Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finding Fraud Behind Facade: Google-Mapping North Korea

"A Glimpse at North Korea"
Glimpse of? Glance at?
(Image from Wall Street Journal)

Although I've used Google Maps to locate my family home back in the Ozarks and check the unimpressive elevations of some of the local knobs and high points around my hometown and even to look at some of the old swimming holes in the creeks where I used to play, I'm not truly proficient.

Not like Curtis Melvin.

Melvin is a doctoral student at George Mason University who uses Google Earth to download photographs of sites in North Korea.

Sites like the palatial mansion of North Korea's 'Beloved Leader' Kim Jong-il:
The vast complexes of Mr. Kim and other North Korean leaders are visible, with palatial homes, pools, even a water slide . . . . Mr. Melvin says the images also make clear the gulf between the lives of Mr. Kim and his impoverished people. "Once you start mapping the power plants and substations and wires, you can connect the infrastructure with the elite compounds," Mr. Melvin says. "And then you see towns that have no power supply at all." (Ramstad, "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide")
We've long known about this sort of thing in North Korea, but looking at the images gives focus to one's anger at an elite that lives in huge mansions and passes its leisure time on enormous playgrounds as the common people starve because the country can mass produce only empty rhetoric about its egalitarian paradise.

For the visual evidence, go to the slideshow, and take a look there at the elite's water slide (Nr. 3), at Kim Jong-il's own personal golf course (Nr. 7), and at one or another of King Kim's palatial homes (Nr. 8).

You can see all this and more by way of Evan Ramstad's article "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide: Citizen Spies Lift North Korea's Veil," which appears in the Wall Street Journal's May 22nd issue. How do Curtis Melvin and his band of citizen spies create these maps? Ramstad tells us:
Mr. Melvin is at the center of a dozen or so citizen snoops who have spent the past two years filling in the blanks on the map of one of the world's most secretive countries. Seeking clues in photos, news reports and eyewitness accounts, they affix labels to North Korean structures and landscapes captured by Google Earth, an online service that stitches satellite pictures into a virtual globe. The result is an annotated North Korea of rocket-launch sites, prison camps and elite palaces on white-sand beaches. (Ramstad, "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide")
Mr. Melvin is an astute observer who notices details in unexpected ways and uses these to fill in his map:
The recent report of Mr. Kim at the hydroelectric station in Wonsan, for example, showed Mr. Kim looking at a painting of the complex. Mr. Melvin studied the painting, noticing it depicted a unique pattern of roads. He then spotted the roads on the satellite image, along with the giant pipes, and added the station to his map. (Ramstad, "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide")
Mr. Melvin and his associates call what they do "democratized intelligence." They are accomplishing some of the more important work in what is being done among the bloggers and other internet users all over the world who are engaged in unofficial distributed intelligence work.

You can learn more about Mr. Melvin's project by going to his website, North Korean Economy Watch, which I have only just learned about through Sonagi's report over at the Marmot's fine blog -- so a big hat tip to Sonagi, the Marmot, Joshua Stanton, Evan Ramstad, Curtis Melvin and all those involved in exposing the fraud behind the facade in North Korea.

Now if we can just persuade South Korea's 'progressives' to look through this 'telescope' and see the truth.

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At 6:43 AM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

That's priceless. I just love it. Too bad it isn't so easy to give the suffering poor of NK a break.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, it is too bad. Sometimes, we can do what needs to be done only slowly and indirectly.

Jeffery Hodges

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