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How the US Dropped the Ball When Offered to Bring Pol Pot to Trial for Mass Murder

24 Jan

 The Final Collapse of the Khmer Rouge: How the US Dropped the Ball When Offered to Bring Pol Pot to Trial for Mass Murder

Excerpts from the unpublished manuscript of “Sympathy for the devil: A Journalists Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge”

Copyright Nate Thayer. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction or transmission in whole or part without express written permission from the author

PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING TO SUPPORT THE EFFORT TO ENSURE PUBLICATION OF THIS BOOK AND RELATED HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS ON THE KHMER ROUGE AND CONTEMPORARY CAMBODIAN POLITICAL HISTORY

By Nate Thayer

Immediately after emerging from Pol Pot’s jungle trial on July 25, 1997, I had finally achieved what had been my primary goal for more than a decade: to penetrate the inner sanctum of the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge. Immediately, I began daily contact with an expanding circle of Khmer Rouge operatives and foreign intelligence and military officials who’s secret work had long prevented outsiders from accessing them or the Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

At the periphery was a rogues gallery of characters, many whose identity were never volunteered or ascertained. It was genuinely as if I was living a role as a protagonist in an international thriller, and I loved it. Continue reading

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Love and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service -Lust, Bombs, Bureaucrats. Writings by James Bruno

7 Nov

Love & Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service -Lust, Loneliness, Bombs & Bureaucrats & other writings by retired diplomat and best selling author James Bruno

By Nate Thayer

November 7, 2013

You can access the writings and book of James Bruno at http://jameslbruno.blogspot.com/

This morning, James Bruno, an old friend and now a best-selling author, who for 23 years served his country with distinction, skill and principle as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State, sent me a message.

Jim Bruno, served, amongst many places around the world, in Cambodia as deputy chief of the U.S. embassy, where he saved my sorry ass more than once intervening with the Cambodian government when the embassy received intelligence that I had been ordered assassinated or expelled or otherwise officially the target of government harassment for some spot on, dead accurate, but decidedly not serving the authorities public relations objectives, article or another I wrote and published.

I recall him personally demanding an urgent meeting with current Prime Minister Hun Sen after one of his top military officers decided I was overly pesky and ordered me killed.

Bruno made it clear to the Prime Minister, in no uncertain terms, that this would be very much against the rules and the full weight of the U.S. government would be employed to express the gravity of the dim view they took of tin pot dictatorships killing any American citizen, and particularly U.S journalists carrying out the essential functions of a free press, something the U.S. government valued and promotes as a key tenet of its foreign policy as vital to healthy societies.

Mr. Bruno, met officially with the Cambodian leader, in his official capacity as the representative of the President of the United States of America in Cambodia, and skillfully and politely, but equally forcefully and without qualification, explained to the Cambodian Prime Minister, a free press was a central tenet of American political ideology and a top priority of U.S. government policy.

Not to mention there is no higher priority for any U.S. embassy in the world than to protect the safety and interests of its citizens residing or visiting that country.

Essentially diplomat Bruno told the Prime Minister, if you fuck with Nate Thayer, or any American journalist carrying out their legitimate job of bringing information of import for a well informed citizenry and the common good to free people, you are fucking with the government of the United States of America and the essential principles for which it stands.

Or more concisely, if you fuck with Nate Thayer carrying out his job as an American representative of the free press in Cambodia, you are fucking with Jim Bruno. It was not a wise thing to violate principles of which Bruno determined important.

Jim Bruno used the power of words and civil dialogue to address issues of international discord between nations. When I think of the adage “War is the failure of diplomacy,” I think of, and wish there were more Mr. Bruno’s, and a number of his specific colleagues, representing several U.S. agencies, who have performed with great skill and distinction, and not infrequently, heroically, but almost always behind the scenes and seldom recognized.

The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia at the time, on the other hand, in my opinion and that of much of the staff of diplomats and U.S officials working for other agencies attached to embassy Phnom Penh, was, a knucklehead.

The Ambassador had also concluded that I had demonstrated the potential to become a long term pain in the ass for him.

I recall chit chatting with the U.S. Ambassador, immediately after one assassination plot against me, hatched by a provincial governor and regional army commander that the embassy got wind of and quelled by quietly intervening, using formidable verbal diplomatic skills, and smacked some sense into the highest levels of the Cambodian government.

The American Ambassador and I were discussing the incident at a cocktail party—held to celebrate British National  Day by the embassy of the United Kingdom, if I recall—and the Ambassador was clearly annoyed.

Not at the Cambodian government for ordering the assassination of an American citizen–that would be me–for performing credibly my job as a free man, a citizen of a free society excersizing the U.S. constitutionally protected right of free speech and a free press.

But rather the Ambassador was annoyed at me for forcing him to engage in the unpleasantry of having to confront the leaders of a rapacious, murderous, corrupt, thuggish, incompetent government inclined to murder those who engaged in the dissemination of accurate information that revealed them to the citizenry as exactly the aforementioned.

He was trying to build a good relationship with the tattered, second string remnants of one of the most egregious governments to seize control of a state in modern history who had now devolved to a group of Consiglieres in charge of a mafia state.

“Nate, why don’t you just leave the country and go somewhere else to work. Don’t you think that would be for the best for everyone,” the U.S. ambassador said, with more than a hint of a muted sneer.

I replied: “Well, Mr. Ambassador, for the same reason you wouldn’t close down the U.S. embassy because some ten cent thug in power of an irrelevant backwater of a country didn’t like the principles that the U.S. government stands for, promotes, and defends and threatened to kill you unless you ceased supporting those tenets of freedom which is your job, as my employee, as a U.S. citizen.”

It was a brief conversation.

I don’t think I ever thanked Jim Bruno personally for intervening on my behalf. In fact, I am quite sure I was not supposed to have known he did, little less have been privy to the details.

So I am and will thank him now.

Thanks, Jim.

Bruno is now a best-selling novelist. His books and blog site, largely based on his experience as a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer, are gripping must reads, full of behind the scenes details, including the un-redacted successes, failures, buffoonery, drudgery, intrigue, heroics, and personal foibles of the men and women who represent the U.S. government abroad, and my government’s proud and vital record defending important principles and it’s, often, equally clueless tactics and misguided implementation and policies that have crashed and burned, not infrequently, but rarely without good intentions or motivated by malice.

James Bruno sent me a message today: “I blogged about Son Sen a couple of years ago. Thought you might find it interesting. http://jameslbruno.blogspot.com/2011/04/people-ive-known-who-died-violent.html.”

“Son Sen was the Heinrich Himmler of Cambodia.  He was head of the communist Khmer Rouge regime’s own Gestapo, the Santebal, and oversaw that short-lived regime’s death factory, Tuol Sleng Prison.  I sat across Son Sen at UN-sponsored peace negotiations for a year-and-a-half.  He was the most chilling human being I’ve ever encountered.

It is estimated that 17,000-20,000 were brutally tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng….Son Sen played a direct role in designing its torture chambers and overall operations. … Son Sen had the face of a merciless killer, stone cold and utterly devoid of humanity.  His few attempts to smile came off as evil sneers.  His eyes appeared dead.  His body language was reptilian.  I once included in one of my regular cables to Washington reporting on these meetings a paragraph on how Son Sen spent the entire time methodically picking apart a caviar hors d’ouevre with a toothpick, carefully separating each part and then crushing them into a blotchy mess.  I thought that small act spoke a lot about this man. On June 10, 1997, Son Sen and thirteen members of this family, including women and children, were shot to death on orders from Pol Pot….”

I replied: “Great piece, Jim. Son Sen was a very cold man. His brother, not without irony, was not only the KR ambassador to North Korea throughout the 1970, 80’s, and 90’s, well after the Khmer Rouge did what they did, and still a loyal senior Khmer Rouge official but serving the governments run by King Sihanouk, Ranarridh and later Hun Sen, while you served in Phnom Penh as deputy chief of the U.S. embassy. In the late 1990’s, Son Sen’s brother then defected to live in Phnom Penh to Hun Sen’s politcal party, where he now lives freely and holds the title of “senior adviser” to Prime Minister Hun Sen. His daughter married a relative of Hun Sen. When I asked Pol Pot if and why he ordered the killing of Son Sen, he freely and in detail admitted he did, and justified it. “For the babies, I am sorry about that. It was a mistake in implementation.” Pol Pot then paused and said “His niece married a relative of the one eyed puppet lackey, the contemptible Hun Sen.” Pol Pot looked me straight in the eye, holding my gaze in silence for a long time, seemingly perplexed why I didn’t understand this  logic and its corollary–the necessity to order his long time comrade murdered.

Pol Pot then became animated, visibly angry at me, and he wagged his finger in my face and said: “Don’t you see! The connection had been established! I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

I wrote James Bruno back saying “Jim:  I am posting a  story on my blog about you and your career and writing. I would like to send it to you to have you see whether my remembrances are correct and the extensive excerpt from some of your blog posts are ok with you.”

He replied: “Nate, I’d be honored — Note: I alluded to you recently that I also had been a prisoner, albeit briefly, of the KR. When I was chief of our consulate in Udorn in 1985, I was on one of my regular border runs in Sisaket collecting info from contacts on the latest on the war in Cambodia. We took a turn on a jungle trail. Like you, I had a reputation for pushing my luck. I told the driver to continue. Well, lo and behold, we run smack into a KR supply convoy coming down the trail right toward us. KR soldiers ordered us out of the car, asked who we were. I told him I was a U.S. diplomat and that they needed to get a Thai 838 (A Thai military intelligence unit that coordinated interaction with Cambodian guerrilla’s and their covert military supplies along the two nations borders) officer there pronto. The KR were actually polite, signaling with their AK’s for us to go to a small bunker where we were kept under armed guard. After an hour, I requested permission to take a piss. A young guard signaled for me to pee in a very specific area. OK. No problem. So, as I’m pissing, the guard pointed to an area just a couple of feet away covered in landmines. He wanted to make sure I didn’t go and do my business in the minefield. Nice guy. I engaged him is a conversation in Thai for insights on life in the KR. An 838 officer and two aides showed up not long thereafter and extricated us. I rewarded them with bottles of Johnny Walker. Word of this incident quickly got back to embassy Bangkok, which called me in for a dressing down. The State Dept. followed suit. It wasn’t the first time. I had that reputation. A few years earlier, an identical episode happened with the Lao commie militia seizing me at gunpoint and holding me prisoner for the better part of a day. The State Dept. chewed me out and ordered the Charge to deliver a protest. It was unreal. I accompanied the Charge to translate our protest as well as the Lao counterprotest against me. I ended up getting in an argument in Lao with the MFA officials. That’s the closest I ever came to being PNG’d. A few weeks after the KR incident, I was back snooping along the border for info on Ta Mok. Walking along a trail interviewing recent refugees, PAVN 110’s opened fire from the mountain range. I ran to take cover and landed real hard on my sacroliliac. Paralysis started taking hold not long thereafter. I medevacced myself to Bangkok where I underwent immediate surgery to remove a crushed lower disk and two vertebrae laminae. State Dept’s Medical Unit grounded me for five years in DC before clearing me to serve as DCM in Phnom Penh, though I did do TDY’s in Peshawar, following the Afghan war against the Soviets. After Cambodia, I served inside Cuba and at GTMO. More minefield fun.”

I replied: “Jim: Great stuff, Jim. None of which surprised me. You know how people talk behind ones back often? But it is not always cowardly, negative gossip. I remember in your case, while to a man, I found virtually no affection from within embassy PP for (the then Ambassador), I found equal respect and affection as universal from among your colleagues–all of them from xxx, to xxx, to xxxx to xxxxx and so forth, for you. As well as from me. It remains unclear to me how you get much of your stuff (in his four best selling novels and blog posts) in print past the USG censors who, i presume, require you to have ur writings vetted. Your blog is excellent. I would like to insert the anecdotes in this email from you into the story. With your permission. let me now. Let me know if I have misrepresented your work or anything else inaccurate in my posting. The anecdote I mentioned regarding you intervening when the Cambodian government ordered me assassinated came from very good sources among your colleagues at the time. I hope you are, and remain, well.”

James Bruno replied: “Geez, Nate. You oughta write fiction! Wow. I feel honored and humbled. And your recollections revived events I had pushed way back into the deepest synapses. Thanks for bringing them back. I don’t know if any of us saved your life. Being devout, you might just conclude it was your Lord and Savior who pulled your ass out of all those fixes. Yes, do feel free to draw from my last email. It’s open material. As for USG censorship of my writing — they almost always make me take stuff out, but they’re nice about it. I’ve established a healthy working relationship with my censors, including those at the CIA and NSA. They’ve even asked for autographed copies of my books. My upcoming nonfiction book (essays drawn from my blog posts) was pretty seriously redacted. I’m publishing it with blacked out text included, so some pages look like a zebra.”

James Bruno was a Foreign Service officer for twenty-three years, having worked previously in military intelligence and journalism.  He remains a member of the Diplomatic Readiness Reserve, subject to worldwide duty on short notice.

He is now a bestselling author.

He began his career as a journalist, having acquired an MA degree from the Columbia School of Journalism. He also has an MA from the U.S. Naval War College. His diplomatic postings have included, amongst other countries, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Cambodia. He has worked in a Secret Service presidential protection detail overseas, and has spent much of his career being a liaison with colleagues from the Pentagon, CIA and other foreign affairs agencies.  His spy thrillers include PERMANENT INTERESTS and CHASM, have been bestsellers, including #1 in Political Fiction and #1 in Spy Stories.  His book TRIBE, a political thriller centers on Afghanistan.  His latest book is HAVANA QUEEN, an espionage thriller set in Cuba.

His blog posts are particularly vivid, raw in their authenticity and detail, entertaining and full of details based on firsthand experience.

The one he sent me today is titled: “People I’ve Known Who Died Violent Deaths, and Deserved It: Part I”

Another blog entry is titled: Life after the Foreign Service.

Below are excerpts from it and several others.  

“Our clueless ambassador in a war-torn country where guerrillas were targeting and killing foreigners ordered the embassy staff to travel into the lawless interior to monitor people’s attitudes toward UN-sponsored free elections (Why I Write), an irresponsible order the staff refused to obey.  My wife experienced a complicated and life-threatening pregnancy after MED — the State Department’s medical unit — refused to authorize business class travel to the destination where she would give birth (Love, Romance and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service – Part III: Making Babies).  My boss in a communist country violated security rules in his emails, resulting in the host government’s harassment of one of our best sources.  The promotion and assignments processes were becoming an even more uneven playing field.  . . .Time to leave the Foreign Service.  There is nothing like a Foreign Service career:  getting paid to travel the world and live in foreign countries representing one’s country; dealing with Big Picture issues; working with some of the smartest people on the planet; a variety in work content virtually unmatched in any other career.  Twenty-three years in the U.S. Foreign Service gave me no end of challenges and adventures and opportunity to apply my brainpower toward history-making events and to meet presidents, kings and high-caliber intellectuals.  I had the time of my life.  But too many shortcomings in the system compelled me to make the decision to leave my government career early and to find reward in greener pastures.

As one advances in the ranks, one hears the refrain, “Is there life after the Foreign Service?” — accompanied by much wringing of the hands.  Contemplating the end of one’s diplomatic career is akin to those 15th century folk who saw monsters and oblivion at the edge of world’s end.  It’s understandable.  After decades of working in a profession, what else does one know?  And how do you apply airy-fairy statecraft skills to making money on the outside?  Many turn to academia, think tanks, independent consulting, NGOs and international organizations.  Logical fits.

Sorry.  Not for this free spirit.  Determined, against the counsel of family and friends, never to hold down another job again, never again to don suit and tie for work, never again to answer to a boss, never again to commute to an office, I made the wild and crazy decision to return to my roots: work on the family farm. Oops! Nope! The family farm was sold years ago. I mean my later roots: being a writer and making a living off of it.  I turned down a lovely offer from a college president to be a “diplomat-in-residence,” teaching a couple of courses and assisting in setting up a nascent international relations program. Then I declined a nice offer from a London-based political consulting company to take on assignments from them. The reason?  I was too preoccupied with selling my spy-mob thriller, Permanent Interests and my war criminal thriller, CHASM. And my literary agent was expecting much more of me after the 2011 release of my Afghanistan thriller, Tribe.  Teaching college and political consulting, simply put, would interfere in the marketing of my twisted fantasies.

Rather than doing the “right thing,” this ex-FSO decided to follow his dream:  fiction writing.  I sit in my armchair at home or in my favorite cafe dreaming up and writing down plots involving Machiavellian politicians, lustful doyennes, mad generals, ruthless spies, flawed heroes and world-threatening events — drawing from my rich mother lode of Foreign Service experiences (see Inspired Insomniac: Voices in the Night).

And it’s worked! ….winding up my fourth novel, a spy tale set in Cuba. I’m actually making a living doing this.  Of course, it ain’t easy when you lack full first amendment rights (Why I’m Censored).

The lesson?  “Do the right thing” doesn’t necessarily apply.  You’ve done that for years as a buttoned-down, team-playing, don’t-rock-the-boat bureaucrat.  Try something new.  Listen to your heart and follow your dreams.  I did.”

Another blog excerpt gives a flavor of how he  weaves real life behind the scenes experience into his writing:

My Forrest Gump Moment
“On November 12, 1986, I was in the West Wing of the White House on official business. After a long meeting, I made a pit stop at the downstairs men’s room. While standing doing my business, the door swung open and in streamed several men. At the urinal on my left was Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger. On my right was Secretary of State George Shultz. At the toilet stood CIA Director Bill Casey. They obviously had just come out of a lengthy meeting of their own. All were stonily silent. None acknowledged any of the others. They studiously avoided eye contact at the sink, the towel dispenser and as they sought to exit the room. I sensed a definite chill between them and couldn’t wait myself to get out of there. In the outside foyer, a suck-up White House flunkie greeted Shultz in a fawning voice. The Secretary stopped in his tracks and, red-faced, glowered at the man, then stormed off.

Next day headlines broke open the Iran-Contra scandal. The Washington Post reported on a stormy meeting between Pres. Reagan and his national security officials. For me it was truly a Forrest Gump moment.”

An excerpt from another of Bruno’s blogs:

Ambassadors-at-Large for Incompetence . . .
“In 1992, as the Khmer Rouge were targeting foreigners for assassination in the countryside, our ambassador in Cambodia ordered his staff to travel into the lawless interior to ascertain people’s attitudes about upcoming UN-sponsored elections for that country. The staff refused such an irresponsible order, confronting the ambassador with passive resistance bordering on insubordination. The State Dept. countermanded the order.

When working on U.S. policy on Cambodia in the UN in the early ’80s, my State Dept. boss asked me: “Are the Khmer Rouge the good guys or the bad guys?” As most of the world knows, the Khmer Rouge killed at least a million Cambodian citizens in the 1970s, a genocide second only to the Holocaust.

Having just arrived as a young diplomat at an isolated Asian post, my bosses, the Chargé d’Affaires and his deputy, had me accompany them to the home of a wealthy Sino-Thai businessman for luxurious repasts which included delicacies such as shark fin soup, fish maw and barbecued bear paw. This man, however, led a surreptitious life. His entertainment facilities were hidden behind an office bathroom and he dodged all questions about his business and personal life. Suspicious, I sent his name to several U.S. agencies for a database check. The Drug Enforcement Agency promptly replied that our charming dinner host was on their Most Wanted List; he had earlier dropped out of sight, one step ahead of the law. The U.S. Chargé d’Affaires and his staff had been hobnobbing unawares with a notorious narcotrafficker. Who was dumber: the crook, for entertaining American officials? Or, the clueless officials themselves?”

. . . and Embassies for Sale!
In the late 1980s, our ambassador to Italy was an Italian-American lumber baron from Minnesota. Having donated generously to his party, the man got the job, though he possessed no diplomatic or related experience. An otherwise gregarious sort, he was at sea in Rome. He used one of the most sensitive communications channels, normally reserved for matters of high policy, to update the Secretary of State on his project to remodel Villa Taverna, the U.S. ambassador’s residence, including one lengthy cable on his selection of curtains. He was also fond of telling demeaning Italian jokes before crowds of host country officials and journalists, an act that endeared neither him nor the United States to the Italian public.

Fact Stranger Than Fiction
If you had any illusions that your government is manned with competent, bright, judicious officials who have your best interests at heart, you’re wrong. Twenty-five years in the federal government showed me otherwise. Regularly, I faced situations which made me say, “Fiction can’t rival this.” Our debacle in Iraq, the Mark Foley affair, the Valerie Plame case and the Abramoff scandal only reconfirm my sentiment.

So, I cut short my diplomatic career to have more fun writing stories which encompass the chicanery and fecklessness of government. If you thought Washington was out of control, then don’t read my books. They’ll only confirm your worst fears about how things are done in our nation’s capital.

Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Singapore, a former South Dakota state legislator, walked off with the ambassadorial china upon completion of his unremarkable assignment. Upon being asked to return the expensive, eagle-embossed dinnerware, our ambassador refused, stating it was his just reward for having been an ambassador.

Faux pas by non-career ambassadors include cocaine smuggling using diplomatic pouches, drunken imbroglios at embassy functions, embarrassing adulterous affairs, and simple ineptitude. We used to sell military flag officer ranks to political hacks until the end of the Civil War, when the extent of the slaughter revealed the tragic consequences of such practices. U.S. ambassadorships and other senior diplomatic positions, however, remain on the auction block for the highest bidders. Fully a third of ambassadorships, in fact, go to non-career people.

Another blog post is titled:

How to Get Ahead in the U.S. Foreign Service: Walk, Don’t Run

Ambition is the last refuge of failure. ~ Oscar Wilde

(Note:  The following is a personal essay.  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.)

We Still Need Kremlinologists
After twenty-three years working for the Department of State, I left with little more understanding on how to get ahead in that opaque and byzantine system than I had upon entering.  Yet, using my past Kremlinologist skills as well as drawing from a long career of trying to decipher other closed regimes such as North Korea, Cuba and Chicago, I’ve come away with some pointers for those just entering the Department as well as those still inside the belly of the beast.  Following are some broad type categorizations for success in the U.S. Foreign Service:

·  The Operator:  Ratko Mladic, the Serbian war criminal now in custody, was an Operator.  He embraced three keys for being a highly successful executive:  (a) effective networking; (b) sucking up to his superiors; and (c) amorality and ruthlessness.  So is it in the Foreign Service.  The effective Operator spreads his tentacles out the minute he completes his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.  Think of the kiss-ass schmoozer we all knew in school.  The brown-nose apple polisher who was at his teachers’ feet and his classmates’ throats.  Like Mladic, such people are able to advance quickly, even if it’s over a mountain of their victims’ skulls.  Definition of success per the Operator:  To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women and children!

·  The Female Emasculator:  Why is it that four decades on in the feminist movement, many women feel they must out-testosterone their male competition?  Everyone is familiar with this ilk:  the “barracuda” who devours her young if it will lead to advancement.  The alpha-female who, if she sacrifices any time at all to romance, weds an emasculated Caspar Milquetoast –another pelt on the barn door.  Most, however, don’t marry.  After all, matrimony and children only get in the way on the ladder-climb to victory.  These women are the first to launch class action lawsuits claiming “discrimination” as a vehicle to win court-ordered promotions or plum assignments.  Give them a wide berth; otherwise, find a fine surgeon to extricate the daggers and high-heel marks from your back and to reaffix your testicles.

  • Boobs Struck by Lightning:  Think of the dumb-ass who can’t organize his breakfast, constantly loses his keys, comes to work with one brown shoe and one black.  Yet karmic lightning strikes and next thing you know he’s in the fast lane, screwing up one assignment after another, yet continually rewarded as others pick up the pieces.  A variation on this species is the “Being There” type, patterned after the eponymous Peter Sellers movie.  The protagonist, named Chance, is a simpleton who, because he dresses like an aristocrat and says little, is fawned over and rewarded by pompous social climbers who are blind to his vacuosness.  Form trumps substance.
  • The Anointed One:  Similar to Boobs Struck by Lightning minus the dumbassedness.  This is the individual who is visited by Jesus while in A-100 junior officer training and thereafter put on the super fast track despite never having an original idea, being devoid of personality and showing all the risk-taking of a Swiss accountant.  The Old Boys just like him/her and coddle the haloed Anointed One through unremarkable ambassadorships and snoozer sinecures up to the Undersecretary level.
  • The Wagon-Hitcher:  A bevy of these often capable FSO’s rode on the coattails of Henry Kissinger to the pinnacles of the foreign policy establishment.  Finding oneself attached to such a shooting star is as often as not a factor of dumb luck, being at the right place at the right time with the right senior official on the way to megastar status.  These Wagon-Hitchers become luminaries in their own right and enjoy highly successful careers.  There but for the grace of God go I. . . 
  • Get Along to Go Along:  Those with severe CDD (Charisma Deficit Disorder), a face in the crowd and a harmless, nonthreatening disposition who do their time in the bowels of the bureaucracy accomplishing little more but staying in place and offending no one often are rewarded in their 50s with an ambassadorship to a malarial backwater capital shunned by the parvenu political appointees (see The American Diplomatic Spoils System: Embassies for Sale).  It’s the State Department’s version of the gold watch.
  • Lateral (No Exam Required) Entry:  This means of advancement, which exempts its beneficiaries from such inconveniences as the Foreign Service exam, is reserved for cronies and affirmative action entrants.
  • Legacy:  Just as the Ivy League traditionally reserves admission spaces for the offspring of distinguished alumni (remember Pres. W?), the Foreign Service takes special care to coddle and promote the careers of the children of distinguished Foreign Service officers.  If you are a Foreign Service brat, your odds at finding yourself on the fast track are greater than the peons, particularly if dad was an ambassador.

Caution and Incompetence
In my first Department posting, as I rushed down one of the long gray corridors with a draft cable in hand to seek an urgent clearance at another office, a stooped, pasty-faced FSO admonished me, “Walk, don’t run!”  I think the last person to scold me thus was Miss Nall, my sixth grade teacher.  But over the years I found it to be emblematic of the careful, cautious, compromising Foreign Service culture; of waiting one’s turn, not rocking the boat, staying in lock-step, all keys to that ambassadorial posting to Lower Slobovia.

After my first overseas tour, I went to pay an obligatory call on my “Career Development Officer.”  As I sat silently, this man thumbed through my file, brows scrunched, grave demeanor.  As he read on, he began to shake his head.  Then he looked up at me and said, “Let’s face it, Jim.  You’re going to have to hit the ground running in your next assignment.”  I was stunned.  I had gotten nothing but sterling evaluations.  I said, “What do you mean?”  The CDO shrugged and frowned.  “Well, you didn’t do so well in your first tour, did you?”  I stood up and requested to have a look at my file.  He reluctantly handed it to me.  While the folder had my name on it, the contents belonged to another officer.  My personnel papers had been misfiled.  Steaming, I demanded that the CDO straighten it out and call me as soon as he did.  It was an early lesson in the fallibilities of the personnel system.

From another blog post by James Bruno:

Love, Romance & Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service – Part I: Of Lust & Loneliness

“Never play cards with a man named ‘Doc.’  Never eat at a place called ‘Mom’s.’  And never sleep with someone who has troubles worse than your own.”

Diplomats have a justifiable reputation for being impeccably proper, bloodless figures whose passions get stirred by a good concerto, a stimulating dinner party, a good book.  But diplomats are human too.  After all, they do procreate just like real people; though, perhaps they have fewer progeny.

The U.S. State Department has a well deserved reputation for being manned by people who are morally irreproachable, temperamentally self-controlled and emotionally repressed. ..  Conformity is the creed.  Norman Rockwell on steroids.  Like nonconforming meerkats, the wild in behavior, the over-the-top eccentrics, the loners, the terminably weak, the wildcatters, the truly innovative and those who are too New York menschlich are either driven off the reservation or insidiously sidelined until their career comes to a premature end.

But sex is a fact of life.  And, like it or not, Foreign Service folk can’t escape it.  The peccadilloes keep State’s security cadre very busy indeed.  First, let’s categorize the broad rubrics of sexual behavior in the American  Foreign Service:

  • Midlife Adolescence:  the married middle-aged male who suddenly finds himself in a sexual playground like Bangkok or Manila and loses it.
  • The Poor Soul:  the man or woman whom love has passed by and plunges into a marriage with a Third Worlder who recognizes a free ticket out of misery when s/he sees it. 
  • The Political Appointee Who Mistakes ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ for Diplomatic Impunity:  When to mischief we bend our will, how soon we find the instruments of ill.
  • The Gays:  (a) those open about their sexuality (tending to be younger), and (b) those firmly in the closet (tending to be older).
  • Sleeping With the Enemy:  violators of the “non-frat” policy who have affairs with the nationals of hostile powers.
  • The Nut Cases:  exhibitionists, predators, the morally unhinged.

Middle-aged Adolescents While in diplomatic training after just entering the Foreign Service, a middle-aged woman offered me a ride home from the Foreign Service Institute in her van with three young children.  She had just returned from Bangkok where her husband was posted.  “Oh, Bangkok.  That must be very interesting,” I said, making conversation.  She harrumphed.  “I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” she said.  She went on to relate how, after a few months at post, her husband took up with an assortment of Thai bar girls and abruptly ended their marriage.  She came home with their kids to pick up the pieces of her life and deal with lawyers and State Department bureaucrats on the red tape surrounding divorce.  Even one of our married career ambassadors carried on with local honies. The Thai have a strong sense of joie de vivre about such things, but most Americans don’t want Hugh Hefner representing their country overseas.

And there was the notorious case of a colleague who was sent packing from another Asian post because he had decided to divorce his generic American wife for a young Chinese woman with whom he had fathered babies. But the wife hung on and both women lived with him at the same time. This harem chief confided that what ticked him off was that the ambassador who made him depart was himself living with a local mistress.

It’s a sad yet all too familiar tale.  Middle-aged men tossed into overseas sexual playgrounds where any Western gentleman is a catch by dint of his income and passport.  I lost count early on as to how many male colleagues I knew who dumped June Cleaver for Suzie Wong….In my experience, most are smarter and sharper than the Caspar Milquetoasts they marry. …


A place like Thailand is great for self-deluded studs, but a hellhole for foreign women.  Frustrated in love, many of the latter hit on the available bachelors within the embassy community.  Being the target of such approaches over the years by both married and single Western ladies, I speak from personal experience.

The Poor Soul How often one encounters the frumpy plain Jane with her new hubby — an Ethiopian rock star half her age, the Paul Giamatti look-alike wed to buxom 22-year old Miss Ukraine.  I recall the 40-something Foreign Service secretary who married a tattooed Fijian Hell’s Angels Harley aficionado.  A match made in heaven.  The face-in-the-crowd mid-life consul, trained as a classical pianist, biggest suck-up in the Service, who fell deeply in love with a smashing young college-educated Korean girl.  Like teen love birds, they were.  Until she got her American passport.  The first thing Miss Korean Beauty did upon landing at LAX was to file divorce papers.  Another common scenario.  You see, foreign spouses are entitled to almost instant U.S. citizenship upon marrying an American diplomat.  Too many have discovered this Get Out of Teeming Developing World Free card.  The ones with a trace of moral conscience might wait a year or two before ditching Mr. or Ms. Meal Ticket.  Others, like the Korean babe, have it all scammed out and ditch their new mate as soon as the ink is dry on their shiny new eagle-embossed passport.

Political Appointees Someone needs to collect 200-years of lore and write a book about the idiots who are allowed to buy United States ambassadorships.  No banana republic rivals our diplomatic spoils system, a topic to which I plan to devote a special entry soon.  But here are just two examples of political appointee ambassadors who were caught in sexual misconduct:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Norway Mark Evans Austad, an outspoken former Mormon missionary who hurled verbal attacks against a variety of Norwegian liberal institutions as well as the press was taken by police at a house where he was bellowing loudly and banging on a woman’s door at 3 a.m.  Austad claimed that, after hosting a cocktail party, he headed to a friend’s house “to plan a salmon fishing trip,” and the taxi had taken him to the wrong address. The police returned Austad to his residence.

Joseph Zappala, a wealthy Florida developer and fundraiser for President George H.W. Bush, was appointed ambassador to Spain despite his inability to speak Spanish.  Zappala’s tour in Madrid was marred when he took up with another woman, ending his 30-year marriage. “This guy’s roaming eye for the Spanish ladies became very embarrassing for us in the career Foreign Service,” said someone who served in Madrid with Zappala.

Gays A senior protocol official was nabbed in a raid on a Washington gay brothel years ago. He faced a dual dilemma at that time: the shame and security implications of being outed as gay when it was not condoned, and the legal issues of being arrested as a john in a pay-for-sex situation.

Prior to the 1990s, homosexuality was grounds for exclusion from the Foreign Service.  Enforcement, however, was spotty at best.  Everybody had friends and colleagues known to be gay.  It was no big deal.  But the gays themselves were forced to remain in the closet.  When the ban was lifted, gays organized themselves into their own Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.  While younger FS members are open about their gayness, many of the older ones remain closeted, whether out of habit or whatever.  The bottom line is the Foreign Service is a much friendlier institution for gays than in previous years, particularly since Secretary Clinton initiated some reforms to accommodate partners.

Sleeping With the Enemy the national security agencies have what is called a “Criteria Countries List” comprising those nations whose intelligence services target our personnel (see “On Spies, Counterspies, Would-be Spies and Just Plain Losers – Part I”).  A “non-frat” policy applies.  Think:  Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, etc.  It is verboten to have romantic relationships with the citizens of such countries.  Nonetheless. . .


There was the junior FSO who fell in love with an East German woman while posted  in another communist country.  The young female FSO who had a torrid romance with a Cuban man while serving in Havana.  The embassy communicator who up and married another country’s army officer while serving at a communist post.  Diplomatic Security pulled their clearances, yanked them from their postings and placed them in dead-end nonprofessional jobs back in D.C.  At least two were assigned to the Department’s mail room.  They got the message and quit.  BTW, the guy with the East German lady and the woman who married the foreign officer enjoyed happy marriages outside of the Foreign Service.

Nut Cases:  There was the USAID official who had a penchant for displaying his private parts to females who entered his office (yes, he was dismissed).  And the admin staff sleazebag in one of our large embassies who coerced his local national female employees into sex acts with him in his office (got off scot-free; an all-too familiar crime in our embassies).  The married, sixtyish political appointee Under Secretary of State who preyed sexually upon his female secretary (who filed a grievance action leading to his quiet dismissal).  And there is at least one confirmed case of incest.

The U.S. Foreign Service consists of America’s best in terms of brains, abilities and relevant knowledge.  But its members are all too human just like the rest of us.  No, Foreign Service personnel are not a bunch of kinky perverts lusting after the people with whom they work and associate.  But funny things do happen in life.  And the system is pretty good about policing itself.  Messy adulterous affairs overseas often end up with the involved parties being sent back home, with a cloud over their careers.  Our diplomats are held to high standards which are taken seriously.

Love, Romance and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service – Part II: Bombs & Bureaucrats

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? ~ Pablo Casals

Six Tips on Courtship in a War Zone
(Cosmo Mag — are you paying attention?)

  • When your love interest calls via military radio phone from a jungle redoubt asking for advice on what to do as mortar rounds slam into her encampment, counsel her as follows:  “Hit the ground!”
  • When dating via helicopter over enemy terrain, become a Believer and pray to God often — even if you aren’t a Believer, it’s best to hedge your bets when your life is on the line.
  • 24/7 armed guards who accompany you wherever you go can put a crimp on your dating as well as the rest of your social life.  Stay at home until the danger passes.
  • Kevlar trumps Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana:  don’t fret about making a fashion statement in a place where olive drab dominates the runways. There’s something to be said about bullet-stopping Kevlar even if it does suppress the fine lines of your figure. 
  • When the local fare moves on your plate, or all those around you are retching their guts out, a dinner date centered on Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) is an acceptable fallback.
  • When traveling over jungle cover in which wild-eyed, drug-crazed freedom fighters love to take pot shots at low-flying aircraft just for the hell of it, do anything possible to protect your private parts, as these may come in handy as your romance progresses to the next stage.  Helmets, flak jackets and medical kits are just some of the items you can use for this purpose.

Is This a Date, or Apocalypse Now?
A fetching young Dutch UN peacekeeper caught my eye when I was serving at our new embassy in war-torn Cambodia in the early ’90s.  There was something about the blue beret, the gouda-infused enthusiasm to bring Freedom and Democracy to the benighted Cambodians, her sacrificing her wooden shoes for jungle boots, her patriotic profile in a black one-piece swimsuit at the only pool in the country.

We hit it off.  Then she was posted to the country’s far northeast, an area so remote that no roads led to it, a backwater in which we stumbled upon anti-communist Vietnamese guerrillas who didn’t know Hanoi had won in ’75, a region dominated by exotic minority peoples speaking languages unknown to linguists, an ecological wonderland with animal species thought to be extinct.  The only way to get there was by chopper.  The UN contracted transportation out to a Russian company operating rickety Soviet-era helicopters piloted by Red Army veterans, many of whom made their bones in Afghanistan.  It wasn’t unusual for Khmer Rouge guerrillas to shoot at these choppers; bullet holes occasionally were found in the fuselages after landing.

When in D.C. on a date, one needs only to hop into one’s shiny new Miata, pick up one’s date and zip over to Marcel’s for filet of Dorade and foie gras mousse, to be followed by drinks at Veritas and maybe a late showing of Woody Allen’s latest.  When dating in Stung Treng, however, one must lower one’s standards a notch or two.  With alcohol-sodden, joyriding Russians at the stick, I flew too many times than I care to remember between Phnom Penh and Stung Treng.  I got a break when our own POW/MIA search team flew Blackhawks to that region to excavate the remains of our Vietnam War missing-in-action.  Otherwise, we kept in touch via Australian military radiophone.  Indeed, she did call me one afternoon asking what to do as mortar rounds fell into her encampment (I could hear the explosions over the receiver).  And I shouted, “Hit the ground!”

Mother State
Something like sixty percent of Foreign Service personnel take on foreign-born spouses.  This, of course, is to be expected when most enter the Service at a fairly young age and spend much of their working lives overseas.  But love and statecraft often don’t follow in parallel paths and bumps are encountered along the way.  Mother State becomes a mutant Junior Prom chaperone when it comes to one’s love life and family affairs.  You thought you shed parental oversight of your personal affairs once you hit your late teens.  But once you take the oath and sign your soul away for that security clearance, be prepared to have your most intimate affairs become the business of Mother State.

Once my relationship with the Dutch peacekeeper became a steady one, the embassy’s Regional Security Officer informed me that she needed to be “cleared,” i.e., investigated and deemed not a security threat to the United States.  “Fill out this Form SF-86 and all these other forms,” he told her.  She looked at me and asked, “Is this for real?”  I said, “Yes, dear.  It’s only a formality.”  “I’ve never dated anyone before whose employer required that I be investigated,” she replied, not pleased.  The 21-page SF-86 asks such questions as:

“Have you ever knowingly engaged in activities designed to overthrow the U.S. Government by force?”
“Have you ever knowingly engaged in any acts of terrorism?”

The RSO then interviewed her at length.  Sheepishly and with unsteady nerves, she confessed to having demonstrated against short-range nuclear missiles in Europe when she was at the University of Leiden.  The RSO gave her a pass for this crazy youthful act of anarchistic nihilism.  He generously informed us that we could continue to see each other pending a background investigation of her life in the Netherlands.

Now, security investigations have a way of throwing a damper on romance.  In the eyes of the foreign ladies, you go from being an eligible bachelor to radioactive waste.  Fortunately, I was able to assuage and sweet-talk my foreign lady into going along with what for her was a low-level inquisition.  She was “cleared” not long afterward.

Fast forward:  Our Engagement.  According to the regs. 3 FAM 4191, “an employee intending to marry a foreign national must provide notice 90 days prior to the marriage date.”  More red tape to complete.  The regs further warn, “Failure of an employee to provide the required notification/approval of cohabitation with or marriage to a foreign national may result in the initiation of an appropriate investigation, immediate suspension (which may result in a proposal for revocation) of the employee’s security clearance, and/or disciplinary action.”  Pretty heady stuff.  More assuaging and sweet-talking needed.

We put in all the paperwork and made arrangements to wed at a small castle in a fairytale setting in Nijmegen.  The entire Dutch extended clan was invited.  Everything was on track.  All we needed was the actual green light from Mother State.  As time drew down, we continued to wait for that green light.  And waited.  Finally, I got on the phone and called State.  “What gives?” I asked.  “It’s been months now.”  I was told to wait some more.  Still nothing.  My mind started going off in strange directions.  Was she indeed a bomb-throwing anarchist? I wondered.  Maybe a card carrying member of the Gouda Workers of the World?  Nope.  Mother State lost our paperwork.  Advance directly to Go and start anew, I was told.  “But we have a whole castle lined up.  Half of Brabant province has been invited.”  “Sorry.  No wedding without us saying it’s ok,” Mother State replied with heartfelt empathy.  Desperate, I called a buddy who entered the Service with me who worked in that office.  Miraculously, he made things happen.  We got the green light to marry.

If you work for Wal-Mart or GEICO or JetBlue, you may live with or marry whomever you want whenever you want.  But for those who labor in the twilight reaches of national security, Uncle Sam’s cold, boney hand keeps a tight grip.  Like some medieval lord, his blessing must be gotten to enter a steady relationship or to take the hand of a beloved in matrimony.  Amor vincit omnia.

Read more of James Bruno’s excellent and prolific blog, Diplomatic Denizan, at jameslbruno.blogspot.com. You can also buy his books through the same site.

Vietnam Era Renegade Army Discovered: Lighting the darkness: FULRO’s jungle Christians

28 Oct

Lighting the darkness: FULRO’s jungle Christians     

Vietnam Era Renegade Army Discovered

By Nate Thayer

(This story appeared in the Phnom Penh Post and  as the cover story in the Far Eastern Economic Review.  I discovered, in the remote Northeastern Cambodian jungles along the Ho Chi Minh trail along the Vietnamese border, an army literally lost in time. Eventually all 398 FULRO fighters and families were given political asylum in the U.S., after the high pressure intervention of their former U.S. army special forces comrades learned they were still, 17 years after the Americans withdrew, fighting the Vietnam War. They are all now settled in the U.S., mostly in North Carolina.

Friday, 25 September, 1992

By Nate Thayer

MONDULKIRI, Cambodia – Accompanied by a chorus of crickets and the steady drumming of rain on the leaf roofs of their huts, scores of Montagnard fighters and their families gather in the jungle darkness each night to pray and sing.

Having long ago fled ideological restrictions in Vietnam for a religious sanctuary deep in the forest, the soldiers are members of FULRO–the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races-which has fought for a separate homeland in Vietnam for their hill tribe people since 1964.

Lamps fueled by chunks of slow-burning tree resin give light to the few shared tattered bibles and hymnals as Christian songs of worship echo through the otherwise uninhabited forest. Familiar gospel hymns are sung in the tribal dialects of the mountains.

For many at FULRO’s scattered guerrilla bases, the ability to pray freely was a main motivation to flee their villages in Vietnam’s central highlands 17 years ago.

Fulro Catholic Priest at Servies in Jungle Church Where They Fled From Religious Persecution in Vietnam

Fulro Catholic Priest at Services in Jungle Church Where They Fled From Religious Persecution in Vietnam

“The communists will not let us pray. They say that Christianity is an American and French religion, so we came to live in the jungle,” said Lt.-Col. Y Hinnie. “In our land under the communists, people pray at home secretly or in the rice fields. They cannot worship together like we do in the jungle. Here we are free.”

Each of the five jungle encampments in the FULRO rear base area have an Evangelical church, while there is a lone Catholic church in the main guerrilla camp. Nearly 40 people share a single bible for the daily Catholic Mass and at weekend services. The church consists of pews of wooden logs lined neatly in a clearing, a towering rough-hewn cross behind the altar.

Similar Evangelical churches, cut into clearings surrounded by 30-meter high hardwood trees, are packed with more than 350 worshipers for the daily two-hour evening service and brief early morning prayers. Each church has its own pastor, and worshipers bring large green leaves as hassocks to kneel on the damp forest floor.

These believers are the legacy of Christian missionaries who lived in the Central Highlands until 1975, when the last of them were expelled by the current government in Vietnam. Many of the missionaries had mastered the local dialects, translating Bibles and hymnals into the region’s Rade, Jarai and Koho languages.

The guerrillas also tune into weekly radio sermons delivered in their native languages by a powerful shortwave radio station in Manila operated by the Christian Missionary Alliance.

A guerrilla congregation reels off the names of “their” missionaries like a litany: “In Pleiku, Mr. Long and Mr. Fleming and in Dalat, Helen Evans, she is from America too. Ken Swain from Darlac, he preaches in our language on the radio every Saturday now.”

FULRO officials say some of the missionaries’ involvement with the Montagnards went beyond simply bringing the scriptures to the area. They said some of them were active in the waning days of U.S. involvement in the early 1970s in running guns to the guerrillas.

Following the collapse of the South Vietnamese regime in 1975, FULRO leaders say, the communists set about systematically dismantling Christian churches. Many of the Montagnards’ religious leaders were arrested and killed after the communist victory in 1975, they say.

“They take our pastors, preachers and Christians and put them in jail,” said FULRO’s military Commander-in-Chief Col Y Peng Ayun. “We don’t hate any one man because we are Christians, but we can never trust the communists,” he added.

Two prominent Montagnard pastors from Ban Me Thuot, Y Ham Nic Hrah and Y Lico Nie, died in the early 1980s after many years of harsh conditions in prison, according to the guerrillas. “Here, we worship no matter what,” said Pastor Budar Su Khong, 52, from Dalat. “Jesus said ‘Come to me whoever is tired, and I will bring you rest.’ We are very tired. Please take a message to Christians in other countries to pray for us, and we will pray for them.”

—–0000——
Vietnam War Era Renegade Army Discovered In Mondulkiri

By Nate Thayer

Abandoned for years by their own leaders and former foreign military backers, an anti-Hanoi Montagnard army based in northeast Cambodia has a plea for protection.

The military combatants of FULRO-the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races-have waged a lonely battle for a separate homeland in Vietnam for their hilltribe people since 1964.

The recent discovery of the Montagnard army in Mondulkiri province prompted Phnom Penh’s Interior Ministry to inform U.N. peacekeeping forces that unless the group-formerly given sanctuary by the Khmer Rouge-is disarmed they would attack them.

Under threat from the Phnom Penh regime, expelled by the Khmer Rouge, and a thorn in the side to Vietnam, FULRO is presenting an interesting if not painful dilemma to U.N. officials in Phnom Penh.

UNTAC-mandated to verify the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Cambodia-may be obligated to ensure the return of the group to Vietnamese soil if they insist on continuing to wage war.

But UNHCR-responsible for protecting people with a “well founded fear of persecution”-may have to offer asylum to the fighters if they are in danger of being sent back to Vietnam, where they certainly would face imprisonment.

That, in turn, could open the floodgates to thousands of requests for political asylum from Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

“We have enough problems in Cambodia dealing with the four factions, and now this army we never even heard of turns up,” said one UNTAC military official.

American diplomats in Phnom Penh and U.N. military officials in Cambodia are urging that UNHCR grant the group refugee status to begin the process of third country asylum, and give them temporary protection from military attack.

But FULRO Commander-in-Chief Y Peng Ayun and his forces are reluctant to accept giving up their fight without first getting U.N. protection.

“If we give up our weapons, they will take us back to Vietnam or the Vietnamese will come get us,” Ayun said. “If I go to the U.S., I don’t want to stay a long time there, because I have responsibility to liberate my country.”

When two correspondents visited FULRO’s remote guerrilla headquarters last month, they found an army unaware of the world around them and desperately seeking instructions and resupply from their leadership.

Col. Ayun and his lieutenants gathered around the reporters, hungrily seeking information. “Please, can you help us find our president, Y’Bham Enuol?” Colonel Ayun asked. “We have been waiting for contact and orders from our president since 1975. Do you know where he is?”

Neither Ayun nor his troops, who gathered around to meet the first journalists to find them since they fled to the jungles after the American defeat in Indochina in 1975, knew that their leader was executed 17 years before by the Khmer Rouge.

They fell silent when informed; some wept quietly.

Situated in a string of five villages carved out of dense forest along a raging river, the group of 407 guerrillas and their families have no access to even the smallest luxury items except from fighters returning from Vietnam.

There is no medicine or schools, and many of the soldiers and their families have only the clothes they wear and rifles. Bamboo huts with roofs of leaves provide shelter.

“The food we get from the forest. The forest belongs to FULRO.” said Lt. Col. Y Hinnie. “We don’t have food or medicine, so it is difficult. But with food and medicine the jungle is a very nice place. We are used to it.”

The rivers nearby abound with crocodiles, huge catfish, and fresh water porpoises and the surrounding jungle-thick with mosquitos-is home to elephants and a host of deadly snakes.

The combatants and their families are traditionally rice eating people, but they are unable to farm rice here with the enemy constantly forcing movement.

A staple of corn, with jungle cucumbers, pumpkins, and hot green peppers are all they have. For part of the year they survive on poisonous potatoes that must be carefully processed for five days to extract a deadly toxin.

“We must eat it slowly until our bodies get used to it or it will kill you,” Hinnie said, “But the poison is also the medicine we use to cure snakebites.” Nearby a soldier lay paralyzed from a snakebite he received three months before.

“This tree has the medicine we use for malaria and this one here we can use to treat diarrhea,” Hinnie said, pointing.

The army has no maps or compasses. “But we can guide ourselves by stars and winds of the seasons. We can tell by which side of the tree is wet during different months exactly which direction we are going,” he said.

Hinnie spoke credible English from his days as a young boy with Christian missionaries, as well as Khmer, Vietnamese, and French, and several tribal dialects, and translated for others who spoke in Rade. His skills have given him the title of “the FULRO Military Delegation’s Representative of Foreign Affairs.”

But his knowledge of world events is spotty. “We would like you to take a message to U Thant,” he said, referring to the former U.N. Secretary-General. Asking about the cold war, he said, “I hear that President George Bush now contacts with the Russians.”

He is charged with listening to the shortwave radio each morning, tuning in VOA, BBC, Christian radio, and Radio Vietnam to keep the group abreast of foreign developments.

Hinnie told amazed fighters of the fax machine: “You take a letter and put it in a telephone and it comes out in one minute in America,” he explained.

The Forgotten Army

A number of soldiers appeared to introduce themselves in English as having fought with the Americans.

“You are the first foreigner I have seen since 1975,” said Bhong Rcam, 47, “The Americans usually call me Tiny.”

Like many of the fighters of FULRO, he worked with the U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After the U.S. withdrawal he was jailed by Hanoi, before joining FULRO in the jungle in 1976.

During the Vietnam War FULRO was supplied with millions of dollars of U.S. equipment, and before that, used as allies to further the objectives of the French and various Vietnamese regimes.

When the North Vietnamese launched decisive offensives in March 1975, FULRO leaders say that senior U.S. officials in Saigon promised continued support for the Montagnards and pledged to covertly support their fight.

Well equipped with American weapons and promises of more as South Vietnam crumbled in the spring of 1975, FULRO waited for the Americans who never returned, eventually re-grouping in the jungle.

“The Montagnard people and the Americans are like one family,” said Lt. Col. Hinnie. “I am not angry, but very sad that the Americans forgot us. The Americans are like our elder brother, so it is very sad when your brother forgets you.”

FULRO continued to launch attacks on Vietnam for four years after the U.S. withdrawal, fielding a fierce army of 10,000 fighters. But by 1979 they were running low on ammunition and had suffered huge casualties, with more than 8,000 of their fighters killed or captured.

In 1979 FULRO abandoned their bases in Vietnam and moved to the jungles on the Cambodian side of the Vietnamese frontier, switching to underground networks and small guerrilla strikes in their four regions of operations in Vietnam-Quang Duc, Darlac, Pleiku, and Kon Tum.

Previously given sanctuary by the Khmer Rouge in areas under their control, FULRO was expelled from Khmer Rouge zones in January to a remote area of Mondulkiri province. Khmer Rouge officials in Phnom Penh say they had given FULRO sanctuary since 1979, despite having fallen out with their leadership in 1986.

“They had no political vision. Their fighters are very, very brave, but they had no support from any leadership, no food, and they did not understand at all the world around them,” said one senior Khmer Rouge official.

Jungle Christians

Col. Ayun complained bitterly of the treatment of his people by the Hanoi government.

“My people suffer terribly under the Vietnamese communist regime,” he recounted from a thatched hut in the forest. “They came and took our land, and made it theirs. They try to erase our language and force us to speak Vietnamese. They have taken our fertile land and forced us to the bad land.

“They say they have come to build progress for my people, but they have come to kill, arrest, and oppress my people.”

For many at FULRO’s scattered guerrilla bases, the ability to pray freely and practice Christianity was a main motivation to flee Vietnam. Each of the five villages in the FULRO area have an evangelical church, while there is a lone Catholic church in the main guerrilla camp.

“The Communists will not let us pray,” Col. Hinnie said. “They say that Christianity is an American and French religion, so we came to live in the jungle.”

Col. Ayun requested to meet with the American ambassador to seek advice on whether his group would get the aid he said was long promised and to seek proof of the death of their leader.
“We are the troops of President Y Bham Enuol,” he said.

“If he has died, we want proof from the United Nations. The Americans had a whole plan for Indochina. I want to meet face to face with the American ambassador. I have a plan for the future, and they should know clearly our position for the revolutionary struggle. We want to know whether they will help us or not.”

But the chances of U.S. support for Ayun and his forces are dim, and FULRO faces a whole new series of difficulties.

Montagnard leaders now living in the U.S. appealed to Col. Ayun to give up the fight. “Due to unfavorable circumstances, I suggest it is time to stop fighting, to find different ways to reach our ultimate goal,” said Pierre K’briuh in a recent message to the FULRO fighters.

K’briuh is a leader of the former FULRO troops now in the United States and he himself was jailed by Hanoi until the early 1980s.

“President Y-Bham Enuol and his entourage were executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1975,” he wrote.

“Therefore, based on common sense, lay down your weapons and appeal at once to the U.N. for political asylum to join us here. We don’t have any other choice.”

Col. Ayun and his troops say that if they have proof that Y Bham Enuol is indeed dead, they will consider going to the U.S.

“But even if we go to another country, our resistance will continue until we get our own land, until we get back the land that belonged to us before,” Ayun said.

“I don’t want to go to a free nation,” he added. “I want to stay here because this is my battlefield. It is my responsibility. But I have no supplies or help from free countries.”

 

How Hordes of U.S. Republican Party Apparatchik’s Toppled the Mongolian Communist Descendants of Genghis Khan

6 Oct

How Hordes of U.S. Republican Party Apparatchik’s Toppled the Mongolian Communist Descendants of Genghis Khan

Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with the Mongolian Voter” was the single largest printed and most widely distributed document in Mongolian History, and Crucial to Overthrowing History’s Second Longest Ruling Communist Government Without Shedding a Drop of Blood:

The  “Contract with Mongolia.”

From the archives of contemporary history.

By Nate Thayer

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The Washington Post

April 6, 1997

On a stool in his portable felt and canvas yurt, Yadamsuren, a 70-year-old nomadic sheepherder, offered a visitor chunks of sheep fat and shots of fermented mare’s milk to ward off the unspeakable cold.

Seventy miles of bleak desert northeast of Ulan Bator and many miles from the nearest neighbor, he spoke glowingly of the work of then U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the Republican Party. “I read the `Contract With the Voter’ closely. Everybody did,” he said, explaining why he decided to vote for a new government in Mongolian elections last June. “In the contract, they clearly say what society and the people can do for each other.”

American hordes, led by the Republican Party, have invaded the steppes of Mongolia in recent years. Instead of cavalries, they have comprised teams of election strategists and campaign organizers, who mobilized a once ragtag Mongolian opposition to achieve victory in national elections last June 30.

In what was once an impenetrable Soviet satellite, a remarkably young democratic government has taken power, creating Asia’s first successful transition from communism to democracy.

A key element behind the victory, say Mongolia’s new leaders, was a carefully engineered strategy by American Republican political operatives to end 75 years of Communist Party control. And the tool that the Mongolian Democratic Union credits for victory was none other than the “Contract With America,” the platform used in 1994 by revitalized Republicans to sweep into control of the U.S. Congress.

“This form of signing a contract with the people is a new achievement of the Mongolian political system, even of political science,” said Prime Minister M. Enkhsaikhan in a recent interview, smiling in his drab Soviet-built office in the main government square in Ulan Bator.

But today the halls of government in Ulan Bator could be mistaken for a university campus. Of the 50 new Democratic Union coalition legislators who gained power in the elections, 36 are in their twenties or thirties; the prime minister is 41, the parliament speaker is 43, and the minister of defense is 38. “It is an unqualified success of political transformation,” said a Western diplomat here. “But the 50 Democratic Union MP’s and new government have virtually no previous political experience. The phrase `complete chaos’ has been used.”

When the Russians built a capital for their first satellite country, populated by nomadic herdsmen, they named it Ulan Bator, which means “red hero” in Mongolian.

But the winds of political change have swept again across this isolated but strategically important corner of northeast Asia. Mongolia’s new freewheeling democracy has scores of newspapers, dozens of political parties and vigorous debate within the government, achieved without bloodshed or resistance from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, the once-Stalinist Communist Party in uninterrupted power since 1921. Under the pressure of demonstrations in 1990, the government promised political and economic reforms, and the first multi-party parliamentary elections were held in 1992. The disorganized opposition only garnered six seats, leaving the other 70 — and the government — firmly in the hands of the Revolutionary Party.

In the wake of the crushing defeat, the Mongolian opposition began to work together with Republican advisers to transform itself into a unified force with formidable campaigning skills. Such peaceful transformation stands in stark contrast to the turmoil that has beset Russia and many former Soviet satellites after the collapse of communism.

“For decades Mongolia was under the domination of foreign countries,” Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan said in an interview with the Post . “So really Mongolia itself is a new nation.”

The U.S. Republican Party help to the fledgling Mongolian democratic opposition began in late 1991. “It was a personal request from Secretary of State {James} Baker. He called us up when he returned from {an official visit to} Ulan Bator and said, `I think you need to do something there to help the democratization process,` “ said Kirsten Edmondson, the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) program manager for Mongolia. IRI — the Republican wing of the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy — dispatched staff members to Mongolia. They convinced squabbling groups of opposition forces — political parties, students, activists, nongovernmental organizations, intellectuals and businessmen — to form a united coalition.

IRI then trained candidates and supporters from the newly created National Democratic Union in the science of targeting voters with relevant messages, grass-roots party development and membership recruitment.

As the campaign season began in late 1995, Gingrich sent the authors of the “Contract With America” to Ulan Bator. Working with the Democratic Union, they drafted the “Contract With the Mongolian Voter.”

Even the new Mongolian election law was lifted verbatim from the election law manual of Texas, Mongolian and IRI officials said.

The Contract with the Mongolian Voter called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment.

It became the most widely distributed document in Mongolian history, according to Mongolian officials, with 350,000 copies printed in 1996.

The Americans convinced the opposition candidates of the importance of hitting the campaign trail — a concept previously unheard of here — personally taking their message to the far-flung corners of this country of 2.5 million people just under the size of Alaska.

And it was voters such as Yadamsuren, who like many Mongolians uses only one name, who put the new government in power. A herder like more than half of Mongolia’s population, he owns 50 cows and sheep, which grazed nearby in minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit weather.

While his wife melted snow on a coal stove for drinking water for the livestock, he talked of giving the young opposition forces a chance to change Mongolia: “People understood that this new government wanted to put Mongolia on the same footing with other countries. We decided to give them the power to do it.”

And it was the contract that persuaded him to vote out the Communists, he said. “We knew before the elections there were promises in the contract that could not be fulfilled, like raising the pensions. But in general, in a strategic sense, {the new leaders} are doing important things. We decided to give the younger generation a chance.”

In dozens of interviews with ordinary Mongolians during a one-month trip through the country, all were familiar with the “Contract with the Mongolian Voter” and every Mongolian nomad living in the vast desert country in their portable tent-like traditional dwelling, known as a Ger, in this 15th largest nation on earth that straddles China and the former Soviet Union, knew who Newt Gingrich was.

On June 30, 1996, dressed in their finest traditional clothing, and traveling by horse, camel and on foot, 91 percent of the Mongolian electorate turned out to vote — -the biggest turnout by far in Mongolian history. The result stunned everyone, including the victors. Baker was on hand to witness the victory, having returned as a private citizen to serve as an official election monitor.

Diplomats and Mongolian officials agree that the Communists grossly miscalculated voter sentiment and the opposition’s organization. All 50 of the newly elected legislators were trained by IRI, according to government leaders. IRI and Mongolian officials said the Communist candidates were offered training and assistance in campaign strategy by the Americans, but turned it down.

But diplomats and Mongolian officials are quick to credit the Communists for the smooth transition. “In many ways they are the unsung heroes. They had the army and the power. They could have just refused to turn it over,” said an American diplomat.

In a July letter, two former leaders of the democratic opposition who suddenly found themselves head of parliament and the majority leader praised IRI and “all of our friends in America”: “The victory of democracy in Mongolia demonstrates that the values of life, liberty, freedom of speech and respect for human rights and justice are not just American values, but universal values inherent in all peoples, including the people of Asia,” they said. “We want to thank our American friends who worked so hard to make this possible. The International Republican Institute stood side by side with us.”

25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip and history of U.S.-North Korean basketball diplomacy

5 Mar

25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip comes after decades of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea as a central tool in nuclear bomb negotiations

by Nate Thayer , March 4, 2013
Dennis Rodman Tweeting From Pyongyang

Dennis Rodman Tweeting From Pyongyang

 NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman’s circus troupe delegation to North Korea was greeted by ridicule by most of the world. But does the Kim dynasty’s longtime basketball obsession hold the seed that will open North Korea to the world?

U.S. diplomatic insiders were dismissive of the Rodman meeting last week, describing it as “goofball diplomacy”. But basketball has played a very real role in the often bizarre, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up backroom antics of U.S.-Pyongyang diplomatic negotiations for 25 years.

A love of the game shared by Kim Jong Il and his successor, current North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, has on occasion put basketball on the same bench as nuclear warfare in top level talks between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Rodman’s visit is just the latest wacky chapter in a diplomatic story that has seen the hoop dreams of Kim Jong Il become an unlikely pawn in nuclear negotiations with the U.S.

North Korean Top Nuclear Negotiator, Head of the North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry, and Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and Scotty Pippin Fanatic, Ri Gun, with U.S. North Korean Top Envoy Christopher Hill

North Korean Top Nuclear Negotiator, Head of the North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry, and Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and Scotty Pippin Fanatic, Ri Gun, with U.S. North Korean Top Envoy Christopher Hill

The Bulls fanatic from North Korea

In 1991, at a low point of relations between North Korea and the United States, Washington invited three North Koreans to a conference at George Washington University about peace on the Korean peninsula. At the time, the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the DPRK, so the delegation from Pyongyang was attending in an “unofficial” capacity.

According to Gene Schmiel, then in charge of the Korea desk at the U.S. State Department, the “unofficial” North Korean delegation was led by a man in the Pyongyang “America department who spoke good English, was said to have an intelligence background, and close ties to the Dear Leader.”

That man was Ri Gun, a senior Pyongyang figure known to be close to Kim Jong Il and a lead member involved in every diplomatic exchange and nuclear and ballistic missile negotiations for the previous 25 years. Schmiel’s most vivid memory about the conference came when Gun revealed his passion for a very American pastime:

“After dinner, we went to their hotel room in Washington and [Gun] said ‘Oh My God! It’s eight o’clock! The Chicago Bulls are on TNT! Be quiet, we can talk during the commercials. Stop. No more talking! Michael [Jordan] and the Bulls are on TNT, and I’ve got to see if Scotty [Pippen] has gotten over his latest injury!’”

Ri Gun “then moved to the TV, turned it on and stared transfixed at the opening jump ball of the NBA basketball between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Schmiel recalled in an interview this week. “Ri Gun headed the delegation and talked about an interest in basketball and Michael Jordan…Scotty Pippen this and Michael Jordan that, the triangle defense this, three points shots. They cared more about the NBA than I did”.

“We spent the rest of our time together that evening debating not high policy, but high quality basketball shooting and such arcana as whether the NBA should permit use of the zone defense. It was clear from our discussions that he had watched the NBA for many years. They cared more about the NBA than I did”, Schmiel added.

Gun was a fanatic for American basketball, particularly for the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons, the latter known as the NBA’s bad boys for their dirty play and habitual disregard for the rules of the game (of which Dennis Rodman was the poster-boy). Gun knew the nicknames of players, NBA history, and statistics. And he knew it because, Gun told Schmiel, “he got to watch games with the boss”. That ‘boss’ would have been the then North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Continue reading

Google Chief’s Teenage Daughter Blog Puts AP North Korea News Bureau to Shame: A Comparative Analysis

21 Jan

Amateur Journalism of Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Puts AP North Korea Reporting to Shame: A Comparative Analysis

Exactly one year ago, the Associated Press was granted permission to open a news bureau in North Korea, becoming the first western media agency to set up an official operation, providing what was to be a major propaganda coup for the repressive Pyongyang regime and what has evolved into an equally major blow to the reputation of, and an embarrassment for, the  AP.

On January  10, while Google chief Eric Schmidt and his delegation were in North Korea engaging in a very secretive and odd mission of which they refused to offer any substantive comments on their objectives, accomplishment or purpose, Associated Press  vice president  John Daniszewski  told the Voice of America that the AP Pyongyang bureau was not subject to state censorship and strictly follows the AP standards and rules used to produce the same stories in its global network  of bureaus that make it the largest media organization in the world.

Why then did an amateur teenage college student accompanying her father on the same Google trip deliver a knockout blow in her blog posting of the high profile top world story, putting to shame with substance, detail,  quotations from key participants, color, and written presentation the entire AP Korea coverage, despite the AP Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Ms Jean H. Lee being physically present at every event of the 4 day visit, even accompanying the official delegation on the airplane from Beijing?

But what Ms. Jean H. Lee, the AP Pyongyang Bureau Chief, the AP management, the North Korean government, Governor Richardson, and Ms. Sophie Schmidt’s own father, Google head Eric Schmidt, apparently didn’t realize was they had a stealth citizen journalist who had wangled her way on to the trip as a member of the delegation—Google head’s 19 year old daughter, college student Sophie Schmidt.

On January 3, AP Pyongyang bureau chief Jean H. Lee—reporting from Seoul not incidentally—released a story that AP headlined “APNewsBreak: Google exec chairman to visit NKorea” which led with the sentence “Google’s executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.”

The story went on to contend that “North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day “industrial revolution” in a New Year’s Day speech to the nation Monday. He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory. However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the North’s strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.”

The AP story concluded saying “Last year, a group of North Koreans even visited Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. And government-affiliated agencies already use at least one Google product to get state propaganda out to the world: YouTube.”

What was not mentioned in the story was that a Korean American broker who makes his living taking money from wealthy corporations and officials to be a fixer to arrange access to the North Korean government, was not only the source of her story, but was paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Associated Press over a period of years to broker the agreement that allowed AP to open the Pyongyang Bureau in the first place. Mr. Tony Nam Chung was also on the delegation, who the AP referred to simply as an “Asian expert.”

Let’s compare the reporting of the teenager, Sophie Schmidt and that of the AP bureau chief, Jean H Lee, own dispatches, both having witnessed exactly the same events, met the same players, and analyzed the significance of the newsworthiness of the high powered delegation that grabbed world headlines for days.

Having the only western bureau of a press organization in Pyongyang has its perks. Ms Lee was the only journalist given a visa to accompany the Google delegation on the flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

The delegation left Beijing airport where a scrum or reporters managed to get the only on the record comments of substance from delegation leaders, former U.S. politician Bill Richardson and Google head Eric Schmidt.

On that day, Jan 7, upon arrival in Pyongyang, AP Pyongyang Bureau chief Jean H. Lee tweeted “Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean We’re here. #Google executive chairman arrives in #NorthKorea http://bo.st/TG57Di”

Another AP official tweeted “Were they on same flight as @newsjean & @dguttenfelder? MT “@AP: BREAKING: Google executive arrives in NKorea on controversial trip”

Lee tweets in reply: “Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted was of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

Here is the AP picture taken by Lee on the airplane and the AP picture released on arrival at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport:

AP Korea Bureau Chief Tweets Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted is of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

AP Korea Bureau Chief Tweets Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted is of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

AP’s  January 7 story on the arrival in North Korea was titled “ Google big arrives in North Korea” datelined PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP), and written by Ms. Lee. The lead sentence was “The Google chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea’s economy and social media” adding that “Schmidt, a staunch proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit” and that “Computer and cell phone use is gaining ground in North Korea’s larger cities. However, most North Koreans only have access to a domestic Intranet system, not the World Wide Web. For North Koreans, Internet use is still strictly regulated and allowed only with approval.”

And here is excerpts from the blog of the untrained teenage college student, Mrs. Schmidt, titled “It might not get weirder than this”:

It starts with a Disclaimer: I am a North Korea amateur and can only share what it’s like to be part of a NK-bound delegation. Straightforward trip report here: no discussion of meeting details or intentions–just some observations.”

“This was how it started: A Chinese media pack saw us off at Beijing Airport. “Gov” is unfazed, a pro. The level of media attention prior to the trip raised the stakes and definitely affected the calculations on both sides.

We flew Air China in, on a full flight.  Mostly Chinese businessmen, Western NGO types and assorted diplomats, all looking appropriately battle-hardened.  An Ethiopian attaché assured me there was “never a dull moment” in the hermit kingdom.”

Google delegation at Beijing airport preparing to depart fro Pyongyang

Google delegation at Beijing airport preparing to depart fro Pyongyang

Schmidt accompanied her comments with a photo of the North Korean Custom form that both she, her dad, and the AP’s Ms Jean Lee filled out upon arrival in Pyongyang, with the comment “Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home.  Got it. We carried a ton of cash (USD) since that was the only way to pay for anything.”

"My favorite form. Do note #1 and #6: leave your "killing device" and "publishings of all kinds" at home.  Got it."

“My favorite form.
Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home. Got it.”

She then detailed the ambiance of their arrival.“An aside: For a country that banned religion, and has sent thousands of practicing Christians to prison camps, the Christmas trees were rather incongruous. When asked, Minder 1 chuckled and offered, “New Year’s trees?” We picked up visas at the check-in desk: slips of paper with our pictures taped on, which they then took back upon arrival at Pyongyang.  Deprived of our deserved passport stamps, we soldiered on.

Sophie Schmidt's North Korean ID card

Sophie Schmidt’s North Korean ID card

Our flight was the only one coming into Pyongyang that day. Small press swarm upon arrival, including media from NK, China and the AP, who have a small bureau in Pyongyang. We also met our handlers, two men from the Foreign Ministry, whom we gave code name. As minders go, they were alright.  They were affable, but would frequently give noncommittal answers to our questions…or just not answer us at all. I’d like to think they grew a little fond of us, though realistically, they were probably just as happy to see the back of us as we were to leave.”

Google delegation arrives at Pyongyang

Google delegation arrives at Pyongyang

Ms Schmidt then added what it would seem to be a crucial question on the delegation of the head of a company whose name is synonymous with the global borderless information age and free flow of information on a visit to the world’s most censored country ranked dead last on every list of world nations on issues of free press and free speech. “It was a nine-person delegation in total. We left our phones and laptops behind in China, since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.”

GOOGLE GROUP SHOT

Ms. Schmidt then made sure to include what is universally confirmed pertinent background context: “Ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference.  I can’t think of any reaction to that except absolute sympathy.  My understanding is that North Koreans are taught to believe they are lucky to be in North Korea, so why would they ever want to leave?  They’re hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it.  And the opacity of the country’s inner workings–down to the basics of its economy–further serves to reinforce the state’s control. The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale. “

She inserted a caveat for the readers benefit and in the interests of full disclosure—something starkly absent from all the Associated Press reporting: #1 Caveat: It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other). The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.”

GOOGLE AT E LIBRARY

Ms Schmidt then offered a portrait of the city and what she saw—which was limited to the hotel and being chauffeured to pre staged events and places She gave an overview of the arrangements of which they were to operate under during the visit, a portrayal that is consistent with the accounts of virtually every foreign visitor to the DPRK, and certainly every professional journalist: “We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.  I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders? After a day in frigid Pyongyang, I was just thankful it was warm. Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open. Since we didn’t have cell phones or alarm clocks,  the question of how we’d wake up on time in the morning was legitimate.  One person suggested announcing  “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.”

"Long, empty hallways. My father's reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open."

“Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.”

Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.

As for the ambiance of the accommodations, the teenager wrote: “We stayed at a guesthouse a few kilometers from Pyongyang that was really like a private hotel, in that we were the only guests.  Food overall? Solidly decent.  Like Korean food, only with less pizzazz and more corn (?). Inside, the place was a bizarre mix of marble grandeur and what passed for chic in North Korea in the 1970s.

Photographs of the Hotel:

Hotel Lobby

Hotel Lobby

Main lobby (above): Grecian statues, pirate ship appliqué, TV playing patriotic broadcasts.

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they're all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they’re all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they’re all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

And those beds? Hard as a rock.  Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting. Not a rug in the place.

And those beds? Hard as a rock. Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting. Not a rug in the place.

Three channels on the TVs: CNN International, dubbed-over USSR-era films, and the DPRK channel, which was by far the most entertaining.  My tolerance level for videos of Kim Jong Un in crowds turns out to be remarkably high.

Ms Schmidt then described the ambiance of the city of Pyongyang that put the AP’s Jean Lee to shame: “You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts. No street-level commerce, either. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t seen any plastic bags yet until I saw one person with a bag of apples and thought it looked out of place. Our trip coincided with the “Respected Leader” Kim Jong Un’s birthday. On that day, the little stalls that dotted the city and sold small sundries had long lines as they distributed treats.”

On the requisite tour to pay homage to the Great Leader at the palace, she writes:“Large, gilded gates outside the Palace. Heavily guarded, military types everywhere. This country has the 4th largest standing army in the world  (1.4 million)  and it's the size of Pennsylvania.

On the requisite tour to pay homage to the Great Leader at the palace, she writes:“Large, gilded gates outside the Palace. Heavily guarded, military types everywhere. This country has the 4th largest standing army in the world (1.4 million) and it’s the size of Pennsylvania.

 We weren’t allowed to bring anything in–no coats, gloves, cameras, hats, etc. (“No contents!”) We entered a series of tunnels with those moving-walkways you find in airports, which we slowly rode for probably 20-30 minutes.  The walls were lined with portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung looking at things, which turn out to be rather important: Because the Leaders are god-like figures, when one provides “on-site guidance” (which they always can, because they are experts in all things) it’s like a benediction.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist's chair (insert "on-site guidance" joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist’s chair (insert “on-site guidance” joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Behind us in line were at least 600 North Korean soldiers of various rank, for whom this was a solemn occasion and precious opportunity–they may be allowed to visit once more in their lives.

On the ubiquitous lectures that every visitor to Pyongyang is mid numbingly subjected to, including the AP chief of Korea news coverage, are all too familiar, Sophie Schmidt observes: “And open with a familiar speech: It was only due to the instruction/vision/guidance of Our Marshall/the Respected Leader/ Awesome-O wunderkid Kim Jong Un that we were able to successfully __________ (insert achievement here: launch a ballistic rocket, build complicated computer software, negotiate around US sanctions, etc.). 

Reminded me of the “We’re Not Worthy” bit from Wayne’s World. Just another example of the reality distortion field we routinely encountered in North Korea, just frequently enough to remind us how irrational the whole system really is.”

And Sophie went on to describe with a keen eye for detail and color the transportation system: “Metro Station. Rather less grand than the mausoleum, but also our best shot at seeing a non-staged group of ordinary North Koreans. The lines are probably twice as deep in the ground as an ordinary city’s, designed to withstand bombing raids. Cars are old but clean. Portraits of the Leaders? Check. Revolutionary music? Check. In the station, they had the day’s newspapers on display; there are four papers and all are state-run. In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station’s power cut out (above right).  The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.  Can’t win ’em all, minders.”

In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station's power cut out (above right).  The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.  Can't win 'em all, minders.

In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station’s power cut out (above right). The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time. Can’t win ’em all, minders.

The AP’s Jean Lee, was also at the hotel, and her sole contribution on the ambience was tweeting from her twitter account: Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week. @apklug http://twitpic.com/bu17ia” and posting this photograph:

Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside AP picture of range of food available: "Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week."

Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside AP picture of range of food available: “Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week.”

It would seem quite apparent that the account of Ms. Schmidt, the college teenager, of the Google delegation’s first day was considerably more substantive, informative, detailed, without bias, fear of repercussions from Pyongyang government thugs and colorful than that of the Associated Press journalist in charge of the world’s biggest news organization’s Korea coverage.

Then we move on to day two, the highlight of the world headline grabbing delegation’s visit to Pyongyang—their visit to the computer center and universities where North Korean’s allegedly have access to use computers and, according to the AP, surf the internet.

Here is the AP report in its entirety:

“Google exec gets look at NKoreans using Internet.”

By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press – Jan 8, 2013

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Students at North Korea’s premier university showed Google’s executive chairman how they look for information online: They Google it.

But surfing the Internet that way is the privilege of only a very few in North Korea, whose authoritarian government imposes strict limits on access to the World Wide Web.

Google’s Eric Schmidt got a first look at North Korea’s limited Internet usage when an American delegation he and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are leading visited a computer lab Tuesday at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. Other members of the delegation on the unusual four-day trip include Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie, and Jared Cohen, director of the Google Ideas think tank.

Google looks at NK computers

Google looks at NK computers

Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.

“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.

Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”

Google executive Jared Cohen surfs the internet in Pyongynag

Google executive Jared Cohen surfs the internet in Pyongynag

Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.

While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.

Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.

google computer room

google computer room

But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.

At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.

But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.

“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.

New red banners promoting slogans drawn from Kim’s speech line Pyongyang’s snowy streets, and North Koreans are still cramming to study the lengthy speech. It was the first time in 19 years for North Koreans to hear their leader give a New Year’s Day speech. During the rule of late leader Kim Jong Il, state policy was distributed through North Korea’s three main newspapers.

There was a festive air in Pyongyang for another reason: Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Though Jan. 8 is not recognized as a national holiday, like the birthdays of his father and grandfather, and his official birth date has not been announced, North Koreans acknowledged that it was their leader’s birthday Tuesday.

Waitresses at the downtown Koryo Hotel dressed up in sparkly traditional Korean dresses and decorated the lobby with balloons.

Follow AP’s bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul on Twitter at twitter.com/newsjean.

Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Now here is where the teenage Ms Schmidt, who wrote with the tone of anyone familiar with teenage girls living in a free society, who (and I totally guessing here) was probably loudly chewing gum during the events, excels: reporting on the actual details and state of North Korea’s digital capabilities and future.

First Ms Schmidt posted the same AP photograph but included her own caption: She posted a picture of  North Koreans using computers which was broadcast worldwide by the Associated Press but given absolutely no explanatory commentary, leaving readers wondering whether these were actually North Koreans using the internet, a capability strictly banned in the country.

She captioned the photograph:

"“The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village”

““The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village”

She offered an insert box to the main bar story that any professional journalist knows as crucial to packaging a story to make it more readable and keep the news consumers attention, not to mention reinforce the stories credibility:

Top Level Take-aways:

1. Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange.

2. If it is January, disregard the above. It is very, very cold.

3. Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

I can’t express how cold it was. Maybe 10-15 degrees F in the sunshine, not including wind chill.  The cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments. It is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: they’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.”

Sophie Schmidt then wrote a story of the events that, in comparison, made the AP’s Jean Lee look like, well, a North Korean state propagandist:

“Inside, we were shown through study rooms like the one above, maybe 60 people diligently at desks.  Were they bussed in for our benefit? Were any of them actually reading? All I know is that it. was. freezing.”

“Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

“Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home. When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

She continued with more crucial first hand detail, saying “Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

Then the teenage Ms. Schmidt offered what neither her father or the Associated Press were willing to regarding the technical realities of North Korea in the information age.

“On the tech front: Everything that is accessible is accessible only in special tiers. Their mobile network, Koryolink, has between 1-2 million subscribers. No data service, but international calls were possible on the phones we rented. Realistically, even basic service is prohibitively expensive, much like every other consumption good (fuel, cars, etc.). The officials we interacted with, and a fair number of people we saw in Pyongyang, had mobiles (but not smart phones). North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real Internet.  Our understanding is that some university students have access to this.  On tour at the Korea Computer Center (a deranged version of the Consumer Electronics Show), they demo’d their latest invention: a tablet, running on Android that had access to the real Internet.  Whether anyone, beyond very select students, high-ranking officials or occasional American delegation tourists, actually gets to use it is unknowable.  We also saw virtual-reality software, video chat platform, musical composition software (?) and other random stuff.” 

“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology.  They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.”  

 

“Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?”  Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.”

“They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.”

 "We can leave, really?  Thank you, Kim Jung-un. No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow."


“We can leave, really? Thank you, Kim Jung-un. No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.”

The Sophie posts a picture of herself captioned: We can leave, really?”

“No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.

The end.”

On January 16. 2012, the official Korean Central News Agency announced “AP Pyongyang Bureau Opens” located within the offices of central nervous system of the considerable North Korean Propaganda machine, the KCNA. “Present there were the delegation of the Associated Press headed by its President and CEO Thomas Curley” adding “Thomas said the opening of the bureau would bring hundreds of millions of people around the world the cultural understanding and access to stories of political and economic development of the DPRK” adding “He has great expectations for good journalism, he said, adding this is a great opportunity to just understand and report.”

Prior to January 2012, it took The Associated Press almost a year to finalize terms to open a full-time news bureau in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang during which time AP head Curley supplicated himself to the leaders of arguably the most repressive government on the planet, coming in last 9 out of the last 10 years in world government rankings of “Enemies of Press Freedom by the independent Reporters Without Borders. On March 8. 2011, KCNA ran an article headlined “Americans Pay Homage to Kim Il Sung” which said in its entirety: “Thomas Curley, president of the Associated Press of the United States, and his party visited the statue of President Kim Il Sung on Mansu Hill on Tuesday. The guests laid bouquets before the statue and paid homage to the President.” Three days later, on March 11, 2011, KCNA reported “General Secretary Kim Jong Il received a gift from Thomas Curley, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press of the United States on a visit to the DPRK. It was handed to an official concerned on Friday by Thomas Curley.”

The AP news executives had years of direct experience to understand just what the consequences, compromises, capabilities and professional ethical terms were of cutting a deal to allow for access to North Korea. The Television branch of the Associated Press has had a bureau in Pyongyang since 2006. The head of Associated Press Television News behaved similarly in selling the integrity of the news operation in exchange for permission to access the state controlled by a government that regularly ranks dead last, in comparative indexes of nations on human rights, religious freedom, economic freedom, press freedom, and economic health.

On March 22, 2002 KCNA ran a story headlined “Performance “Arirang” praised”, referring to their mass performance propaganda games where hundreds of thousands perform flawless robotic paeans to the Kim Family dynastic dictatorship. “Foreigners were deeply impressed to watch the all-round rehearsal of the mass gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang”. Nigel Baker, director of content of the London bureau of the Associated Press Television News, said that all scenes of the performance were wonderful, adding that it is hard to enjoy such show elsewhere.  It is something unbelievable that human beings can provide such huge and beautiful background scenes, he noted, calling on the people of all countries to come and see the performance. “

When the AP opened its bureau in January 2012, located inside the building of the state-run news agency, they were assigned by the Pyongyang regime a North Korean “reporter” and “photographer”,  who they AP caricaturized as “under the supervision of two Americans who will make frequent trips to Pyongyang.” It is widely accepted that both are, in fact, trained agents of the North Korean intelligence and propaganda services.

The head of the Korea Central News Agency, Kim Pyong Ho, was quoted at the ceremony as saying the AP promised to report on North Korea “with fairness, balance and accuracy.”

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement to open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

In a September interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, the Pyongyang AP bureau chief, Jean H Lee,  offered a few answers to a series of remarkably softball questions. The CJR, in a question and answer format, offered a very brief overview saying that the AP was “the first international, independent journalism agency with a full-time, full-format bureau in the North Korean capital. At the time, the AP refused many requests for interviews with the journalists involved to give them time to get established. Now, seven months on, Lee tells CJR about reporting from a country where visiting international journalists are usually required to relinquish their cell phones, work without Internet access, and submit to constant surveillance.”

CJR asked “How have things changed since the bureau opened in January?” to which Lee responded “We’ve been in North Korea for seven months now, through the challenging early stages of the move. At the moment we’re still concentrating on building the operation, training local staff and building a network in North Korea. I visited here a dozen times in the last two years, especially leading up to January, and I have had incredible insight into how things work here. But it is a very difficult place to work.”

CJR:What are the biggest challenges?”

Jean Lee: There are very strict rules for foreign visitors in North Korea, which includes journalists. The rules require all cell phones to be left at the airport, and foreign visitors must be accompanied by a host at all times. I can’t think of another place in the world where that is the case. You can’t even leave your hotel to go for a walk. There is no interacting with locals unless you’re in the presence of a North Korean. Many journalists have previously entered the country on the invitation of the foreign ministry or by pretending to be an academic or a tourist, but that can have implications for their companies if they get caught. The issue with cell phones is a big one—it’s very difficult to get a cell phone here, and there isn’t much Internet access. Simple things like filing become an issue for journalists.”

CJR:Do you feel like you’re being watched?”

Jean Lee: “I operate under the assumption that everything I say, everything I write, everything I do is being recorded.”

CJR: “You share an office with the Korean Central News Agency, which is state-run. How much do you work with them on stories?”

Jean Lee:We do work with the local news. It’s quite amazing to be included in the local press corps with the local media, and to be invited to state press conferences alongside them. It’s a real coup to be the first Western news organization there.”

CJR: “Is there any resistance to training North Korean journalists to work for the AP?”

Jean Lee: “There is no resistance. They are keen to learn how Western journalism works, and they see it as an opportunity to practice their English. I’ve also seen them adopt Western reporting techniques over the last year. They take what they need and they try and learn from it. It’s really important to build these relationships. North Korea is a closed country and they are suspicious of outsiders, so it takes time. There is quite a lot of training involved!”

CJR:Why did the AP get the gig?”

Jean Lee: “Our TV office did the hard work when they opened a bureau here in 2006. We went in as their partner, but it is clear to the North Korean regime that we are one company. Aside from that, there are two main reasons: firstly, my colleagues and I have been working here for years, so we have a certain longevity. Secondly, AP is the largest news organization in the world. We are completely independent and funded by international subscribers. If the regime wanted to make a political statement about the direction it is heading, this is it. North Korea is taking a big risk in working with us. Technically the US and North Korea are still at war—to reach out to an American company goes against decades of policy. Hopefully we can pave the way for other media.”

Compare AP chief Korea correspondent’s comments to teenage cub reporter Schmidt:

Schmidt: “Trucks equipped with loudspeakers roam the streets. “For the propaganda, “Minder 2 told me, with a tone that suggested You idiot.”

Schmidt: : “Palace of the Sun, Kim Il Sung’s former office and now the national mausoleum where Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s embalmed bodies lie in state.  When a government meeting was cancelled, they decided to let us visit to pay respects (a rare honor). I can barely describe how strange an experience it was. The mausoleum part had all the dramatic doom and gloom you can imagine: red-lit marble halls, severe-looking guards, sweeping, lamenting orchestral music.  The soldiers would line up in threes at each side of the bodies, and bow deeply.  Stone-faced. Also lying in state: the late Leaders’ cars, train compartments and even a yacht, all preserved in their former glory.  Even Kim Jong Il’s platform shoes were on display.  I was delighted to learn that he and I shared a taste in laptops: 15” Macbook Pro.  We weren’t allowed to bring anything in–no coats, gloves, cameras, hats, etc. (“No contents!”) We entered a series of tunnels with those moving-walkways you find in airports, which we slowly rode for probably 20-30 minutes.  The walls were lined with portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung looking at things, which turn out to be rather important: Because the Leaders are god-like figures, when one provides “on-site guidance” (which they always can, because they are experts in all things) it’s like a benediction.”

Schmidt: “Also on our flight out? The North Korean national women’s soccer team. 20 little North Korean women in tracksuits and sneakers, and presumably no intention to defect.

Here’s a North Korea joke:

Q: Did these athletes play indoor or outdoor soccer?

A: Trick question. They have no heat, so what’s the difference?”

Schmidt: “We heard just one song that wasn’t patriotic North Korean music while in the country, first in a promotional video for the e-Potemkin village and again over the speakers on our return flight on the national airline, Air Koryo.  It was a remastered version of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.”  It’s cool, I’m sure they secured the rights first.”


Immediately after the departure of the Google delegation and their stealth citizen reporter, Sophie Schmidt, AP Vice President Daniszewski arrived to celebrate the one year anniversary of AP’s presence in Pyongyang. Upon his departure he admitted to Yonhap news that the AP’s American Pyongyang bureau chief, Jean H. Lee, “hasn’t had good luck getting out of Pyongyang and doing stories. When we want to cover a story, we have to request interviews, request permissions to go to places either to government offices involved or KCNA, which arrange things,” he said.

AP’s Pyongyang bureau is located in the offices of the North Korean official state propaganda Korean Central News Agency, and employees two North Korean reporters handpicked by the Pyongyang regime, which the AP described as “When the AP opened its bureau in January 2012, located inside the building of the state-run news agency, they were assigned by the Pyongyang regime a North Korean “reporter” and “photographer”,  who they AP caricaturized as “under the supervision of two Americans who will make frequent trips to Pyongyang.”

The head of the Korea Central News Agency, Kim Pyong Ho, was quoted at the ceremony as saying the AP promised to report on North Korea “with fairness, balance and accuracy.”

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement top open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement top open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

"“This

AP Vice President Daniszewski said last week North Korea appears to be opening up to the West, citing airing foreign television programs.  “Our correspondent (Jean Lee) mentioned that there are some new TV shows, some interesting films like ‘Madagascar,'” he said, referring to the American cartoon film. This year “We want to see more of the country and talk more with the people.”

I would suggest that if the Associated Press wants to improve their abysmal reporting record to date on North Korea, they should consider closing down their bureau and contracting with youthful tourists at the Beijing airport arrival gate from Pyongyang , who are free of fear of upsetting the most egregious regime on earth responsible for obscene institutional abuses of the rights of their citizens and get away with it by bullying, not just governments, but apparently reporters into giving credibility to their Orwellian narrative in exchange for—well in exchange for apparently not much. Hire a teenager to write a blog of their experiences. They probably could use the cash and the Associated Press could certainly use the credibility to their news operations it has pathetically, cynically, and transparently caused entirely self-inflicted damage.

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