Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek

Freeing North Korea, One Balloon at a Time

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    Park Sang Hak and fellow North Korean defectors, aided by South Korean security forces, have spent the past 10 years trying to end decades of totalitarian rule in the North by launching balloons carrying propaganda leaflets denouncing the Kim regime. Here, the balloons are launched near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, on May 3.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    "North Korea is surrounded by an iron curtain, so information can't get in," says Park, center. "But this way, using the sky, it can't be stopped."

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    The bags attached to the balloons are filled with a mixture of DVDs, U.S. dollar bills, and booklets.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    Each bag weighs no more than 22 pounds: the maximum payload of a single balloon. In all there are 200,000 two-page leaflets, printed in close-set type and made of featherweight polyvinyl, as light as tissue paper but waterproof.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    The balloons are 33 feet long and 7 feet wide and are filled with hydrogen.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    Park came up with the idea to use double-walled greenhouse plastic to make cigar-shaped balloons: "It's very cheap, very economical, and very sturdy," he says. "I should get a patent."

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    A cartoon depicting a sweaty Kim Jong Un clutching a nuclear missile like a toddler gripping a security blanket is tied to the tail of the last balloon on May 3.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    If everything goes as planned, the balloons will be over Pyongyang in four hours.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek
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    It's almost impossible to tell if the cargo reaches its targets. At least one launch has seen his balloons blow due south and dispense their messages over Seoul. Park counters that defectors who make it to the South tell him they saw his messages before they left; he has received reports of the leaflets falling over Pyongyang and farther east.

    Photograph by Adam Ferguson for Bloomberg Businessweek