"'Titanic' made me realize that I was controlled by the regime"
July 17, 2019 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Smuggling 20,000 USB sticks loaded with the latest Hollywood films might seem like an unlikely way to try to overthrow the North Korean regime—but that’s exactly what Flashdrives for Freedom has in mind.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was inspired by someone looking at Cold War smuggling of videos into East Europe. This has received a lot of attention. And, one idea about Iran used to be: send them Playboy and rock-and-roll, and the society will loosen up.
posted by CCBC at 1:54 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Huh, I have some plethora* of flashdrives that I could donate to this... Not like I need as many as I've accumulated over the year.

Thanks for posting.

*Not absolutely unrelated, obligatory link for plethora goodness.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:55 PM on July 17


WHAT GOES ON THE DRIVES?
Our North Korean defector partners determine what goes on the drives. Content ranges from South Korean soap operas and Hollywood films, to Korean-language versions of Wikipedia and interviews with North Korean defectors.
...
$6.4M
VALUE OF FREE MEDIA COVERAGE


It would kick ass to do this here in the US, too! Our regime threatens dissidents with fines or jail times for sharing TV and movies. You could hand out a whole bunch of them to counter the state propaganda that information-sharing is equivalent to theft!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:00 PM on July 17 [13 favorites]


It's an equivalent situation, sure.
posted by riruro at 2:06 PM on July 17 [21 favorites]


I guess I’m kind of surprised NK apparently uses compatible hardware and software. Or, do they? Anyone know if the flash drives are bog-standard, or are they formatted to run on some bastard KimOS version of windows that NK created? Similarly, are these standard mpeg files, or does NK have its own video file format?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:06 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I've never been there but "what north korea internet and computers are like".
posted by glonous keming at 2:23 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I guess I’m kind of surprised NK apparently uses compatible hardware and software. Or, do they?

North Korea uses a modified Linux known as Red Star OS. It's about what you'd expect:

The operating system comes pre-installed with a number of applications that monitor its users— if a user tries to disable security functions, the operating system often restarts in continuous loops or destroys itself. In addition, a watermarking tool integrated into the system marks all media content with the hard drive's serial number. This makes it possible for the North Korean authorities to trace the spread of files. [...] Users [...] can't gain full system access...
—Wikipedia

And so on.
posted by Quackles at 2:25 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


> I guess I’m kind of surprised NK apparently uses compatible hardware and software. Or, do they?

Red Star OS is the official operating system, a Linux fork.

I've also read that bootlegged copies of Windows are rampant.

They're almost guaranteed to not have engineered their own file formats while disabling support for existing formats. It would be a time-consuming and pointless thing to do in a place where computer literacy is already minimal.
posted by ardgedee at 2:26 PM on July 17


It's an equivalent situation, sure.

Not really? Kind of fucked up that you would imply that it is? They're under a dictator, riruro.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:14 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


In certain parts of south america it used to be cheaper and quicker to send a carrier pigeon with a pen drive tied to it's foot than try to download the same amount of information.

Let's do that.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:22 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Um, Greg Nog, I'm not sure you're on the right side of the mirror here.
posted by Naberius at 4:07 PM on July 17 [25 favorites]


In addition to Red Star OS, there's also a heavily modified Android used for their tablets and mobiles. Here's how you buy apps in North Korea.

While there is SD card support, the modified Android blocks the use of some filetypes (jpegs, PDFs, mp4s, etc.) if the files aren't properly signed. These devices couldn't be used with any USB airdrop, unless there's a relatively painless way around the block.

However, the tablets and smartphones aren't really necessary. Many, if not most of the Chinese imported DVD players, and portable players with a screen, come with a USB port and will play movies directly from a USB stick. How the USB Taught North Korea to Love K-Pop
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 5:17 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


This was inspired by someone looking at Cold War smuggling of videos into East Europe.
That is what this brought to mind for me, immediately. The impact of western movies on Romania's revolution, improbable as it sounds, is well-documented.

Chuck Norris vs. Communism is fantastic and you should absolutely see it if you haven't, as it's a terrific mix of quirky/entertaining doc, cold war thriller, 80s nostalgia comedy, and about a half doyen other genres. It's a legit blast.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:22 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Excellent. I remember reading about how people trying to get western rock music into the Soviet Union would use x-ray film as physical media.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:43 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Now this is a revolution I can get behind.
posted by phenylphenol at 5:49 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Sounds a lot like Cuba's "The Package".
posted by achrise at 6:09 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


samizdat ever was
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:58 PM on July 17 [13 favorites]


The whole concept and purpose of this leaves a really unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Hey, Americans? Maybe if you stop fucking with other countries societies, they'll stop fucking with yours.

Yes, I'm sure you have some nicely ostensible reasons. I've been reading them on the HRF website just now and, god knows, I've read enough of them here & elsewhere over the years. Yes, you've found and cultivated fellow travellers the world around to support you. Good on you, you're American heroes. Yes, horrible shit happens in NK. Yes, you may even be on the side of Right and Good.

But still, really, it's none of your fucking business.

Just a thought…
posted by Pinback at 11:03 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Uhh, I mean, this program appears to be popular with North Koreans, and it is defectors who choose what goes on the drives...
posted by um at 12:42 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the atrocities of the North Korean government should concern our entire species. This isn't a South American country trying to do socialism, this is the longest running dictatorship currently active. (Incidentally, technically because Kim Il-Sum is still a head of state you could argue our only necroprocy link here)

More clearly, this work is being undertaken by north and south Koreans, with media from all over the world. You've just heard of Titanic and you maybe haven't heard of Korean soap operas and the names of kpop bands.

My question is how dangerous is it to be caught with this content? Even if it's not strictly saying "End the North Korean state", what would the implications be for a 26 year old caught with a copy of Wikipedia? How about BTS' latest album?
posted by Braeburn at 2:00 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Hopefully they're a little discerning over which Hollywood movies to send. There are some movies that are so bad that they do not make the case for democracy well.
posted by mundo at 3:04 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


how dangerous is it to be caught with this content?

I don’t know but given NK is sending assassins to kill people involved with the program in South Korea I’m assuming the penalty for being caught with one of these drives inside the DPRK is not exactly a slap on the wrist.
posted by um at 4:00 PM on July 18


send them Playboy and rock-and-roll, and the society will loosen up.

Maybe things wouldn’t have got so tight in these countries in the first place if we hadn’t overthrown/killed their leaders for having the audacity to want to hang on to their natural resources and institute a bit of basic social democracy. You can’t solve that with soft core porn.
posted by Grangousier at 4:50 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


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