Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What sites to use to watch North Korea

Tom Ricks asked me to provide ten blogs/resources that Korean experts use to keep up on north Korea.



Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally appeared on December 12, 2014.

By David Maxwell
Best Defense guest columnist


Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally appeared on December 12, 2014.

By David Maxwell
Best Defense guest columnist

Tom Ricks asked me to provide ten blogs/resources that Korean experts use to keep up on north Korea. By providing the links and references I use I am not implying that I am a north Korean expert, as there are no real experts on north Korea. We can only at best be students of north Korea, trying to understand the most opaque, tyrannical, and horrific regime arguably in the existence of the nation-state. In no particular order, here are some of the websites and resources that I use to try to better understand the situation and keep up with current events.

  1. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA): This is the official north Korean news agency and provides stories and news reports about north Korea written by trusted members of the regime. Although many will discount the bombastic rhetoric and blatant falsehoods, careful reading and study provides insights into how the regime responds to and thinks about events that concern the Kim Family Regime. And the bombastic rhetoric can be entertaining.
  1. The Daily North Korean (DailyNK): Published in South Korea by north Korean defectors. This site can be criticized by those who accuse north Korea defectors of having an agenda (they do, of course), but the site has many connections to people inside north Korea, and the experiences of defectors provide insights that cannot be found elsewhere, at least in reports provided on a daily basis. If you happen to be interested in unconventional warfare planning in north Korea, I recommend following this website. Of course, the information coming out of north Korea through this and every source should be treated with some skepticism until it can be vetted.
  1. U.S. Korea Institute at SAIS (38North): As stated on its website, it provides informed analysis of events in and around the DPRK. In addition to informed and quite good analysis, the site provides a lot of imagery of north Korea, often with analysis by Curtis Melvin, who in my opinion is the best imagery analyst never to have been trained by the US government intelligence community. He is masterful at interpreting imagery from open sources. You can also see his work and analysis at his blog, North Korean Economy Watch.
  1. Yonhap News is the semi-official South Korean news service. It provides timely new on events in both north and South Korea. Sometimes its articles require subscription access, but they can also be accessed through other sites such as Global PostThe Korean Herald, or The Korea Times.
  1. NDU North Korean Site (North Korean MIPAL): Although not a blog, this is a very useful archive of a very large amount official and unofficial documents concerning policy, strategy and the full range of scholarly work as well as key news articles on north Korea.
  1. NightWatch: John McCreary produces a daily overnight global intelligence summary assessing key events during the work week. Although Korea is not always covered, it often is, because John McCreary is a retired Asia and Korean analyst from the US intelligence community, so his expert Korea analysis is very useful. You can also subscribe to his email service.
  1. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK): This is the most comprehensive site for all things related to north Korean human rights. In addition, there are many very important reports commissioned and published by HRNK, on topics from the north Korean Gulags to how north Korean society is organized and controlled (Songbun).
  1. Korean and US Newspapers: There are a variety of South Korean newspapers from across the political spectrum. From the conservative Chosun Ilbo to the progressive Hankyoreh Ilbo and all those in between: Donga IlboJoongAng Ilbo and, as mentioned in item 4, the Korean Herald and the Korea Times. In addition, US sources such as the Wall Street Journal’Korea Real Time, the New York Times’ Asia Pacific Section, the Washington Post’s Asia Pacific Section, the Washington Free Beacon’s North Korea Section are useful resources.
  1. Non-Korea Specific Websites:  The Asia Times and The Diplomat are both Asian-focused websites that offer Korean analysis from a wide ranges of perspectives from journalists, pundits, and scholars.
  1. Authorities on north Korea: Although not all inclusive, here are the names of the people who research and write on north Korea to whom I pay attention: Bruce Bechtol – Professor at Angelo State University and former intelligence office who focuses on north Korean military, WMD, missiles, and illicit activities and author of five important books on north Korea; Robert Collins, former chief of strategy in the ROK/US Combined Forces Command, with expertise on north Korean leadership, culture, and society, as well as how the regime may collapse; Joe Bermudez, Jane’s Defense analyst and author of acclaimed books and numerous reports on the north Korean military to include its special purpose forces; Bruce Bennett, Senior RAND analyst, expert on north Korean WMD, and the South Korean military and demographics, as well as regime collapse. Victor Cha, Georgetown Professor and Korea Chair at CSIS, who served in the Bush NSC, with broad expertise on Korea (and sports); Patrick Cronin from the Center for New American Security, who writes on the region and Korea and has extensive contacts throughout Asia that allows him to provide unique insights; Bruce Klingner from Heritage, who has an extensive background as a Korean analyst in the US intelligence community; Kongdan “Katy” Oh-Hassig and husband Ralph Hassig, who are authors of numerous works on north Korea with expensive contacts and experience in north Korea and China; Andrei Lankov, formerly of the USSR, studied in Pyongyang, now a Professor at Kookmin University in South Korea and a passionate believer in the importance of information flow into north Korea; Ken Gause at the Center for Naval Analysis, who tracks north Korean leadership in detail; Jim Przystup, a senior researcher at the National Defense University, a China and north Korean expert with extensive government and academic contacts throughout the region; Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations, who writes on Korea-US relations (both north and South); William Brown, an economist in the intelligence community, who knows more about the north Korean economic system than anyone I know, and finally Greg Scarlatiou, Executive Director of HRNK and one of our nation’s experts on north Korean Human Rights. Along with your Google news tracker and RSS feeds for Korea that you might set up, consider including these names to find their new publications.

There are many more sources and experts to list, so please do not limit yourself to these. Most of the above resources can be found on links at my blog — The Informal Institute of National Security Thinkers and Practitioners (IINSTP) at You can also track Korea news and commentary via my twitter account, @davidmaxwell161

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. A retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with extensive experience in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, he is the editor of the International Journal of Korean Studies.

The author prefers not to capitalize the ‘n’ in North Korea.

KNS/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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