Young North Koreans smuggle games and books into the country through tiny memory sticks in their noses, defector reveals

Thae Yong Ho.

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Thae Yong Ho.
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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    A former North Korean diplomat says young North Koreans smuggle foreign content into the country with memory cards small enough to shove up thier noses. They’re called “nose cards.” Thae Yong Ho was Pyongyang’s deputy ambassador to the UK, and is the highest-level diplomatic officer to defect. Thae says North Korea is becoming increasingly divided between the leadership and general public.

A prominent North Korean defector has revealed that the country’s youth smuggle foreign content into the country via memory cards small enough to shove up their noses during searches.

Speaking in Washington, DC on Monday, Thae Yong Ho said young North Koreans used “nose cards” to illegally import and disseminate content like online games and foreign textbooks.

He told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank:

“In North Korea, these kind of small SD cards for the smartphones are called among the young boys, we call it ‘nose card.’ Why do we call it nose card? Well, if somebody wants to search your body whether you have any USBs or whatever, the boys instantly take it out and they put it in their nose.

“In Korean terms, we call it ‘ko kadeu’ card, that is nose card. [When we say], ‘do you have any nose cards?’ That means, ‘do you have any internet game installed in that small SD card or any film or any English textbook or whatever?'”

Thae, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to the UK, said disseminating foreign content in North Korea was how the United States could bring down the secretive regime.

“We can’t change the policy of reign of terror of the Kim Jong Un regime, but we can do the dissemination of outside information inside North Korea,” he said.

Commuters on a subway in Pyongyang, taken during a government-organised tour of the country.

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Commuters on a subway in Pyongyang, taken during a government-organised tour of the country.
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REUTERS / Damir Sagolj

Thae also told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday: “The citizens [in North Korea] do not care about state propaganda but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas. The domestic system of control is weakening as the days go by.”

Pyongyang is reportedly aware of the increasing internal demand for foreign content. Kim opened up his father’s archive of foreign films, many of which were produced in the former Soviet Union, Thae said, according to CNN.

The government has also allowed the public to access western movies and shows like “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Tom and Jerry,” the defector said.

Earlier this year, Thae warned of a widening gap between North Korea’s leadership and the general public, and that the Kim regime would be overthrown within ten years.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with some of his generals.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with some of his generals.
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Reuters

Thae defected with his wife and two sons in 2016, and now live in South Korea, where he said he “do[es] not have any friends or relatives.” Having served in the North Korean embassy in London, Thae is the highest-level diplomatic officer to leave the country.

He told Congress: “I believed the best legacy I could leave for my sons was to give them the freedom that is so common to everyone in America. Had we not defected, I feared that someday my sons would have cursed me for forcing them back to North Korea.

“They were used to online gaming, Facebook messaging, email and internet news… Indeed, how could any boys raised in the London education system and familiar with freedom of thought ever go back and re-acclimatize to life in North Korea?”