Drones Carry Flash Drives, SD Cards Into North Korea

A New York-based rights group says it's been funding efforts to drop movies and music into the hermit nation

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. — REUTERS
May 26, 2016 at 8:48 AM ET

A U.S.-based human rights group said it’s funded a sneaky operation: flying drones carrying movies, music, and an offline version of Wikipedia into North Korea.

The Human Rights Foundation, headquartered in New York City, said it joined ranks with the activist group No Chain to deliver more than 1,000 SD cards and USB flash drives via hexacopter drones to North Korea residents since early 2015, CNN reported.

“A USB flash drive costs a month’s wage for a North Korean worker, but despite high costs, the North Korean people desire outside info,” said Jung Gwang-il, a former prisoner in North Korea who later escaped to the south and founded No Chain. He spoke to CNN at the Oslo Freedom Forum in New York on Wednesday.

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Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, said the organization wanted to send the media in “because of its power to show outside life to North Koreans,” according to CNN. He said the foundation, along with No Chain, decided to make their efforts public to “encourage other civil society organizations to take advantage of new technologies.”

Hexacopter drones have six propellers, which is two more than the popular quadcopter drone. They can typically fly faster, higher, and carry greater weight that smaller unmanned aircraft. They can also keep flying if one propeller fails, making them a reliable means of transporting goods. Halvorssen said one drone could carry “several pounds” of SD cards and USB flash drives.

The drones have the ability to follow a predetermined route, and drop off the media in a specific location, CNN reported. However, the groups did not state where the drones are being sent from, or where they are delivered to, citing security concerns.

But the activists clearly stated their purpose: Halvorssen told CNN that the content is a challenge to the regime’s “iron grip” on North Korea’s people. “The regime is trying to stop soap operas, Hollywood films, and things like K-pop,” he said. “For the reputation as a strong group of vicious tyrants, they’re certainly quite fearful of something as simple as cartoons and TV programs.”

This isn’t the first time the Human Rights Foundation has claimed to have smuggled Western media into North Korea. Last year, it reportedly funded the delivery of 10,000 copies of the controversial anti-North Korean comedy “The Interview” into the Hermit Kingdom.