Thursday, April 4, 2013

North Korea Confidential

Secret Maps You Can't Get On the Net

By Paul Iorio
A label on a U.S. government map of the Pyongyang area
stamped "Distribution Limited -- Destroy When No Longer
Needed." (I found it (and other rare maps) at a map
archive at the University of California at Berkeley.)
[Click each photo to enlarge it.]

A joke going around is that North Korea would have the highest GDP

in northeast Asia -- if making death threats were an actual industry.

Which is not funny, of course, because the mass-produced threats from

Kim Jong-un and his people are causing very real alarm, as well as an

international shift in focus from Islamic terrorists to communist militants.

As might be expected, the situation has permeated both politics and

culture. Late-night comedians and politicians can’t stop talking

about Kim. Even the villains in movies have started changing from Muslim

extremists to North Korean radicals.

Witness the recent hit film “Olympus Has Fallen,” in which Pyongyang

terrorists who want to unify the Korean peninsula manage to capture

the White House and take the president hostage.

A scene from the new movie "Olympus Has Fallen," about a
North Korean plot against the U.S.

This new crop of villains, on screen and off, arguably makes Muslim

militants look lacking in tech-smarts and general know-how.

All of this has piqued interest in the Democratic People’s Republic

of Korea (DPRK) to an unprecedented degree. And the scarcity of info about

the reclusive nation just makes people more curious.

Try finding maps of the country’s most secret zones – say, the area

around its nuclear development center at Yongbyon – and you’ll

come up short. The C.I.A. website has multiple maps of almost every

nation on the planet, but not of North Korea.

Likewise, Google Maps, Google Images and Google search also turn up

no detailed maps of Yongbyon.

To be sure, there are plenty of satellite images and photos of that area

online – and lots of generalized guides. But usable ground-level maps of

the region are either scarce or non-existent.

This reporter came upon a trove of classified (or at least once-classified)

maps of North Korea in the archives at an obscure academic

library at the University of California at Berkeley.

Some of those maps were, at one time or another, labeled

confidential – and some may still be. One is marked: “Destroy

when no longer needed,” which suggests much of this material

was clearly not meant for public distribution then or now.

Some maps are years and even decades old, but still reveal the

basic landscape and infrastructure of certain areas -- and it's worth

noting that parts of the country have changed little over the

years. (Dirt roads are still common in much of the nation.)

And none of this is available online.

I photocopied and photographed the most interesting maps, which I’m

presenting here exclusively for the first time.

Annotated map of North Korea's nuclear center at Yongbyon.

A rare detailed map of the Yongbyon area, which is in the Myohyang
Mountains on the Kuryong River. (U.S. Army map, 1945).

Some think this is the mansion where Kim Jong-il
used to stay when he visited Yongbyon, which would
likely mean it's still one of the family homes Kim
Jong-un has inherited. (This appeared on the website in '09.)

A rare detailed map of the area west of the Yongbyon nuclear
facility, which is marked with a red x. The region is known for
its rich store of uranium mines in the mountains. [U.S. Army map, 1945.]

A confidential U.S. government map of the greater
Pyongyang area that shows details that aren't on other
maps of the area (like that huge reservoir to the
southeast of the city). Pyongyang, built on flatlands and
low hills after 1953 (for the most part), is about as big as

This relatively authorized map of Pyongyang, from "The Rough Guide to
North Korea" travel guidebook, contrasts interestingly with the
classified map (above).

C.I.A. map of North Korea's very complicated 11-mile border with Russia
in the northeasternmost part of the country. Ninety miles east
is Vladivostok.

A C.I.A. map from November 1972 showing the west coast of
North Korea.

Another C.I.A. map from '72 showing the topography of the west
coast of North Korea.

The Yalu River border, near Sinuiju, China. As the map shows,
there are numerous islands in the Yalu -- and some are claimed by
both Manchuria and the DPRK. Nearby mountains in the region rise
as high as 9,000 feet. [Army Map Service, 1945]

A C.I.A. province map of North Korea (2005).

A map that shows the division between the peninsula's
north and south goes back many centuries to the Han dynasty.
[Map from "The Penguin Encyclopedia of Classical Civilizations."]

And here's how the peninsula was divided during the Tang dynasty.
[Map from "The Penguin Encyclopedia of Classical Civilizations."]