On the 7th May 2014, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea hosted a talk from Mr. Jang Jin-sung, a former DPRK poet laureate and counter-intelligence official under Kim Jong Il. After graduating from Kim Il Sung University, Mr. Jang worked in the United Front Department (UFD), also known as the “window into and out of North Korea”: the UFD is the entity that oversees inter-Korean espionage as well as all forms of engagement, diplomacy and foreign policy. His talents as a poet brought him to the attention of Kim Jong Il, and earned him entry into an inner circle of immunity with Kim’s personal blessing. Mr. Jang’s intimate knowledge and experiences regarding the discrepancies between North Korea’s internal policy-making and its external presentations are unparalleled; and until recently they had not been shared with the West.
In his role at the UFD, Mr. Jang had open access to foreign media. Such access is extremely privileged and controlled in North Korea, which metes out harsh punishment for those accessing foreign books, films, or news. Disillusioned by the extent of the lies and suffering around him, he began to lend these books to a friend. When the friend misplaced a book in 2004, Mr. Jang was forced to flee the country in order to prevent the destruction of his family that would follow from his confession of “treason” (sharing forbidden knowledge), as according to the North Korean principle of guilt-by-association.
After arriving in South Korea, Mr. Jang worked as a North Korea analyst for the South Korean government. Dismayed by the lack of public understanding about the reality of North Korea and its workings, he left his post to set up New Focus in 2011 – the only media outlet in the world that offers North Korea reporting and analysis rooted in first-hand experience, from inside the workings of the DPRK system, and speaking for all of North Korea’s highest ranking exiles. Mr. Jang believes that a penetrative understanding of North Korea that takes insider perspectives into account must form the basis for any sound commentary or proposals regarding North Korea.
Mr. Jang’s appearance at the APPG coincided with the release of “Dear Leader”, his memoirs which focus on his time working in the highest levels of DPRK policy and intelligence work. Discussing his experiences, insights and new book, Mr. Jang also fielded many questions at the extremely well-attended event (the minutes of which can be found here).