December 06, 2023

How the U.S. Government “Reads” North Korea

On July 12, The Korea Society hosted a breakfast discussion entitled “Reading North Korea”.  The speaker was Dr. Sue Mi Terry, former Director for Asia at the National Security Council under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  In her presentation, she explained her daily activities working at the NSC and the difficulties of obtaining information on the Hermit Kingdom.  Dr. Terry pointed out current events in North Korea and explained how some portions of life have changed, while others remained rigidly the same.  Finally, she speculated on what would be needed going forward to push towards a unified peninsula.

Unlike most countries where credible information on topics such as population, economic development, and technology can be easily obtained, analysts who cover North Korea do not have such ease.  Dr. Terry described sifting through hundreds of embassy reports, intelligence findings, and any type of communications that had been obtained, adding that it was “one of the most frustrating countries to cover.”  Even after pouring over this plethora of information, it was then necessary to determine the quality of the source and to determine if some of this information was purposely incorrect.  “When Kim Jong-Un came into the spotlight, we knew shockingly little about him,” Dr. Terry explained.