[A PC containing 400 files of films, TV shows, and ebooks] were what finally transformed Kim Heung kwang’s thinking. He remembers reading a Dale Carnegie self-help book and Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave. But most influential was a history book about Middle Eastern dictators, including the stories of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, all friends of the Kim regime. “Reading about the crimes happening in these countries, I began to realize that those crimes were happening in my country too,” Kim says. “That was the starting point of the logic shifting in my brain. I began to understand the nature of dictatorship.”
In 2003 he was arrested and taken to a detention center; he’d been ratted out by one of the comrades with whom he’d shared his secret store. He says the police tortured him for a week, forcing him to write hundreds of pages of confession under hot lights and preventing him from sleeping by jabbing his forehead with a needle. After the year of drudgery at a reeducation farm, Kim was released and managed to bribe a border guard to help him escape across the Tumen. He made his way from China to Seoul, where he set up North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.
Kim uses Chinese traders and smuggler contacts to smuggle contraband media into North Korea. The content on Kim’s drives are mostly short educational documentaries created by and starring Kim himself. He explains to North Koreans what democracy is, for instance, or simply shows them what a bookstore or the Internet looks like. “When a North Korean watches an action movie with a chase scene in a grocery store, they want to slow it down to see what’s on the shelves,” he says. “I show them what they want to see—what I wanted to see when I was there.”
Kim has also developed what he calls stealth USB drives, designed to avoid detection. To any casual observer, the drive seems empty. But its contents reappear with a simple trigger, the details of which Kim asked that I not publicize.