The fact that North Korea is a monstrous tyranny is well-known. Google Earth is helping map that tyranny in extraordinary detail, from the opulent palaces of the elite to the horrid labor camps for the victims.
US researchers are using the internet to reveal what life is really like behind the closed borders of the world’s last Stalinist dictatorship
The most comprehensive picture of what goes on inside the secret state of North Korea has emerged from an innovative US project. The location of extraordinary palaces, labour camps and the mass graves of famine victims have all been identified. The online operation that has penetrated the world’s last remaining iron curtain is called North Korea Uncovered. Founded by Curtis Melvin, a postgraduate student at George Mason University, Virginia, it uses Google Earth, photographs, academic and specialist reports and a global network of contributors who have visited or studied the country. Mr Melvin says the collaborative project is an example of “democratised intelligence”. He is the first to emphasise that the picture is far from complete, but it is, until the country opens up, the best we have.
The palatial residences of the political elite are easy to identify as they are in sharp contrast to the majority of housing in the deeply impoverished state. Though details about many palaces’ names, occupants and uses are hard to verify, it is known that such buildings are the exclusive domain of Kim Jong-Il, his family and his top political aides. Kim Jong-Il is believed to have between 10 and 17 palaces, many of which have been spotted on Google Earth:
1) Mansion complex near Pyongyang
This may be Kim Jong-Il’s main residence. His father lived here surrounded by the huge, ornate gardens and carefully designed network of lakes. Tree-lined paths lead to a swimming pool with a huge water slide, and next to the complex there is a full-size racetrack with a viewing stand and arena. There is a cluster of other large houses around the mansion, forming an enclosed, elite community. It appears to be reached via an underground station on a private railway which branches off from the main line.
The new technology is creating a new variant to the old saying: you can run, but you can’t hide. Tyrants can run their countries but they can’t hide their abuses.
We still have yet to figure out how to toss thugs like Kim Jong-il into history’s trashcan. But better understanding their crimes is an important part of the process.