Casey and Yeon-mi ‘Puppet’ Show

Written by Mike Bassett

Michael Bassett, a U.S. veteran and a senior North Korea analyst with 361Security, The Asia Institute, and The Rendon Group, raises the question of whether the much-acclaimed speech of defector Park Yeon-mi will help liberate 24 million North Koreans. 

Park Yeon-mi used to speak of having a “luxurious” life in North Korea where she enjoyed playing Mario Brothers, watching foreign romances, and participating in a black market that caused her and her generation to think for themselves and depend less on the regime.

Much evidence suggests that (against its own will) North Korea has been ideologically, economically, politically, technologically, and legally reforming since Kim Jong-un came to power.

Since her rise to fame Yeon-mi’s messages have changed. She now claims that “a holocaust” is going on, dead bodies are everywhere, and that there is no sense of individual freedom. A long list of her changed narratives is conveniently piled-up here.

Her change in narrative warrants serious scrutiny because that narrative changed as a result of a political and economic agenda rather than a genuine desire to inform the public about the best way to liberate North Koreans from oppression.

Casey Lartigue and Park Yeon-mi

Casey Lartigue and Park Yeon-mi

Casey Lartigue, of the Casey and Yeon-mi Show, Teach North Korea Refugees Program (TNKRP), and Freedom Factory, is sponsored by the Atlas Network, a self-proclaimed network designed to “advance liberty.” Libertarian economist Kim Chung-ho works in this nexus that is affiliated with an NGO that he presides over called the Center for Free Enterprise.

There are numerous other NGOs, think tanks, and firms that have partnered with Freedom Factory’s nexus. Combined, most of them on the surface appear intent on spreading liberty and libertarian economics in Asia. However, instances of Yeon-mi’s changing narratives indicate otherwise.


Casey and one of his students

Yeon-mi’s selection from the TNKRP to be Casey’s “freedom star” that “followed the stars to freedom” is dubious. TNKRP refugees know that if they learn to speak English, learn to adapt a politically correct narrative, and learn how to woo an audience; then Casey can present them with opportunities to fame.

In short, if a refugee is willing to become an agitprop puppet for Casey’s nexus, then they can achieve stardom – a very enticing trade-off with so few opportunities available for North Korean refugees.

Agitprop is a very specific form of propaganda that benefits communism by using media, drama, and the arts through a marionette deployed to carry out a strategic political agenda by influencing public sentiment.


From Misinformation Campaigns to Catastrophic Policies

Despite Yeon-mi’s original revelations that summarily claimed that engaging and humanizing the North Korea would change the regime – something Liberty in North Korea and the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea agree with (see here, and here) – she was instead sold-out to Casey and abandoned advocating for the 24 million North Koreans still being oppressed.

She switched to a narrative of demonization favoring sanctions against the regime with no mention whatsoever, anywhere, by her or Casey as to how that approach would liberate North Korea.


Yeon-mi’s facebook message to Mike

My argument does not claim that North Korean human rights issues are all sensationalized nor does it mean that human rights be trivialized. That is far from the truth. This argument is merely a critical analysis of Casey and Yeon-mi’s tactics and agenda because they’re political and questionable.

Because sanctions will result in a halt to current reforms, and society returning to total dependency on the regime, it can be said that anyone who supports sanctions also supports a socialist status quo in North Korea.

HR1771 is up for vote next week. If it passes, it will result in the total and complete isolation of the regime. HR1771 is “the harshest measures the U.S. could impose on North Korea short of full-scale war” according to its chief architect Joshua Stanton.

Pro-engagement NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Helping Hands, Christian Friends of Korea, and Choson Exchange’s operations will be in violation of international law as a result of sanctions. This isn’t to mention every other people-to-people or humanitarian aid group that makes measurable progress in North Korea.

HR1771 will effectively isolate the regime, and punish anyone who tries to engage it without authorization from the executive office.

HR1771 is likely to send progress back decades and result in millions of deaths. It will cause political crackdowns and mass starvation in North Korea. It could even result in Pyongyang deciding to use its new submarine-launchable nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in a simultaneously strike against multiple countries around the world.


Tactical Deception

Casey has yet to explain anywhere to anyone why he believes sanctions and sensationalization will lead to liberty in North Korea, but it is his modus operandi nonetheless.

10578924_10203824774396956_76783919_nCasey and Yeon-mi’s Fall 2014 Tour concluded last week with an emotionally-gripping obloquy at the One Young World Summit in Ireland. Her “tour” effectively manipulated public sentiment in favor of an agenda to isolate North Korea through demonization — masked by the false-precedence of advocacy for human rights in North Korea. She spoke only of helping refugees. Nothing in her speech advocated for helping the people in North Korea.

The very first line in her speech was honest; “I have to give this because this is not I’m speaking, this is the people who want to tell the world what they want to say.

Yeon-mi never once specifically said that she was speaking on behalf of North Koreans in North Korea. She could have blatantly left that vague if she knew she was speaking on behalf of her sponsors and not North Koreans.

Let us just assume though that she is speaking on behalf of herself and North Koreans. Why the need for the lies? Why isn’t her story powerful enough without the sensationalism? In a publication following the event (co-authored by Casey), Yeon-mi claimed that Kim Jong-un recently rounded up and machine-gunned 80 people in a stadium.
Experts are currently divided over that because it can’t be verified. Does that mean we should just accept everything anyone says? Perhaps, but she even exaggerated that rumor which actually stated last year (not recently) “large groups of citizens had been ordered to gather to watch the executions at multiple locations throughout North Korea.”


A message found at the Casey and Yeon Mi Show Facebook Page


Casey’s Quiescence – Agenda Fulfilled?

The links above provide ample evidence indicating her sponsors for coaching her every action, interview, and publication. These actions, interviews, and publications combined have effectively spun the public to support containing and sanctioning North Korea.


Lack of explanations from Casey and the sponsors of Freedom Factory leaves watchers confused and forced to speculate about his plethora of irony and seemingly contradictory intentions.

That said, Casey appears to have a deceptively counterintuitive agenda in mind that on the surface causes the public to believe they are advocating for human rights in North Korea while in reality they are blatantly acting against them.


Freedom Factory’s agenda appears to have the political intent of halting current reforms in North Korea and further isolating the regime through a nation-branding tactic called “demonization” because their sponsors want to radically transform the economy in a way that would not be possible if the burden of North Korea’s weak economy were included in the plan.

Due to the common knowledge that politicians vote in the best interest of their next election campaign, it is fait accompli (especially for a former CATO-ite) that public sentiment is the key element necessary for swaying foreign policy in one direction or the other.

Based on the above analysis, is it too far a stretch to claim that Freedom Factory seeks not only to profiteer off of refugees, but also off of the maintaining of an oppressed status quo in North Korea?

Casey has yet to explain anywhere to anyone why he believes sanctions and sensationalization will lead to liberty in North Korea, but it is his modus operandi nonetheless.

img_3512Some answers may eventually come from Casey, but the best will come by truly mapping the money trail and agendas of all actors involved, a noble endeavor as HR1771 goes to vote in the senate following a season of spin from the Casey and Yeon-mi Puppet Show.


The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the publisher.


About the author

Mike Bassett

Michael Bassett served in the US Army for ten years; four of which were spent as a tank commander and intelligence officer on the DMZ. He has a BA and MA in international communications, and a graduate certificate in North Korean affairs. He has lived on the Korean Peninsula for seven years and has family members from both sides of the DMZ. Follow him on Twitter @MikeJB79.

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  • huggalump

    It’s really disappointing to see a sensationalist article like this on a website I once thought was respectable. The author proves nothing, he only throws around baseless and damaging accusations. Much of the evidence he provides even counters the argument he is making. In the video linked in the first paragraph, under “enjoyed playing Mario Brothers,” she even says that her world came crashing down when her father was arrested and she says that people were dying of starvation under the new Kim’s leadership.

    Furthermore, the author criticizes the idea of sanctions against North Korea because it would hurt the reform growing among North Korea citizens, as seen by the development of black markets and declining reliance on the government. Somehow he seems to not understand that these black markets and lack of reliance on the government exist specifically because the government cannot provide for its people. If the government could provide, there would be no need to self-reliance and revolution would never happen.

    But even beyond all that, the focus is on article HR1771, which the author says would stop all humanitarian aide to North Korea. After reading HR1771 I don’t see how it would stop NGO groups from helping… but I might be missing something, I’m not good at goverment-speak. However, there are other humanitarian measures built into HR1771. Even on top of all that, most importantly, the author does nothing to prove to me that Casey and Yeon Mi have any part in promoting HR1771, making me question why it’s even in the article other than to scare people.

    The foundation of the article is that Yeon Mi’s narrative has changed, and even this foundation is flawed. Just because she gave one talk mentioning good times in life and another talk mentioning bad times in life does not mean her narrative has changed or she’s being manipulated. A public speaker is not bound to tell the exact story again and again for every venue and every period of life.

    This article is tabloid. It would sit well next to magazines about celebrity celluloid and bat boy.

    • James

      It is posted as an opinion piece under Op/Ed and is no different than a letter to the editor. It is great to see your reply.

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