The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Primed for an Op-Education

As we inch towards Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s promised Op Ed, I thought it might be useful to run through some of the questions I am hoping will be answered. The journalists’ guide is reportedly still in Chinese custody, while cameraman-producer Mitch Koss recently told @NYTimes that he will withhold comment until after Euna and Laura have their say.

1) What did the good Reverend really say?: Though Durihana Reverend Chun Ki-won has repeatedly claimed that he warned Ling, Lee and Koss against crossing the North KoreaChina border when he last spoke to Euna, one has to wonder why a mother would ignore such advice if it was given. Recent revelations about the Reverend have cast further aspersions on the purity of his Seoul soul, so it all starts with what was said over the telephone to Euna in the pre-dawn hours of March 17th.

2) How was the particular border location chosen?: Assuming Ling, Lee and Koss decided on a whim to venture to the frozen Tumen River, it becomes paramount to understand how the specific location was agreed upon, since the well-patrolled spot (on both sides) suggests subterfuge on the part of the guide. Was this the pre-agreed upon destination? Or was it the result of a last-minute decision?

3) What kind of footage was Laura seeking?: Much speculation surrounds the fact that for a story about the trafficking of female refugees, a visual of the stark North KoreaChina border qualifies – at best – as non-essential B-roll. But Laura must have had a good journalistic reason to want to include footage from the Tumen River borderline. What was it?

4) Where exactly were Ling and Lee apprehended?: When the U.S. State Department confirmed on June 12th that Ling and Lee had crossed the borderline, they reported that the entire incident took place within a few dozen meters. Meanwhile, the earliest CNN International reports of the arrest quoted South Korean intelligence as saying the women were seen fleeing back towards the Chinese side. How close to the borderline did they get back to? And how quickly did the Chinese border authorities show up? Was there a standoff between the two sides?

5) What was the exact nature of Ling and Lee’s interrogation?: When Ling and Lee were carted away from the March 17th arrest site, they were separately interrogated by parties unknown. How harsh was the process? Who was involved? It may well turn out that this phase of the episode, rather than the border arrest and bad-motel equivalent detainment, will prove to be the most egregious once all details are known.


Filed under: Euna Lee, Laura Ling, Mitchell Koss

33 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    Given that it wasn’t Lee’s idea to cross the border and her role as Ling’s sidekick, it seems to me like she was pressured into going along, either unconsciously or consciously.

    The nature of their interrogations is a good question. Since they were bargaining chips for North Korea, they wouldn’t be subject to anything that would show physically (beatings, electric shock, bodily injury), and waterboarding is too risky. My guess is that they weren’t allowed to use the toilet during interrogation until they confessed (possibly exacerbated by each being put in a hot interrogation room and offered plenty of water to drink) or were deprived of sleep.

  2. Frank Kim says:

    I think another question to ask is why Ling, Koss and Lee, regardless of their intentions, brought highly sensitive material with them to the border. Why didn’t they leave it in Yanji or somewhere else?

    • liberatelaura says:

      As I tweeted the other day, the fact that they had all those materials on them may indicate that it was indeed a last minute, unplanned excursion.

      • Jeremy says:

        Either that or Current TV was too cheap to provide them with the resources to properly store the materials (not to mention the channel has been hemorrhaging money since Day One).

        Since Mitch Koss arguably had the most sensitive material on him, perhaps that’s why he stayed on the Chinese side of the border. Too bad he didn’t count on the KPA border guards contacting the PAP on the other side (who do speak Korean, by the way) when he made a run for it.

  3. Bart says:

    “But Laura must have had a good journalistic reason to want to include footage from the Tumen River borderline. What was it?”

    Oh please. Have you seen her pieces on Current? Many of them have her doing a stand-up or to-camera “I’m here in SCARY PLACE”. That’s what she was going to do, betcha.

    Lisa Ling used to do that stuff as well, in her Channel One days.

    • Jeremy says:

      It’s been mentioned here before that Laura Ling’s stock and trade is “toe-touch journalism.”

      I never really noticed that with Lisa Ling, however.

      • liberatelaura says:

        Having watched most if not all of Laura Ling’s reports, I think that is a lazy accusation or at least one driven more by an overall non-fondness of her reporting style.

        She streams-of-consciousness as she roams, and whatever comes out (first take) is what we see. Could it be more polished? Perhaps, but that is not the intention or subtext of her stuff.

  4. Spelunker says:

    Well, here it is: Friday afternoon and still not a word from Laura or Euna. Now we twiddle our thumbs and Twitter yet another speculative post on the circumstances of March 17. Maybe Laura is just waiting for us to write the dadgum editorial for her; she could certainly copy and paste enough material from this blog.

    1. The Rev:
    He probably had one more interview for them to do at Mapai village. He would not have told them to go to the Tumen River to film border footage because he suggested they do that at their next destination (Dandong).

    2. Border blunder:
    You can see the Tumen River from your vehicle when driving between Tumen and Yueqing. It is not unreasonable to assume that they stopped on a whim either en route to Mapai or on the way back. The Current TV crew could have said “Hey, let’s stop here and film some footage” or the guide might have made the whimsical suggestion with his poor English: “We now stop-stop, make movie chop-chop; here China, there North Korea, you go OK, ….”

    3. Intent:
    One good journalistic reason to cross the border on a whim? I’ve got two words for you: …..
    “souvenir stone”
    Mitch knew where to stand! You can film the Tumen River border area without stepping off the safety of China’s shoreline. You can do it near the town of Tumen or the village of Mapai or just about anywhere in the vicinity of Yueqing, but somebody wanted a really cool paperweight for their Vanguard office desk.

    I can confirm that the temptation to cross the border from China to North Korea is difficult to resist. Tourists used to do it all the time at Hushan near Dandong. There are videos on YouTube from people who have done it there just for fun; leaping across and then jumping back.
    Some linger and loiter a bit longer; one guy stayed long enough to urinate on North Korean soil. I tried to find that particular video just now but unfortunately it has been deleted.

    Anyway, this is the question that is keeping us waiting. How does Laura legitimize a whim? Like there could be a serious reason for crossing the border? This part of Laura’s deposition is going to get the most scrutiny and there’s no way she can skip it.
    But, Spelunker, didn’t the guide trick them? No.
    But, Spelunker, maybe they got lost? No way.
    But, Spelunker, they were reporting on a story.
    What story? Interview with a N. Korean sentry?
    Are you kidding?

    4. Where exactly?
    I don’t believe they were within reach of China’s border, like the legendary end of Super Bowl XXXIV when the Rams linebacker tackled the Titans receiver just inches from the goal line.

    5. Interrogation techniques
    Forgive me for not being interested in this aspect. I want to know everything that happened leading up to the actual arrest, let Dick Cheney provide analysis for the the ensuing consequences across the border in North Korea.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Certainly, the reason why Ling chose to step across the border is what it all comes down to. And no matter what that reason is, for many – especially in light of new revelations about the price paid by those revealed in their materials – it will not be good enough.

  5. Bart says:

    Laura Ling’s audience are young people who don’t watch big news and trust feelings and opinions more than facts, thus the “stream of consciousness” of her work. I’ll bet the North Korean footage was more of the same.

  6. adamcathcart says:

    A new report from Daily NK includes more specific allegations about the North Korean personnel involved in snatching Laura Ling and Euna Lee. I include a few caveats in my analysis, but readers of this site will, I assume, want to check it out:

    • liberatelaura says:

      Yes, I tweeted this article earlier @LiberateLaura, and certainly the revelations of what the Chinese did with the seized footage of cameraman Mitch Koss reminds us that they are as ruthless as North Korea when it comes to dealing with the refugee problem.

      Also, the fact that the Chinese border authorities still allegedly have in custody the guide who accompanied Ling, Lee and Koss raises all kinds of questions: What has he been charged with? Do the Chinese not want him telling his side of the story? ..

  7. Spelunker says:

    Regarding the Twitter post, what does “around the corner” mean in reference to the Op Ed? Which corner? When? It is already overdue.
    Is Lisa Ling going on Oprah September 11 as a “newsmaker” when in fact it was her sister who made the news by stepping across the border?
    When will Laura speak for herself?
    Please elaborate for the benefit of mankind.

  8. adamcathcart says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on the Tweet. Is there a way to access your Twitter posts from this page or run them as another sidebar under your blogroll?

  9. adamcathcart says:

    Nevermind — found it on your blog’s homepage. Specific posts don’t run the Twitter feed, but it’s there, plain as day, on the homepage.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Went ahead and added the Twitter feed to the secondary pages of this blog, as many jump straight into a specific post. Thanks.

  10. Spelunker says:


    Hostages of the Hermit Kingdom, By Laura and Euna

    They blame the guide. No mention of Mitch.
    Here it is:,0,6204216.story

  11. Spelunker says:

    A longer version on does mention Mitch:

  12. Spelunker says:

    So basically the guide persuaded them to cross the river after making calls to his associates in North Korea with his black cellphone.
    Sounds like an obvious trap to me, but Laura and Euna claim they are not sure.


    Making calls to his North Korean associates?

    “Hello? Kim Jong-il? Yes, this is Agent X in China. I’ve got 3 American journalists that want to visit the Tumen River;… yeah, CRAZY…I know… wait until you hear this:… one is born in South Korea, another is the sister of Lisa Ling, and the third is a producer who works for a media company owned by Al Gore.
    Yes, THAT Lisa Ling. That’s right, boss!”

    • liberatelaura says:

      Do you buy the between-the-lines idea I am reading, which is that they believed he was hooting and (phone) hollering to friendly in-the-pocket North Korean guides? E.g., they thought this was part of his back channel routine.

  13. Spelunker says:

    Friendly North Korean guides? Bamboo Shoots!! (That’s Chinese b.s.) This is the bottom line, right here:

    “When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side.”

    So that is the exact moment when Laura’s intent changed? All it took was for the guide to wave them over like the beckoning Japanese “maneki nekko” figurine you see in sushi restaurants?

    Are these gals so gullible? Look at this sentence:
    “The previous night, he had called his associates in North Korea on a black cellphone he kept for that purpose, trying to arrange an interview for us.”

    Did these girls really think they were crossing the Tumen River (all the way across to the opposite bank, mind you!) to conduct a dadgum TV interview with NORTH KOREAN SMUGGLERS?

    It’s B.S. beyond belief. I’m stunned by the stupidity of it all.

    “To this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap.”

    How many more days (months? years?) do you need to figure it out, Laura and Euna?

    I can’t wait to hear Mitch’s side of the story.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Curious what you think Mitch Koss could, ideally, add to the narrative? Given that the guide led them into a trap, and that Koss’s tapes have been revealed to have led the Chinese to refugees, activists, Pastor, what can he really add other than perhaps some internal politics?

  14. Spelunker says:

    Do you find it very interesting that the local guide led them to a point on the Tumen River that was within walking distance of a North Korean army base? How convenient!

    “They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained.”

    What could Mitch Koss add? I want to hear what his impression of that guide was like, you know, from a worldly man’s point of view. Was Mitch just as willing to cross the river or did he linger on China’s shoreline with second thoughts? Did he go along with the “document human trafficking” objective of this morning mission, or was he satisfied with the interviews already completed in Yanji and anxious to proceed to Dandong as scheduled?

    Mitch, I know you’re reading this blog and have been following my comments all along. Let us know what you thought of that guide and the idea of crossing the Tumen River. It’s your turn now!

    • liberatelaura says:

      That’s a really good point about the proximity of the North Korean army base. I’m going to have to revisit satellite photos of the Mapai Village area to see if I can spot that…

      By the way, I think @latimes missed a great opportunity by not having comments open on this Op Ed, or – barring that – a link to a discussion board where people can sound off on the latest chapter of a great L.A. saga.

  15. Jeremy says:

    The part where they said they didn’t reveal sources during interrogation is the only thing that suspends belief for me. This is North Korea we’re talking about here.

    And when your guide says he’s going to call some of his “associates” on the North Korean side, it should raise some red flags.

    • liberatelaura says:

      The interrogators may have had to stop short of their usual bag of terror tricks because they knew Ling and Lee were ultimately going to have to be returned back to the U.S., relatively intact.

      And overall, though the evidence is damning re: the guide, we must remember that hindsight is 20/20. Even when the guide changed crossing point at last minute, and then donned a Chinese police overcoat as they began, all could have been seen at the time as being part of a friendly-with-NK-border-officials routine.

      • Jeremy says:

        Perhaps you’re right, but if they were coerced to talk under duress, I think many readers would understand if they said that’s what happened.

        And I like said, there are plenty of ways to torture people and still keep them relatively intact.

      • Jeremy says:

        On the other hand, interrogators probably didn’t ask them questions about sources and were more focused on getting them to confess to false espionage charges.

  16. Bart says:

    Mitch can’t say anything that contradicts this version, or risk looking even worse. He’s the guy who left his team in enemy hands–and that the team were two women is worse, even though we know that women can do anything men can do.

    So much of this is so confused and self-serving. Ling and Lee have jobs for life at Current, Mitch will have to bow and scrape everytime he runs into them, and no one will ever know anything more about NK than they do now.

    Lee’s book will focus on her strong Christian faith and her desire to see her daughter. Ling will tell us more about her commitment to truth and shining a light on dark corners of the globe. Sorry to be so cynical, but you know I’m right. It’s depressing.

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