An Open Letter to Google and the Sanctions Compliance/Enforcement Community

UPDATE: Here is coverage in CNN, Washington PostWall Street Journal, and Vice.

ORIGINAL POST: Google blocked several important YouTube channels that make North Korean television broadcasts available to the public. This action deals a grave setback to the work of open-source researchers focused on North Korea’s leadership, economy, military, and human rights situation.

The two most important channels which were blocked are:
1. Uriminzokkiri  (terminated for “violating YouTube’s community guidelines” on 2017-9-8)
2. Chongryun (first terminated for “violating YouTube’s community guidelines” on 2017-9-8, then restored on 2017-9-11, then terminated a second time due to “legal complaint” on 2017-9-12) [dates are approximate]

These YouTube channels DO NOT use advertisements and hence DO NOT generate revenue for the North Korean government in any way. In light of this, I do not understand how they can be thought to violate any US, EU, or UN sanctions regime.

[UPDATE: This may be unrelated to finance. E.O. 13687 blocks the property and interests in property of persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the Government of North Korea or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the E.O.

If Google closed the YouTube accounts under this provision, then this is a case of regulations being written so broadly that they hit and destroy assets that are actually important to the US policy community. I am no lawyer, but I am told Google could apply for an OFAC license to get a waiver from this executive order, but why would they want to bother expending the resources for something that does not affect their bottom line? In this case it is just easier for them to be done with the business entirely. The lesson is here is that if you find North Korean content on the Internet, copy it and don’t make it public for fear that it falls under US jurisdiction in some way and can be deleted under threatened/actual legal action.]

These North Korean videos are, however, indispensable sources of information for us on the outside. We use them for multiple purposes, including:

1. Tracking the movements of Kim Jong-un around the country.

2. Identifying new economic, security, and military infrastructure.

3. Obtaining information on bureaucratic organization and domestic policy developments.

4. Knowing what the North Korean government is telling its own people.

5. Knowing what messages the North Koreans may expect other governments, including that of the United States, to receive.

6. Corroborating/falsifying other information on North Korea.

This is not an exhaustive list.

Here are just a few examples of the work that has been done using television footage from these closed YouTube channels:

North Korea’s No. 65 Factory Is Not a Missile Base,” 38 North, August 7, 2017
Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar,” 38 North, May 5, 2017
What One Photo Tells Us About North Korea’s Nuclear Program,”  New York Times, February 24, 2017
Can Satellite Imagery Help Us Evaluate the Kim Jong-un Economy?” KDI 북한경제리뷰 2016년 12월
KPA Navy Upgrades in the East Sea,” 38 North, September 2016
Has Camp 18 been re-opened or merged with Camp 14?North Korean Economy Watch, September 30, 2016
Machine Plant Managed by Ho Yong Chol,” Arms Control Wonk, August 15, 2016
Five Things You Need to Know about Kim Jong Un’s Photo Op with the Bomb,” 38 North, March 11, 2016
Video Analysis of the DPRK SLBM Test,” Arms Control Wonk, January 12, 2016
A New ICBM for North Korea?” 38 North, December 22, 2015
North Korea’s Special Economic Zones: Plans vs. Progress,” 38 North, November 23, 2015
Kim Jong-un Tours Pesticide Facility Capable of Producing Biological Weapons,” 38 North, July 9, 2015 (and more follow-up research here)
Pyongyang’s Perpetual Power Problems,” 38 North, November 25, 2014
A Tale of Two Kaesong Industrial Zones: Not All Foreign Investment is Created Equal (Sam Pa),” 38 North, July 17, 2014
The December 7 Factory: Producer of Maxi Pads and Naval Stealth Technology,” 38 North, April 9, 2014
That Ain’t My Truck: Where North Korea Assembled Its Chinese Transporter-Erector-Launchers,” 38 North, February 3, 2014
Exclusive: Fit for a princess: Kim Jong Un’s $7m yacht,”  NK News, June 18, 2013.
Speculation time: A new kwan-li-so or expansion of Camp 14?,” North Korean Economy Watch, May 6, 2013

In addition, the following heavily referenced blogs and specialty media companies (in addition to every major media organization) rely on KCTV footage posted to YouTube:

38 North
38 North Digital Atlas
NK News
Arms Control Wonk
North Korean Economy Watch (This site)
North Korean Leadership Watch
North Korea Tech

This list is also far from exhaustive…

In summary: These channels DO NOT generate any revenue for the North Korean government. These channels DO generate valuable information for us. Seven years of data tracking the end of Kim Jong-il and the rise of Kim Jong-un have simply vanished. PLEASE RESTORE THESE DATA SOURCES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

PS: Martyn Williams, who picks up North Korean television on his own satellite dish, sent me these screen shots of a North Korean 3-D printer that aired on NK television after the YouTube accounts were closed. Wouldn’t you like to know more about them?

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An affiliate of 38 North