The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


C.S.I.: Yanji

As we await the first TV interview with Laura Ling and Euna Lee (most likely @current) about what exactly happened on the North Korean-Chinese border, it’s worth at this point briefly revisiting and clarifying what we do appear to know about the fateful circumstances of March 17th.

Time of arrest: Records show that the sunrise for that area of China on March 17th was 5:34 a.m. The full, longer Korean-language account of Ling and Lee’s arrest issued by KCNA states that the pair were apprehended at around 6:00 a.m. local time, not 2:00 am3:00 a.m. as was widely initially reported and still to this day propagated in some articles. Presumably, Ling, Lee and Koss chose to count on the very early morning light for their brief border excursion, but what this crucially means is that the pair of North Korean border guards who apprehended them did so in daylight, not the middle of a dark night.

The Reverend’s phone calls: Durihana’s Reverend Chun, who helped organize the China trip and recommended the guide, spoke with Euna Lee at approximately 3:00 a.m. and then again around 6:00 a.m. on the morning of March 17th. But since he is based in Seoul, he was an hour ahead of the reporting team. E.g., Euna took those calls at 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. local time.

At the time of the 2:00 a.m. call, she and her colleagues were in Yanji, China, wrapping up interviews with women involved in the sex industry. And according to Chinese media, during the 5:00 a.m. call Reverend Chun suggested they go to the Tumen River border area. The Reverend also claims that he told them not to do anything further (e.g. actually go up to the border, or cross) until they spoke to him again.

Point of crossing: Though I previously blogged that Ling and Lee crossed right at Mapai Village, further research indicates that it was actually a spot in Yueqing, an area between Mapai Village and the town of Tumen. It is roughly a 45-minute drive from Yanji to the border, so arriving presumably around 5:45 a.m. – and perhaps encouraged by the guide – they chose to venture to a spot on the Tumen River. The KCNA release designates the area as North Hamgyong . (A satellite map of the area can be accessed via the previous blog post “Mapai Marks the Spot”)

The non-existent courtyard: The KCNA report claims that the voiceover narration of the seized video materials stated “We are now entering North Korean territory without permission.” Somehow, one or more media outlets, in their haste to spread the news of North Korea’s official version of the trial details, mistranslated that into a “courtyard.” The error was later rectified, but some still bring this up today, so just to confirm, there was no courtyard.

Materials: According again to the Korean language version of the KCNA trial details release, Ling, Lee and Koss flew to China on March 9th with $9,950 U.S. and declared themselves to be computer experts with “Current Holding.” They visited the DMZ in South Korea on March 11th and then arrived in Yanji on March 13th. When seized by the border guards, they surrendered one video camera (the one operated by Euna), six videotapes, a digital camera, one “souvenir” stone, 17 photos and two multimedia information notebooks.

Does this mean that after being questioned and released by Chinese border authorities, Mitch Koss returned to the U.S. with the other video camera and footage? If so, and if that is ever broadcast, it would obviously provide an incendiary final image to go along with the Burbank Airport celebration scene of August 5th.


Filed under: Euna Lee, Laura Ling, Mitchell Koss

10 Responses

  1. Frank Kim says:

    Thanks for the CSI post. I can’t wait to learn more about what happened.

  2. Glans says:

    Where can I get an English translation of the full KCNA report?

  3. Spelunker says:

    CASE CLOSED!! Look what I just found:

    Selected excerpts from the above linked article:

    Video footage shot by two TV journalists who were detained in North Korea after filming on the Chinese border was used by China to round up on North Korean refugees. China also deported one South Korean human rights activist who is seen in the footage and closed five orphanages that had protected North Korean children.

    The claims were made Thursday by Lee Chan-woo (71), a pastor with the Durihana Mission, a South Korean organization that aids North Korean defectors. Lee was caught and deported by Chinese police for helping the two reporters, who worked for former U.S. vice president Al Gore’s Internet news channel Current TV.

    Lee said Laura Ling, Euna Lee and a man named Mitch Koss met him at a hotel in Yanji, in China’s Jilin Province, on March 14. They said they wanted to gather information about North Korean women who were working in adult videos at the North Korean-Chinese border area and on other North Korean women who were sold into the Chinese countryside.

    The journalists filmed North Korean women at the border. They crossed the border and were arrested by North Korean soldiers on March 17. Ling and Lee were taken to North Korea, but Koss made it back and was arrested by Chinese border guards and handed over the video footage he was carrying.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Perhaps the better CAPS slug now is CASE REOPENED! With more of this to come quite possibly from the North Korean side (via the separate camera seized from Euna Lee), this greatly complicates the legacy of Ling-Lee-Koss and puts them on perhaps a very different path as far as trying to repair the damage.

  4. Spelunker says:

    Here is the original Korean version of the Chosun Ilbo article mentioned above:

    After Google translating the Korean version of Chosun Ilbo’s article into English, I found this small discrepancy at the end:

    Mitch Koss in a telephone interview with Chosun Ilbo reporter, “I can not say anything yet,” he said.

    Contrast this with what appears on Chosun’s English version:
    Koss declined to comment.

    The key word “yet” in the Korean version leaves open the possibility that Mitch might be getting ready to say something in the future, while the English version simply offers us the standard “no comment” line.

    I still can’t find this article on Chosun Ilbo’s Chinese language website. I wonder why there is no Chinese version.

    • liberatelaura says:

      That is an interesting nuance. Perhaps Koss wants to wait until Ling-Lee speak or Op Ed first. (He says as much in an 8/21 @NYTimes article.)

  5. Spelunker says:

    Radio Free Asia’s article reports that Mitch Koss was indeed standing on China’s side of the border filming his female colleagues before Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested on North Korean territory. This supports the theory that Laura and Euna crossed onto a sandbar belonging to North Korea in close proximity to China’s shore of the Tumen River, which could have been done on a whim though we await the forthcoming truth from Laura’s editorial this week.

    However it is reported in this RFA article that the objective was only to gather border area footage, a task that could have been safely done in Dandong where they were scheduled to go on that fateful day.….

    SEOUL—Authorities in northeast China seized video footage shot by two U.S. journalists who were arrested by North Korea while investigating the plight of North Korean defectors in China, human rights workers said.

    According to the North Korea Freedom Coalition, a cameraman working with Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling was still on the Chinese side of the border when the two women were arrested, and the footage he carried is now in the possession of Chinese authorities.

    Ling and Lee, who had admitted violating North Korean law in an attempt to shoot television footage, were pardoned and flew home in early August after a personal visit to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

  6. David Kellas says:

    spelunker, thanks for that man, i would never known otherwise, it will help me with my school project. cheers mate

  7. adamcathcart says:

    Certainly some are aware of this (not least the prolific and provocative Spelunker), but Joshua Stanton’s blog has a thread regarding this topic that some people may find helpful:

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