In December 2017, NBC News published a story titled “North Korean defectors say nuclear tests have ravaged their health.” The article begins with a sensational headline and ominous descriptions of a “ghost disease” haunting residents of DPRK’s former nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. However, near the end of the article, NBC News buries scientists’ caveats: there is a “total lack of data” supporting the allegations about the ghost disease. In addition, NBC’s defectors’ radiation tests are completely clean, and no radiation leaks have been detected near Punggye-ri.
In addition to the lack of scientific data to support the defectors’ claims about radiation sickness, the defectors’ descriptions of life in DPRK are patently absurd.
The two defectors quoted in the piece — Lee Jeong Hwa and Rhee Yeong Sil — claim they were unaware of the nuclear tests that occurred while they still lived in DPRK. However, DPRK state media reported the tests as soon as they happened, as proven by the following screencaps from DPRK’s own 2006 & 2009 news reports, which correspond to the time the defectors lived in DPRK. As well, it’s completely implausible that the defectors would have been able to ignore seismic activity that occurred due to the tests.
The defector Rhee tells a bizarre story of her involvement in trying to determine the gender of her supposed neighbors’ supposedly “deformed” child. It’s ridiculous to think that DPRK citizens would invite neighbors, rather than trained medical professionals, to participate in deliberations regarding a child’s gender in any case. This description of DPRK life is a projection of Western beliefs that DPRK citizens resemble tribal, cave-dwelling people rather than modern socialists.
Lee and Rhee, speaking under their own names, claim that their family members in DPRK talk to them via smuggled Chinese cell phones. This contradicts other sensational defector tales that depict the use of Chinese cell phones as a crime worthy of death in DPRK. Although I highly doubt that any DPRK citizen has ever received a death penalty for using a Chinese cell phone, it’s worth noting the shoddiness of NBC News’s anti-DPRK propaganda, which blatantly contradicts other outlets’ anti-DPRK propaganda.
The head of SAND (South and North Development), Choi Kyung-hee, provided the defectors Lee and Rhee to NBC News. Choi has a record of boosting fabricated propaganda related to DPRK’s nuclear test site, including the baseless DPRK “tunnel collapse” story from a US puppet publication in Japan.
The author of the NBC News “ghost disease” piece, Bruce Harrison, refused to answer questions about whether he, NBC News or SAND provided compensation to defectors Lee and Rhee for their sensational testimony.
Meanwhile, the “ghost disease” myth has spread throughout imperial media, based on nothing but the easily disproved lies of two likely paid actors. Notably, most of the subsequent stories removed scientists’ caveats about the lack of data supporting the defectors’ allegations.