming home in a body bag).
3) Due to the way such prisoners are managed, using them provides a large level of greater secrecy and security. Even loyal soldiers may inadvertently spill sensitive information to friends or family. Who are slave laborers living behind electrified fences going to tell?
4) Using expendable lives saves the lives of more valuable people.

We do know that the tunneling process itself is fairly basic. North Korea doesn't have the ability to employ the large modern mining or tunneling equipment other industrial countries have. Using dynamite, hand tools, brute force, and small carts to carry away rocks is about all they have. Satellite imagery confirms this is true at Punggye-ri, too, as the simple equipment can clearly be identified.

Beyond the horrors associated with working hour after hour and week after week near incredibly toxic mixes of radiation and heavy metals, there are also dangers faced by nearby populations.

The northern part of Korea has always been neglected. This was the case during the historic dynastic period and was the case during North Korea's famine - when supplies were cut off and redirected to the more "important" capital region. Punggye-ri is located in the northernmost province. Of North Hamgyong's 2.5 million inhabitants, nearly 2 million lie directly east and north of the nuclear site, which means any radiation release will spread to those areas on wind currents.

Absent full-on containment failure, where plumes of material is tossed into the atmosphere, partial failures can still release Cesium-137, Iodine-131, and Strontium-90, all of which can spread by the wind and contaminate the ground (and thus the grass, which in turn will contaminate any animals eating that grass and eventually the people eating the animals). Seepage of Krypton-85 and Xenon-133 through cracks in the mountain can also contaminate the area. Krypton-85 has a half-life of 10.7 years, meaning if any was released by the first nuclear test back in 2006, half of it is still hanging around. To add context and bring this closer to home, the National Cancer Institute published a study in 1997 that showed 2,800 cases of thyroid cancer in the US each year can be attributed to our own nuclear tests during the "underground era" (1962-92).

Continuing research by 38 North suggests that major fractures may have developed in the mountain, and that further large-yield nuclear tests could severely destabilize the site and release enormous amounts of radioactive debris.

We may never know for certain if prison labor was used to build these miles of tunnels and what, if any, effects have happened as a result of radiation contamination, but the fact there's enough anecdotal evidence and internal logic to support the basis of this post is very disturbing. The world already knows about the routine torture, rape, murder, forced abortions, and starvation that goes on in North Korea's prison camps. The world knows about the lasting harm to people living in the US and on small Pacific islands near nuclear testing sites. I don't see what's so difficult about expecting that the two scenarios would merge in North Korea when all of the pieces are laying in front of us.

--Jacob Bogle, 9/16/17

1. All of the locations are based on coordinates given by the United States Geological Survey. These coordinates are only approximate and may be off by over a mile.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

North Korea's Sacrificial Islands

When North Korea isn't firing intermediate and long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from highways and hidden factories, they're firing hellish amounts of smaller artillery. For the past several years, some of the recipients of these displays of military might have been two small islands off the coast of Wonsan.

The islands of So (So-do) and Hwangto (Hwangto-do) have been pummeled multiple times. Most recently in April and August 2017, December 2016, and March 2016. This video, originally from the Korean Central News Agency, discusses the August drills and shows images of the islands.

English-dubbed Video Source: StimmeKoreas

Both islands lie off the Kalma Peninsula, which is where the Kalma Airport is located (North Korea's recently modernized airport). Kalma is also the site of two rocket launch pads and has seen at least one failed rocket test.

So Island is approx. 6.7 km east of the tip of Kalma (among a small group of islands) and, farther south, Hwangto Island is 2.45 km east of the beach. At the tip of the peninsula are several villas, a sanitarium, and a possible hotel.

(Click on images for larger view)

Without further ado, here are the island martyrs.

So Island has a more recent history. Prior to 2014, the island appears to have served as a small outpost, perhaps for local fisherman. It contained a few buildings on the western side, and the rest was left alone. The buildings were demolished in late 2014.

So Island is a mere 460 meters by 293 meters at its widest points. As noted earlier, So Island was the target of an artillery drill in December 2016. The image below shows the results of that barrage.

This is a picture from the Korean Central News Agency showing the island being hit during the 2017 drill. The large island seen the background is Sin-do.

Image Source:

Next is Hwangto Island, which has a longer history of being a bombardment target.

Hwangto is slightly larger than So at 587 meters by 295 meters. In the image below, shelling damage can be seen from a drill that occurred not too long before May 17, 2011. There is also a small building that has been demolished. 

On both islands, the structures seem to have been manually demolished rather than destroyed as a result of artillery. 

The above image shows the various prepared firing positions along the beach at Kalma. These sites are angled to line up with the the target on Hwangto Island.

In this KCTV picture from April 2017, the firepower displayed is rather impressive. An estimated 400 pieces of artillery were used.

The below image is the most recent on Google Earth. Dated Dec. 8, 2016, you can see the damage done from additional artillery drills as well as a new target. That target was used during the April 2017 drill.

Thanks to the support of OpenDPRK, I can now show you the results of this recent onslaught. 

The largest craters are 10-13 meters in diameter. 

These displays of might happen a few times each year and usually coincide with major holidays or as a response to US-ROK drills. 

I wonder how many more artillery drills it will take before the cliffs at So Island collapse?

--Jacob Bogle, 8/30/2017