Meet Kim Heung kwang, former member of North Korean thought police

By his third year working for Kim Jong-il’s thought police, Kim Heung-kwang says he could almost sense the presence of illegal data. Going door-to-door with the task force assigned to search out digital contraband in citizens’ homes, he remembers finding forbidden DVDs and players hidden under beds and in books with pages cut away to create hidden compartments.

Early on he found that when he knocked on doors, the guilty watchers would hurriedly hide their DVDs. So he learned to turn off the power to the entire building before making his house calls, trapping discs in their players. “I felt they were watching rotten, capitalist material and ruining the juche mentality,” Kim says, referring to the North Korean communist ideology. The short, bespectacled man, sitting in his austere Seoul office, smiles wearily and crosses his legs with a professorial air. “I felt justified to send these criminals away.”

The DVD owners would cry and plead. They’d beg on their knees and pull on the sleeves of his uniform, claiming they had just found the offending media lying in the street. Sometimes he accepted bribes and turned a blind eye. (“You could feel the outside of the envelope between your fingers and tell whether it was a lot of money,” he remembers.)

But most of the data criminals he caught, he reported. Many were sentenced to months or years in prison camps. Read more

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