Today it has been widely reported that South Korean activists have begun sending as many as 100,000 balloons with copies of The Interview into North Korea. This story was first reported in December last year, only days before the film was formally released, and the tale has been recycled several times since then. Defectors Lee Min-bok and Park Sang-hak have teamed up with the US non-profit the Human Rights Foundation to deliver up to 100,000 DVDs and USB sticks with copies of the film over the border via weather balloons.
There are many questions I’d like to have answered that have so far been overlooked by almost all the media coverage of this, but answers are not readily available. For example, how many North Koreans own DVD players or computers with USB drives? And if some of these tens of thousands of copies of The Interview are on USB sticks then surely that is a massive breach of copyright? Likewise the DVD is not officially released until June 1st, so either medium contravenes the familiar warnings at the start of films about illegal distribution.
Looking at it another way, how much does it cost to produce 100,000 copies of a film, either on DVDs or on USB sticks, along all the weather balloons and at least 500,000 leaflets that are being distributed as part of this project? And even if for some unspoken reason the Human Rights Foundation has permission from Sony to illegally distribute 100,000 copies of this film, do they not have better things on which to spend money? It is hardly a high priority for them to make sure North Koreans see one of the worst films Seth Rogen has ever been involved in, is it?
Despite all this has been no apparent opposition to this project. Not from Sony Pictures, Seth Rogen, James Franco or anyone else whose copyright is being breached in an enormous and possibly unprecedented way. Not from other human rights organisations, despite the fact they compete for funding with the like of the Human Rights Foundation and it could be good for them to point out how this is a waste of money. Not environmental groups concerned that the lush North Korean countryside is going to become littered with flash drives. In particular, Lee Min-Bok has been sending balloons over the border with food and anti-government propaganda for many years, so clearly the South Korean government have no problem with any of this either. The only opposition to this balloon project has come from the North Korean government, who have threatened to shoot down the balloons ‘without warning’.
Another element that has been overlooked in the media coverage is that this is very similar to anti-Soviet propaganda operations in the early Cold War period. In the 1950s over half a million balloons carrying perhaps 300,000,000 leaflets, posters and books were sent into Eastern Europe by the Free Europe Press, who were overseen by the National Committee for a Free Europe that was founded by CIA officer (and later director) Allen Dulles. The Committee also oversaw the Crusade for Freedom, who raised money for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and were used by the CIA as a funnel for masking their funding of RFE/RL.
Another CIA balloon operation saw copies of an assassination and terrorism manual being dropped into Nicaragua in the 1980s. The manual was distributed more directly to the Contras and other rebel groups for training and indoctrination. The purpose of the balloon-delivered manuals was likely to scare the Sandinistas (the Left wingers the CIA were fighting in Nicaragua) and to make them think the Nicaraguan rebel forces were much bigger and more ruthless than they really were. These days the manual is available on kindle:
If we put all this together – balloon operations, anti-Communist propaganda, provocation to assassination, the CIA – the implication is that the CIA are behind this South Korean project to use balloons to send 100,000 copies of The Interview into North Korea. One of the consultants to the movie, Bruce Bennett of the RAND corporation, said in an email when discussing whether to tone down or change the ending:
I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will). So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone.