Most of the North Korean defectors’ groups in Seoul specializing in sneaking news out of North Korea have no more than 10 North Korean sources. They regularly call their South Korean contacts at dawn or late at night, when North Korean security officials are less likely to be out with mobile equipment to detect cellphone signals.
Defectors’ organizations say they don’t tell their sources exactly who they are or how their information will be used, so the sources will more freely share information and will face less danger. The organizations usually release no details about a source except the province he or she reported from.
“They’d face espionage charges if they’re arrested” and owned up to a connection with an anti-Pyongyang organization in South Korea, said Kim Heung Kwang, a North Korean defector who heads the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity organization. “I just tell them I’m writing something and need some information.”
His organization got a legitimate big scoop about the North, one of the few reports by defectors’ groups to be independently confirmed: the news of the country’s botched currency revaluation in 2009. South Korean officials confirmed the details days later.
Defectors say their sources often include their own relatives, friends and acquaintances. In return for information, they often get cash or gifts.
Kim Heung Kwang says he gives $50 to $100 to ordinary sources when they give him useful information, with more money for “ace” informants.
Ahn Kyung-su, a North Korea researcher at a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization, says he suspects that sources are mostly ordinary citizens who pick up rumors circulated in North Korean border markets. That can be useful in getting a picture of life in many North Korean communities, but much less so when it comes to high-level government decisions.
[Excerpts from Associated Press article by writer Hyung-Jin Kim]