The flipping of 1984
March 29th, 2010

Below is the beginning of a New York Times report today: “North Koreans Use Cellphones to Bare Secrets.” During the total news blockage achieved by the Nazis in World War II and the Soviets behind the Iron Curtain, this leakage via networks of the truth to the world was inconceivable. It is marvelously the flipping of George Orwell’s novel 1984 — the opposite of Big Brother. The demise of Big Brother is what was once inconceivably good news for the future: a gift of the cellphone barely yet appreciated.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea, one of the world’s most impenetrable nations, is facing a new threat: networks of its own citizens feeding information about life there to South Korea and its Western allies.

The networks are the creation of a handful of North Korean defectors and South Korean human rights activists using cellphones to pierce North Korea’s near-total news blackout. To build the networks, recruiters slip into China to woo the few North Koreans allowed to travel there, provide cellphones to smuggle across the border, then post informers’ phoned and texted reports on Web sites.

The work is risky. Recruiters spend months identifying and coaxing potential informants, all the while evading agents from the North and the Chinese police bent on stopping their work. The North Koreans face even greater danger; exposure could lead to imprisonment — or death. . . .

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