ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on June 8th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Which Bridge Crossing Were the Two US Journalists Captured At By North Korean Border Guards?

» by in: North Korea

While looking for more information on the two US journalists recently sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea I decided to check and see if there was any updates on the official blog dedicated to freeing the two journalists.  Interestingly enough a recent posting on the blog provides information about their capture I hadn’t read before:

It was a writer for @timesonline, Ben MacIntyre, who noted a few weeks ago that the drama currently unfolding in North Korea was one worthy of Shakespeare. To wit, “Mad king (Kim Jong-il) attempts to secure succession for favored son (Kim Jong-un) by a show of strength, unleashing chaos.”

Unfortunately, into that mad kingdom, just ahead of the chaos, wandered @Current journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. On Tuesday, March 17th, whether by accident or the trickery of a paid-off Chinese guide, they are alleged to have stepped across an invisible border line at a bridge crossing between China and North Korea. Harsh interrogations and two and a half months of solitary confinement followed, and now, after a brief trial, an absurd sentence of 12 years of hard labor for illegally crossing the border and an unspecified “grave crime.”  [Liberate Laura and Euna]

This scenario makes sense to me.  They walk out on to a bridge for whatever reason thinking as long as they stay on the Chinese side they are okay until the North Korean border guards run at them from the other side of the bridge and grab them.  Considering the Chinese guide of North Korean origin has yet to be found the possibility he was in on their capture is still very much possible.

What I can’t figure out though is where on the border they were captured.  They only thing I can determine from news reports was that they were detained along the Tumen River:

“We are aware through reliable channels on the morning of March 17, that two American citizens were taken into custody across the Tumen River from China into North Korea by what appeared to be North Korean border guards,” said State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside.  [ABC News]

By spying down on the border using Google Earth I could see 10 bridges crossing the Tumen River from China into North Korea:


The first bridge that crosses the Tumen River is near the coast of the Sea of Japan and is a railway bridge which makes this bridge to be an unlikely location of where they were captured:


Here is a picture of the second bridge that is located in a rather rural area:


It is an improved bridge as well that as you can see in the picture buses use to go back and forth across the border:

This bridge is definitely a possibility where they were grabbed.

Here is the third bridge which is located once again in a rural area but does have a Chinese village adjacent to it:


This fourth bridge has a portion of the bridge collapsed so it could not be this bridge that the journalists were grabbed from:


If this bridge was fixed you can see how easy it would be to grab someone from this bridge:

Here is bridge 5 which has collapsed:


Judging from this picture, this picture this bridge may have bombed during the Korean War:

Here is the sixth bridge that crosses to the North Korean city of Namyang:


This bridge is also another possibility where they were grabbed, but I would think the North Koreans would want to grab them some where with less eyes:

Here is the seventh bridge that crosses once again from one Chinese town to a North Korean village:


Here is how this bridge looks like in real life:

Here is the eighth bridge near the North Korean city of Hoeryong:


Here is a picture of Hoeryong across the Tumen River from China:

Further up river from Hoeryong the Tumen River really starts to become a trickle in some areas as it passes through some very rugged terrain:

This picture further upstream shows how even more rugged the terrain gets:

Something that really stood out to me as I followed the Tumen River on Google Earth is how deforested many areas on North Korea’s side of the Tumen is compared to China:


This fact is clearly evident to anyone who has been up to the Demilitarized Zone and taken a look into North Korea, but even way up north on its border with China this country is just an absolute environmental disaster.

The next bridge, which would be bridge number 9 on my list, comes a long ways after bridge 8 and crosses into North Korea from the Chinese city of Chongshanzhen:


Past this town the Tunmen really does become a trickle with only some impoverished North Korean villages along its shores:

Here was the only other bridge I could find further upstream was this one:


This primitive bridge is located in a extremely scenic area:

After this brige the river becomes to narrow to even track on Google Earth anymore as it ascends up the largest mountain on the Korean peninsula, Mt. Baekdusan.

So that means there is a total of 10 bridges across the entire Tumen River, but really only 7 because two of them are collapsed and the 10th bridge is so primitive and remote it is really only good for foot traffic.  So out of the seven remaining bridges if I wanted to grab someone with as few eyes as possible it seems the remote 2 and 3 bridges would be the place to do it because they are not located adjacent to major cities.

Mitch Koss

Mitch Koss

Ultimately we will not know which bridge they were captured on and what the circumstances were until the cameraman Mitch Koss tells everyone what he knows.  I asked at the Liberate Laura site whether Koss would come out and speak and they think he has been told by the State Department not to speak out.  They also said the Chinese guide is still missing and that activists in China had long been suspicious of the guy.

The bottomline is that we still do not if they crossed into North Korea or not and information now appears that they may have been grabbed off of a bridge that they were taken to by a highly suspicious person that has yet to be found.  Clearly by just being on a bridge so close to North Korea taken there by a person of questionable character, as well as being related to a person who is on the regimes most hated list clearly shows these journalists were at best foolish, but they don’t deserve 12 years of hard labor either.  Lets hope they get released soon, but the US government is definitely in a tough spot.

What do you think should be done?

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  • Avatar of BillBill
    12:39 pm on June 8th, 2009 1

    If I recall correctly, I read somewhere that at least some North Koreans were eating tree bark because of the famine conditions. Could that be the cause of the deforestation?

  • ChickenHead
    12:59 pm on June 8th, 2009 2


    I can't say about any of these bridges but I have been to a lot of border bridges around the world.

    One thing they have in common, even if the border crossings are not open to travelers, are a few soldiers and some immigration officials.

    You can't just go innocently walking across bridges.

    Also, at even the crappiest little border crossings in the crappiest little countries, I have found the people on both sides know each other and have some working relationship… meaning if the reporters convinced (paid) the Chinese side to let them on the bridge, the NK side would be agreeable or it wouldn't happen.

    Also, the crappier the border crossing, the easier it is to cross it with a bribe (but only in the immediate area… you can't go wondering far into the county from there… as if you are caught, there will be questions).

    The last I knew, 200USD was the going rate to cross into North Korea but you are followed around and NO PICTURES is strictly enforced.

    In the end, it is blindingly obvious that some people know exactly what happened. What SHOULD be obvious to everyone, but somehow isn't, is that the story is being released to the public in a controlled way worthy of a commie plot.

    First they were definitely captured in China. Then, they MAY have been in the middle of the river for taking footage of the Chinese side. Then they MAY have crossed a "poorly marked" border area (whatever that means… as the boarder is marked by a big, wet, cold river). Now they MAY have crossed an imaginary line on a bridge.

    No. All indications are they crossed into North Korea fair and square… and with each dribble of information that comes out, that conclusion becomes more sure.

    They were two nubies looking to make a big name for themselves to meet high expectations. NK saw them coming a mile away and let them dig their own holes.

    I admire their courage and pity the result but I am resentful of how the story is being manipulated to guide public thought and satisfy wishful thinking.

    And it is irritating how everyone just laps up whatever the media tells them without the least amount of critical thinking… something we seem to find funny when it happens to the North Koreans.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    1:10 pm on June 8th, 2009 3

    I'm not sure what wishful thinking you are referring to because just about every media article has stated that it is unclear if they were caught in NK or taken from China. This makes sense considering no one knows for sure until the cameraman tells us what he knows or the North Korean guide is caught.

  • Hamilton
    1:15 pm on June 8th, 2009 4

    "You can’t just go innocently walking across bridges."

    CH, You are wrong. You can walk out onto the bridge at Dandong, but only the Chinese can cross the invisible line. When I was there we could walk out about 2/3 of the way which was marked on the ground. However there were not any nK guards sitting at the halfway mark ready to grab us, it was just a precaution. At a more isolated location you never know, also the norks are pretty good at using undercover guards who easily could have waited in ambush pretending to be Chinese and make a snatch and grab.

  • Hamilton
    1:19 pm on June 8th, 2009 5

    Correction, 1/3 of the way out. Also as a rule of thumb I don't believe anything the north Koreans say.

  • Cloying_Odor
    1:35 pm on June 8th, 2009 6

    They expected, as women, to threaten the lucritive female slave trade of both the Chinese and the North Koreans and then go on thier merry way? Obviously they were a little too focused on thier 15 minutes of fame than on making some commmon sense decisions. Well… They're famous now…. hope they are happy.

  • The Expat
    2:00 pm on June 8th, 2009 7

    My concern is that the North knows we'd reneg. They've got to be anticipating that. They can nothing by letting these women go.

    I can only assume this is all to get the people worked up and firmly behind Kim Jong-un.

  • King Baeksu
    2:42 pm on June 8th, 2009 8

    There are also quite a few bridges on the Yalu upriver from Dandong and I've been on a few myself. It's not very exciting standing in the middle of a bridge and then filming into North Korea. It would not be the kind of thing to "make" one's career as an ambitious journalist. My gut instinct is that they would have crossed over where the river is narrow enough to do so by foot (compelled to do so either by their own design or after having been lured there by deception), and then gotten nabbed by border soldiers on NK territory. A bridge is too high-profile and not discreet enough in my opinion. The above comment by Ben MacIntyre seems to be speculation and I would not take it as the final word in this matter.

  • mashimaro
    3:42 pm on June 8th, 2009 9

    I remember former Pres. Bush saying something about the old policy of run and gun and that his policy was walk and whack. I wish that is what the president would do, but his hands are somewhat tied because of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan). If I were Commander-in-Chief, I would tell them they have 24 hours to put those women in the Swedish (? or a safe) embassy for safe keeping until they can leave the country and return to the U.S. I wouldn't mind pushing the doomsday clock a few ticks forward in anticipation of the event.

    24 hours won't allow negotiations to drag on, for opposition to form or anything. Pyongyang would be forced to choose quickly, and regime survival is always their choice.

  • usinkorea
    6:54 pm on June 8th, 2009 10

    I'm been trying to picture in my head how all these people remaining silent is good for anybody but our State Department, and I can't do it.

    My gut feeling is that it has been harmful to the situation of these two reporters.

  • Spelunker
    7:05 pm on June 8th, 2009 11

    I really like this "ROK Drop" website! Only you and correspondent Donald Kirk seem to share the same thinking that I have on this story. The commenters here are all very smart too. My comments on this story keep getting deleted from CNN, ABC, and FOX news network blogs. Here I find freedom to speak the truth!

    OK, enough flattery for you all; let's get busy now and share notes on intelligence.

    1. The bridge of no return? I have not seen enough reports stating that they were on a bridge or at a bridge or near a bridge or under a bridge. On top of a bridge it would be easier to spot North Korean sentries running straight toward them. Perhaps that would not be so simple if they were standing under the bridge though as the the sentries could approach from either side.

    Other articles I've read (in English, Chinese, and other languages) say that they were on the frozen river, so for now I'll hold off on further bridge analysis. I do enjoy the fact that my theory of "the trickery of a paid-off Chinese guide" is mentioned by Mr. MacIntyre.

    2. Regarding the ethnic Korean guide who is a citizen of China, I believe Donald Kirk wrote that there were activists in South Korea that voiced suspicions about this individual. Perhaps those are the same "activists in China" mentioned here since Reverend Chun Ki-won helped organize the Current TV crew's itinerary.

    3. About Mitch Koss, there is an Australian reporter (Mark Willacy) for Australian Broadcasting Corp. who claims to have information from Mitch:

    Here's his quote in an interview on PM radio show:

    "Pyongyang says they illegally set foot on North Korean territory but supporters of the journalists say they were on the Chinese side of the border and that's been backed up by the reporter's cameraman who was working with the two women but managed to escape. He's backed their story that North Korean border guards arrested the pair on the Chinese side of the border."

    I have sent an e-mail to ABC in Australia asking Mr. Willacy to clarify his source for Mitch's side of the story. No response yet but I will keep you posted.

    4. I believe the Current TV crew's assignment was to interview North Korean refugees in Yanji and then proceed to Dandong. It was not necessary to visit the Tumen River border area for this story and Reverend Chun told them not to go near the actual boundary. Somehow on March 17 their plans changed. Perhaps this was the day they were going to be driven to Dandong from Yanji, thus the pre-dawn departure time. It's not unreasonable to assume that the driver, (in a few articles I've read this person is indeed referred to as a driver, not a guide) took a route that went near the Tumen River and suggested they all get out to film some footage. This would explain why Euna Lee did not stay behind at the hotel, as her interpreting services would not have been needed if they did not plan on doing interviews that day. (I really don't believe they had any intention to interview a North Korean border sentry.)

    The reason I mention my driver theory here is because it would facilitate having the journalists apprehended at one of the more remote bridges south of Yanji.

  • The Expat
    7:19 pm on June 8th, 2009 12

    So, you're suggesting that this whole thing was a staged kidnapping for ransom money, oil etc…?

  • The Expat
    7:19 pm on June 8th, 2009 13

    Oh and yes, ROK Drop is the best.

  • Spelunker
    7:49 pm on June 8th, 2009 14

    Hello Expat!

    I'm suggesting that the guide/driver got on his cell phone and tipped off the North Koreans about 3 US passport holding reporters from Current TV in Yanji. How much do you believe the North Korean government would pay to have Lisa Ling's sister, a Korean-American citizen, and the executive producer of Al Gore's media company dropped in Kim Jong-il's dear little lap?

  • Unsatisfied LG DACOM
    8:08 pm on June 8th, 2009 15

    I posted this elsewhere.

    "This isn’t the USA’s problem. This is Al Gore’s problem. Let him deal with it. This has all been caused by the poor judgement of private citizens and should not be allowed to impact the country’s security and policies.

    Stand on the northern shore of the river and you remain safe in China. Cross over to the southern side and you’re in North Korea, where crazy bad things happen. You’re taking a personal risk by going there, like Tijuana but without the donkey shows."

  • Sonagi
    8:59 pm on June 8th, 2009 16

    Chickenhead is right. There is no way these two women could have accidentally crossed the line in the middle of a heavily guarded border bridge where the two sides cooperate closely.

    It is highly unlikely that North Korean guards would have crossed into China to grab a pair of journalists, not uncommon visitors to the border.

    The scenario that the two women were led across unwittingly by a double agent guide is the most plausible although it is possible that the women deliberately entered North Korea.

  • Songtan1
    10:41 pm on June 8th, 2009 17

    Short, to the point, and well said.

  • KAren H. Loughmiller
    11:06 pm on June 8th, 2009 18

    Thnaks for this excellent summary of possible/likely sites where the journalists were kidnapped.

  • Stafford
    12:05 am on June 9th, 2009 19

    Since it seems like I only comment on RoK Drop when it comes to trees I'll give it another go. This tie though I'm not so sure of myself.

    Could the lack of trees or purposeful deforestation on the boarder have something to do with sight lines and such? It's a bit harder to sneak across into China if you're in an open field as opposed to a thick wood.

    Just saying.

  • Spelunker
    1:52 am on June 9th, 2009 20

    I have exclusive new information that I am posting on ROK Drop first (CNN is still censoring my comments):

    This is from an aticle today on a Dutch news website based in the Netherlands:

    Overigens werden de op 17 maart ook aanwezige cameraman, Mitch Koss, en een Chinees-Koreaanse gids niet gearresteerd. Familie van de twee vrouwen verdenkt de gids ervan de twee in de val te hebben gelokt. Cameraman Koss, die de toedracht heeft gezien, heeft in de VS zwijgplicht gekregen teneinde het lot van de vrouwen niet in gevaar te brengen.

    Dutch is not one of my languages so I have to rely on "Google Translate":

    "In addition, on March 17 also present cameraman, Mitch Koss and a Sino-Korean guide not arrested. Family of the two women suspects the guide of the two in the fall to have lured. Cameraman Koss, who has seen the facts, in the U.S. duty was to the plight of women in jeopardy."

    The key part of this quotation appears to be that sister Lisa Ling or one of the two husbands (Iain Clayton and Michael Saldate) suspect that the guide lured them into a trap!

  • Greg
    2:30 am on June 9th, 2009 21

    I wonder how Mitch escaped. Maybe the NK guards suddenly chased after them, and Mitch, Laura, and Euna started running. Only Mitch was able to run fast enough to escape, while Laura and Euna were left behind.

  • Spelunker
    3:27 am on June 9th, 2009 22

    Greg, I have a few possible clues for you. (I'm all over this story!) :shock:


    This is from Seattle blogger Robert Blevins of Adventure Books and his opinion published on Newsvine:

    Witnesses and reports in South Korean media tell a different story. According to local sources, Laura Ling, Euna Lee, along with a local guide and cameraman Mitch Koss were attempting to cross the frozen Tumen river when they were accosted by border guards. Mitch Koss and the guide shoved the North Korean soldiers and fled back into China. Both men were later arrested by Chinese border guards near the town of Yanji and are being held in an undisclosed location. The two women were caught by the North Korean soldiers.

    There is a photo of one of the Tumen River bridges here as well!


    This is from USA Today'a article back on March 22:

    "The journalists and cameraman Mitch Koss were following their guide across the frozen Tumen River early Tuesday morning when North Korean soldiers armed with rifles approached them from a half-hidden guard post, the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Saturday. It cited activists working with North Korean refugees in China and other unidentified sources.

    Koss and the guide pushed the North Korean soldiers away and ran back toward China, but Ling and Lee were caught, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified source.

    Koss and the guide were later seized by Chinese border guards and sent to the Chinese Public Security Bureau, the newspaper said. Their whereabouts remain unclear."

    There is another amusing tidbit in the USA Today article from Reverend Chun Ki Won about the purpose of Current TV's trip to Yanji, "where they planned to interview women forced by human traffickers to strip for online customers"


    In this Seattle Times article on March 20, Reverend Chun says Koss got away at the last minute:

    "They were detained that day, along with their guide, Chun said, citing sources he refused to name. He said it was unclear whether they were seized in North Korean or Chinese territory.

    He said his sources told him that Koss, a cameraman, escaped arrest "at the last minute." He said he did not know where Koss was."


    This is from RushPR News on June 4:

    "Lee and Ling were taken by border police at a bridge crossing over the Tumen River, which forms part of the border between North Korea and China. Mitchell Koss, executive producer of Current TV’s Vanguard Journalism reporting unit, and a driver were working with them but were not taken."


    Here is another interesting website that mentions Mitch Koss and the Tumen River incident:

    Scroll down to the satellite image of the Korean peninsula for some pretty good insight on the Tumen River area as well as commentary on Mitch Koss.

  • Hamilton
    1:45 pm on June 9th, 2009 23

    Stafford, the north Koreans will clear trees from observation posts but the widescale deforestation is due to foraging for both food and fuel to keep warm. Once they pulled up all the grass, water errosion finished off what was left of many of the trees. Use google earth and you will see it isn't just limited to the border areas.

  • Spelunker
    3:31 am on June 10th, 2009 24

    Here is the transcript of Anderson Cooper's interview on June 9 with Jim Butterworth and Mike Kim concerning Yanji and the Tumen River area, where Current TV's crew was on assignment. I have added my own comment at the end. Let's see if CNN's AC360 blog publishes my comment as it's now "awaiting moderation"

    My new friends here at ROK Drop need not wait:

    Jim Butterworth: “…it is commonly believed that there are hundreds of North Korean agents who actually had infiltrated the Chinese side, which is almost entirely ethnic Korean .”

    Anderson Cooper: “Why would they do that?”

    Butterworth: “To capture not only refugees that had escaped into China… In fact there is a bounty paid to Chinese citizens that would turn in North Korean refugees but the bounty is actually 10 times that if they would turn in the activists that would help them or anyone that would assist them.”

    Mike Kim; “… North Korea will send spies posing as refugees to infiltrate networks and as a result there have been people abducted… and it really threatens the work of NGO’s there.”

    Spelunker: “So then it’s not unreasonable to assume that the ethnic Korean citizen of China that led Current TV’s crew to the Tumen River border on the morning of their departure from Yanji to Dandong could have been acting on an extremely high bounty after tipping off Pyongyang spies that 3 US passport holding journalists were in Yanji interviewing North Korean refugees.”

    4:15 am on June 12th, 2009 25

    video of NORTH KOREA

    4:15 am on June 12th, 2009 26

    video of NORTH KOREA done in May 2009

  • In Seoul
    9:52 am on June 12th, 2009 27

    I was watching your video of “North Korea Shop.” I’m curious as to why you have images of the words ‘The US Imperialist Started the War’ flickering on the screen. Are you a North Korean?

    As for the clip in the North Korean propaganda building, the woman is obviously lying about knowing nothing about the two detained Americans. This brings into question her accusations about the two downed American pilots. It’s probably just a Korean War photo. North Koreans have been known to be pathologic liars; there is no need for a firm foundation in ethics when one’s religion is Kim Il-sung the divine.

  • Spelunker
    2:35 am on June 17th, 2009 28

    Our diligent friend at "One Free Korea" has been looking at Google Earth images to try and locate the border crossing at Onsong, which is where KCNA's report claims that the 3 American journalist were led across the Tumen River by their guide.

  • Man from Modesto
    8:31 am on June 18th, 2009 29

    Original articles immediately after the event speculated that they had crossed the frozen river. In March, those rivers are frozen. N. Korea and China each claim the opposing riverbank as the border. When the river is frozen, either nation could claim a false crossing.

    However, as the two women were captured dressed as Korean refugees, it is likely they did cross the border.

    The most interesting thing in the above article is this: the mention that the ladies could have been betrayed into capture. Would Al Gore's cronies sell out two young women in order to create international outrage, and assist in creating public sentiment against N. Korea?

    If true, DISGUSTING!

  • Man from Modesto
    8:47 am on June 18th, 2009 30


    I was warned of this very event in a dream more than a year before it happened.

    I was praying about what would be the sign that would prompt me to leave America. Revelation says, "Come out of her my people, lest you suffer with her for her iniquities."

    Following this, the dream warned, there would be a missile attack on Japan. Then an angel's voice said, "When Japan folds to China, that will be your warning."

    Link to video on YT:

  • It’s Time for Current TV to Talk About What Happened to Their Captured Reporters [Reporters In Peril] | Geek & High Tech
    12:45 pm on August 5th, 2009 31

    [...] to research by the Korea-focused website ROK Drop and its commenters, there are seven bridges between North Korea and China where the reporters might have been [...]


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