Pyongyang nights: A modest proposal for Edward Snowden

Special to

By Donald Kirk,

Edward Snowden seems to have considered just about every conceivable option for asylum.

At least two countries, Venezuela and Nicaragua, whose leaders are deeply critical of U.S. foreign policy, are happy to accept him. He would no doubt be glad to live in either while disclosing still more secrets from the National Security Agency files. Forget about the hideous human rights abuses of his hosts. That topic clearly is of no interest either to him or all the freedom-loving zealots who see him as their hero.
Snowden’s willingness to flee into the arms of some of America’s worst critics, however, raises one obvious question. Why has he not considered North Korea? Or, why has North Korea failed to invite him? We have yet to see the name North Korea, or, more politely and formally, the initials “DPRK” for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, show up in any of the millions of words speculating about his fate.

Surely one who excoriated President Obama, Vice President Biden and the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community would be at home in Pyongyang. He would be a celebrity, showered with every courtesy that the North Koreans extends to sympathizers and advocates of their regime. He could also provide North Korean computer experts much invaluable understanding of the intricacies of internet hacking while giving “exclusive” interviews to impressionable visitors about the evils of the American system.

Snowden has been inaccessible while living in the luxurious surroundings of the VIP facilities at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo-2 airport, but journalists when they do see him must ask him about the chances of going to Pyongyang. There are several compelling reasons why North Korea should be at the top of his list.

The first is that Pyongyang would offer a tremendous vantage from which to castigate the United States. Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency and Radio Pyongyang would give him all the space and time that he wanted to carry on about the American system, and North Korea would make him a celebrity on the same scale as those third-world leaders such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro who were once so close to founding “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung.

Snowden would know enough not to say anything even slightly negative about life in the North., He would not be asking about those “human rights abuses” that the western media writes about and that North Korea always denies. He would not want to know about the vast gulag where North Korea keeps at least 200,000 prisoners on life sentences of unimaginably hard labor all the time, newcomers regularly replacing the dead and dying.

Then consider this special enticement. It’s well known that Kim Jong-Il and many of his courtiers, elite generals, party bureaucrats and the like, had their pick of members of the Star Troupe of dancers who performed for them.

They were the equivalent of the kisaeng ladies who entertained royalty and nobility, and many others with the money to pay for their services, during the Chosun dynasty. Or, to bring the analogy somewhat up to date, they’re the North Korean equivalent of the finest hostesses in the room salons and noribang “singing rooms” in the South. Surely Snowden would be eligible for such entertainment while doing and saying whatever his hosts in Pyongyang desired.

There is, moreover, a more immediate and practical reason for Snowden to press for asylum in North Korea. One huge problem he faces is how to get out of Russia and through the air space of countries who may want to force his plane down in order to hand him over to U.S. authorities.

He would face no such problems departing Moscow for Pyongyang. Both Aeroflot and North Korea’s Air Koryo fly regularly scheduled flights almost every day of the week. When I was in Pyongyang nearly one year ago, I was much impressed by the sight of two or three gracefully droop-winged long-range jets on the tarmac at Sunan Airport. They commute non-stop between Moscow and Pyongyang, no worries about flying through someone else’s air space except possibly China and Mongolia, which would not be likely to force down a flight with Snowden aboard.

Snowden would be able to leave Moscow without having to face the reporters who’ve been camped out at or near the airport waiting to glimpse him.

He could bring with him that WikiLeaks woman, Sarah Harrison, who’s been traveling with him and saying how bad the media is to say anything unkind about him. She might not want to stay in Pyongyang forever, but she could surely stage-manage him through some initial meetings with the media.

Snowden might want to make North Korea his permanent home. Where else could he be sure of all expenses paid, of regular access to print and broadcast facilities and of the freedom to go on badmouthing the U.S. as much as he liked, no questions asked?

He might wonder whether he might go on vacation some day, perhaps in China or Russia, and he might be a little annoyed if the North Koreans said, no, we’re not yet sure enough of your loyalty to let you go. But he could worry about that later. Right now, North Korea offers his best chance for a fun time in asylum, no more questions asked.