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Amateur spies put North Korea on the map

Asher Moses

June 2, 2009

A group of amateur spies has used Google Earth to provide a rare glimpse inside North Korea, one of the world's most secretive countries.

By default the Google Earth map of North Korea is completely bare, with no roads or landmarks labelled.

Over two years, US doctoral student Curtis Melvin and other volunteers pored over news reports, images, accounts, books and maps painstakingly identifying and locating thousands of buildings, monuments, missile-storage facilities, mass graves, secret labour camps, palaces, restaurants, tourist sites, main roads and even the entrance to the country's subterranean nuclear test base.

The result, North Korea Uncovered , is one of the most detailed maps of North Korea available to the public today. The small file, which can be installed on top of Google Earth, has been downloaded more than 47,000 times since an updated version was released last month.

"We have portrayed things about which they are most proud and ashamed," Melvin said in an email interview.

Among the most notable findings is the site of mass graves created in the 1990s following a famine that the UN estimates killed about 2 million people.

"Graves cover entire mountains," Melvin said.

Also visible is the stark contrast between the living conditions of North Korea's elite and the general population.

The palaces housing dictator Kim Jong Il and his inner circle, clearly shown on the maps, contain Olympic-size swimming pools with giant waterslides and golf courses.

420_kimmap-420x0.jpg

Living large ... one of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's palatial mansions with expansive gardens.

Conversely, much of North Korea's population is reliant on foreign food aid, ironic given the authoritarian regime is built around the ideology of self-reliance.

Analysing the satellite maps allowed Melvin to plot the country's transport and electricity network, revealing that many towns have no power supply at all.

Melvin and his team also believe they have discovered the Vinalon complex that has been connected with chemical warfare experiments.

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Has there ever been such an insular, tightly controlled, cult-like nation? Kim Jung-Il and his father have been practically deified, and the masses have bought into it, with any dissenters cowed into silence.

I caught part of a program on National Geographic where a film crew was able to get some clandestine footage of life in North Korea and spend time with seemingly typical families there, and it was truly bizarre. These public meetings where the sole purpose seemed to be who could adore the Dear Leader more. These people in a family who got emotional talking about how much they revere Jung Il and all he does to protect them. The indoctrinization must start early in life and carry on relentlessly in a North Korean's existence.

And with the naming of a son as heir to the leadership, Kim is betting he can keep it up.

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Has there ever been such an insular, tightly controlled, cult-like nation? Kim Jung-Il and his father have been practically deified, and the masses have bought into it, with any dissenters cowed into silence.

I caught part of a program on National Geographic where a film crew was able to get some clandestine footage of life in North Korea and spend time with seemingly typical families there, and it was truly bizarre. These public meetings where the sole purpose seemed to be who could adore the Dear Leader more. These people in a family who got emotional talking about how much they revere Jung Il and all he does to protect them. The indoctrinization must start early in life and carry on relentlessly in a North Korean's existence.

And with the naming of a son as heir to the leadership, Kim is betting he can keep it up.

Amazing! It's sounds like scenes from the Book 1984

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Has there ever been such an insular, tightly controlled, cult-like nation? Kim Jung-Il and his father have been practically deified, and the masses have bought into it, with any dissenters cowed into silence.

I caught part of a program on National Geographic where a film crew was able to get some clandestine footage of life in North Korea and spend time with seemingly typical families there, and it was truly bizarre. These public meetings where the sole purpose seemed to be who could adore the Dear Leader more. These people in a family who got emotional talking about how much they revere Jung Il and all he does to protect them. The indoctrinization must start early in life and carry on relentlessly in a North Korean's existence.

And with the naming of a son as heir to the leadership, Kim is betting he can keep it up.

I saw that. With Lisa Ling, right? It was insane how weird it is there. They brought her to a place where the "Blind" just had surgery to see again. Then they could claim to have been blind for a long time.....and then thank the great leader. Very sad place it seems.

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I saw that. With Lisa Ling, right? It was insane how weird it is there. They brought her to a place where the "Blind" just had surgery to see again. Then they could claim to have been blind for a long time.....and then thank the great leader. Very sad place it seems.

That was the program. If I remember correctly, a medical team was allowed into the country to perform surgeries on people with a particular, curable affiliction so they could regain their sight. The camera crew that followed them managed to get the clandestine footage.

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Why, cause they won't get to you?

I don't know, will they? Do any of them even leave their boarders? I wouldn't think you'd want too many of your people leaving your country regardless of loyalty, to hunt someone down. Not when you run that type of regime.

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