Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Luring Lee and Ling

From the Chosun Ilbo we get news that a recently executed spy chief was the one responsible for luring Current TV reporting team Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and Mitch Koss into North Korea where they were captured, sentenced to a dozen years of hard labor, but later released when former President Bill Clinton flew into Pyongyang for an angry photo op.

From the Chosun Ilbo:
Recently executed North Korean spy chief Ryu Kyong planned and orchestrated the abduction of two female U.S. journalists on March 17, 2009, it emerged on Sunday.

Ryu, who served as the deputy director of North Korea's State Security Department, obtained intelligence that Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for Current TV, were planning to visit the North Korean border as part of their report on defectors.

He then used his overseas operatives to bribe an ethnic Korean guide in China to lead the two women into the hands of their abductors. The guide took Ling and Lee to a point on the banks of the Duman (or Tumen) River, where they were dragged across the border into North Korea.
If you have read what my contrarian opinions on the then-ongoing Ling and Lee saga (here, here, here, here, and here), you will not be surprised that my response to this is, "Horsesh¡t."

We'll start with the obvious and then go to the glaring: Other than "it emerged Sunday" in the first paragraph, we are left with zero information about who said this. From where or whom did it "emerge"? When it comes to journalism, subject-less passive voice is weasel words.

And then there is the glaring problem that this take simply does not jibe with the facts we know now. Way back, when Laura Ling and Euna Lee were captured and Mitch Koss just barely escaped, everybody (well, except me) was under the impression that they had been plucked from the Chinese side while merely taking video of the North Korean side of the border. But as it turned out, Laura and Euna did in fact venture onto North Korean soil "very, very briefly." It was then that the North Korean soldiers tried to capture them, but Laura Ling said in her book they managed to get across the river and back to the Chinese side before being dragged back into North Korea.

So which is it? The third paragraph above completely omits Ms Ling and Ms Lee voluntary entering North Korean territory. It's almost as if the source from which this report "emerged" is unaware that Ms Ling and Ms Lee confessed to going into North Korean territory of their own accord.

And this is problematic. In fact, if it jibes with anything, it's the pattern of behavior coming from the Chosun Ilbo whereby speculation is being reported as fact.

At most, what might be at work here is that spy chief Mr Ryu might have maneuvered for the trio to be captured, but ultimately they sealed their own fate by venturing into the DPRK (though we know North Korea had kidnapped people from China and brought them into North Korea). Frankly, though, I don't buy it. If you read the early chapters of Laura Ling's book, the people who captured her and Euna Lee seem pretty clueless about who it was they captured. The early hours and days of their ordeal don't sound as if they would have gone down that way if it had been known before their capture who they were and where they would be.

I loathe the Pyongyang regime, but as I made clear before, these three demonstrated gross carelessness and negligence and their foolishness may have cost lives. I don't think it is right to point the finger at phantom others when we already know who was responsible for them being right where they were.

Moreover, I don't like the mainstream South Korean media (and the Japanese and Western media who pick up their reports) giving us a distorted picture of what's going on up in the North by their supposition-filled reporting. From the ascension of Kim Jong-il to the conditions on the ground for the peasantry up there, we are doing everyone a gross disservice by engaging in a journalistic circle jerk of speculation parading as objective news.

UPDATE:
This might not be his intended takeaway message, but Joshua at One Free Korea notes that "the Chosun Ilbo doesn’t offer one scintilla of detail on its source for the story or why we should consider it credible."

At ROK Drop, GI Korea also describes his reservations about the whole thing.
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