December 20, 2011; Source: Alexandria Town Talk (Associated Press) | In 1939, Winston Churchill described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” That could be the understatement of the twenty-first century if used to describe North Korea, whose leader, Kim Jong Il, died of a heart attack on Saturday. The former leader has left the nation under the control of his little-known son, Kim Jong Un, as though North Korea were a hereditary monarchy to be handed down from tsar to tsarevich.
Little is known about the ruling elite in the country—until last year, when he was suddenly named his father’s heir apparent, the 20-something Kim Jong Un hadn’t even been photographed since he was around 11 years old. The lack of knowledge reaches the highest levels of the U.S. government, which, due to precious few intelligence assets on the ground, was as surprised as the general public to discover that the North Koreans had suppressed knowledge for over 22 hours of the death of their “dear leader” and the transfer of power to his “great successor.” So if the United States and even South Korea are dependent on official North Korean press releases for information, who is talking with or to North Korea—or North Koreans—who might have some granular sense of what is happening in that mysterious, impoverished country? Are the information sources possibly nonprofits?