American Citizen Held Captive In North Korea

Photos of orphans may be the reason behind one man’s detention.

Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old American citizen, is being held in North Korea according to a report from The New York Times. Mr. Bae runs a company that specializes in taking both tourists and prospective investors into North Korea, and has visited the country several times in the past without incident. However, about a month ago Mr. Bae was detained while escorting a group of European tourists into the North Korean city of Rajin. The tourists were allowed to leave the country but Mr. Bae was detained. According to an unnamed source,

Mr. Bae was detained after North Korean security officials found a computer hard disk that they believed contained sensitive information about the country.

The New York Times reports that Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department in Washington said at a briefing on Tuesday,

We’re obviously aware of these reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea, we obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens.

The head of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, Mr. Do Hee-youn, first learned of the detention of Mr. Bae through a mutual friend in China. Although he has few details Mr. Do told The New York Times,

Mr. Bae was interested in helping orphans who beg for food in North Korean markets. The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda.

After the death of a Navy SEAL last week during a rescue mission in Afghanistan, and the current pressure on Washington to enforce stricter sanctions on North Korea for the recent missile launch, do you think the US Government should be doing more to investigate these claims and if found to be factual attempt to garner Kenneth Bae’s release?

What is the responsibility of the US government to its citizens who voluntarily chose to place themselves in dangerous situations while working or traveling abroad?

Picture: Joseph A Ferris III/Flickr

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Now it’s 2014, the man is still rotting in a cell, working in a concentration camp, because he made the mistake of trying to help the ugliest, nastiest, most vindictive little country on the face of the globe. Talking with a moron on this matter, I got a cross-eyed, giggly response, “Oh, that was so dangerous, if I ever went there, even to help, I’d expect to be tortured and killed…” Beautiful. So we should all just stay home where it’s safe, never try to help anyone or do anything about the world’s problems? Wonderful. I’ll keep that in mind for the future, look after my own ass and no one else’s.

  2. Pendleton Vandiver says:

    That’s a slippery slope. The idea that there will be a real explanation of evidence at the “trial” is farcical. Of course they will use his capture for leverage and publicity and then release him after an “apology” from some US surrogate.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    I’m a big believer in national sovereignty as well as the presumption of innocence, so in cases like this I’ve painted myself into a corner. It makes me sick to put myself anywhere near the side of the NK government on this, but I have to say that the American public should avoid jumping to conclusions. The facts seem to be that he is detained under particular accusations. The accusations could be true, could be untrue, could be lies, could be a mistake, could be wrong place at the wrong time.

    In my mind, a person should be innocent until proven guilty, but that applies to sovereign governments as well. (The current regime is at least the de facto government in the North whether they’re legitimate or not. That’s a separate question.) I don’t assume an American who runs afoul of local authorities is always the victim of trumped up charges. I also don’t assume that all charges of espionage are always false. I don’t believe that the U.S. should try to enforce extraterritoriality on other countries such that American citizens only have to follow U.S. laws and not local laws. Ask New Yorkers how they like the fact that U.N. delegates don’t have to follow NYC parking laws, and multiply that times a thousand.

    Maybe I’ve read too much about Cold War espionage. Sounds to me like charity work could be one of the only available covers for spying on North Korea. Access to North Korea is extremely limited. I’d be amazed if he was never, ever approached by American intelligence agents. (If he wasn’t, he should have been. I can guarantee he will be when he’s released….) There’s only so much information you can get out of NK through regular diplomatic cover and satellites. Is anyone out there thinking that the American intelligence community would never use legitimate charities as a cover?

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