While rumours about the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un's health condition, his current location and death are swirling, some experts have revealed how they collect information about his secretive regime and track down the location details.
In a recent video, North Korea expert stated that the country knows the fact that they are being watched from above and the movements of Kim Jong-un's regime have been recorded. The video showed satellite images of North Korea which help a lot to reveal the truth behind Kim Jong-un's disappearance.
Tracking down North Korean leader in Pyongyang
The video shows footage from the recent birthday celebration of late Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea where Kim Jong-un was absent first time since his ascent to the top office in 2011. Ironic but the details about his absence was hard to obtain due to lack of transparency and restrictions related to leak of any information about the country.
However, there are some techniques on which experts rely on to acquire information about North Korea and one of the key tools is satellite images which are used by analysts to note down key changes or set a pattern that helps them to explain what might be happening in the region.
Here's a link to the video.
Shared by the New York Times, the video shows an analyst by name Michael Madden talking about the Workers' Party of Korea's building and the movements of North Korean leader. He said, "You can tell that Kim Jong-un is in office based on the guard deployments around the building."
The complex includes Kim Jong-un's personal medical clinic. But in April, experts noticed that the clinic has been demolished making way for a larger structure. The video revealed that if Kim Jong-un does have health issues there are other places which experts look for indicator such as North Korea's most elite hospital where Kim family has its own wing.
Analysts also look for certain vehicles outside and if the motorcade parks outside the Pyongyang hospital near the entrance it means that he is there. "We would probably start to see what it calls ACVs... and another deployment of Kim Jong-un's bodyguard units," he said.
Activities in other parts of North Korea
Apart from Pyongyang, the analysts look at activities in leadership railway train station in Wonsan where the Kim family has another home. Recently, a personal train was noticed at the station.
If Kim Jong-un's health is currently a serious concern for his regime, analysts may look to a compound surrounding areas in the country's north. This is the place which is geographically isolated and a special district where Kim Jong-un and other officials travel to issue commands and instructions. This compound also has the value-added benefit of being so close to China border that he could "drive into China if they felt the emergency was that bad," said Madden.
The video also said that if the North Korean leader is recovering from a health crisis, he might have stayed at the Kangdong residence, which is 20 to 30 minutes away from central Pyongyang that would allow him to recover in privacy but also let him visit the capital for a meeting or to exercise his authority.
But satellite images don't provide ultimate answers as North Korea is aware that the world has an eye on them from above. As per Jean H Lee, Director of Korea Program, Wilson Centre and former AP Pyongyang Bureau chief said, "I have seen in past that North Korea uses that satellite imagery to conceal what they are doing and to deflect what they are doing." Knowing the fact about satellite image, sometimes they also put guards in a particular place to let the world assume that Kim Jong-un is at that particular place.
Hiding facts about the health crisis of leaders is not new
The state-run media doesn't publish everything that happens in North Korea. While explaining one of the incidents Lee said that in September 2008 while people in the capital were expecting to see Kim Jong-un's father and then-leader Kim Jong-il at the major military parade to celebrate the country's founding, he was not there. She said, "we finally got intel sources in Washington DC to confirm that they believed that Kim Jong-il has suffered a stroke several weeks earlier in August and was in a coma."
Meanwhile, state-run media did not cover the news, instead, the tv channels showed old documentary footage featuring Kim Jong-il.
Tracking of private flights
A website called flightradar24 shows flights over a 48-hour period but there is hardly any airline activity over the North Korean region as only half a dozen commercial airlines land on Pyongyang's airport each day.
If analysts want to find out whether the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un is severely ill or not, they will look for specific kind of flights arriving in the capital. Madden said, "I would look for chartered flights," because if there is a major medical procedure then there is a high chance that they will use such flights, said Madden.
In 2018 October, unscheduled cargo flights were quickly spotted leaving the North Korea capital for Russia's Vladivostok which are believed to be involved in sanction violation by the regime.
Though these sources can be reliable, they can not provide a full picture of what is going on in North Korea or reveal confirmed details about Kim Jong-un. Experts also rely on human sources and intelligence reports to find out the truth.