North Korean Dissidents Use Crypto To Resist Repressive Government

On Sunday, March 17, a group of North Korean political dissidents posted plans on its website to raise funds to overthrow the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong-un. Their method? Cryptocurrency.

To fund its activities, the Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD) promises to sell up to 200,000 “G-VISAs.” The CCD says each visa will be symbolized by a non-fungible ERC-721 token and will sell for one ETH per visa “for the first thousand visas.” (The price after the first 1,000 is not stated.)

According to the group’s website, each visa will come with a unique ID number based on the order in which it was purchased and will be completely anonymous. G-VISAs will allow one person to visit “Free Joseon” – the name the CCD intends to give North Korea once it is liberated – for 45 days, but only after the group has overthrown the current regime. The visas are scheduled to go on sale March 24. However, they expire on March 1, 2029, so it looks like the dissidents have a timeline for liberation.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Cheollima Civil Defense first entered the limelight in 2017 after members helped the son of Kim Jong-nam escape after his father was allegedly assassinated by North Korea’s current regime. Kim Jong-nam was the eldest brother of former government leader Kim Jong-il and the half-brother of Kim Jong-un.

It appears the group again made its presence known in late February when, according to anonymous sources cited by The Washington Post, members of the CCD raided the North Korean embassy in Madrid, Spain. During the attack, suspected members of the CCD tied up staff members and stole their computers and mobile phones. The attackers made their getaway in two luxury vehicles.

According to WaPo, if the Madrid attack was indeed the work of the CCD, the information contained on the stolen computers and phones could harbor a wealth of information valuable to foreign intelligence agencies. To this point, Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University, said the stolen electronics “could have contacts and documents related to North Korea’s efforts to bypass sanctions and import luxury goods from Europe, which was one of the key assignments for Kim Hyok Chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Spain.”

Per the South China Morning Post, very little is known about the group, and it is unique in brazenly challenging the Kim dynasty. Resistance groups outside of North Korea usually fight back through “information dissemination campaigns” in which they distribute flyers or USB drives into North Korea by sea or air.

A professor of Korean studies at Leiden University, Remco Breuker, said the CCD “seems to be well organised, it clearly identifies itself with the North Koreans, it has a number of noteworthy actions on its resume. This is to my knowledge the first serious government in exile.”

Still, it doesn’t appear that the CCD has a system of accountability. Investors should be wary of giving money to an anonymous group that keeps the identity and location of members and leaders hidden. And even if the CCD fully intends to keep its promise to provide the G-VISAs, it can only deliver if it’s successful in overthrowing the current regime.

Of course, given the circumstances, the CCD’s need for privacy is understandable. In a passionate letter to international and foreign journalists posted on the CCD website, the group outlines the need for secrecy:

“We respectfully ask that if you learn the identities of our members and leadership, that you help keep them confidential until we ourselves are prepared to have them known … The identification of even a single member could lead to the identities of others. Several of us have already escaped their attempts on our lives and that of our families. Many of our compatriots and their relatives have not been as fortunate. And any left surviving in concentration camps would surely face execution if the identities of their family members as dissidents were made known.”