North Korea says jailed California man sought to be '2nd Snowden'

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Two American tourists, Jeffrey Edward Fowle, left, and Matthew Todd Miller, have asked for help from the U.S. after being detained in North Korea.  Screen grabs from AP video
Two American tourists, Jeffrey Edward Fowle, left, and Matthew Todd Miller, have asked for help from the U.S. after being detained in North Korea. Screen grabs from AP video

North Korea says jailed California man sought to be '2nd Snowden'

by: Julie Makinen | .
Los Angeles Times | .
published: September 23, 2014

BEIJING — The California man who was sentenced to prison in North Korea last week deliberately sought to get arrested so he could meet another American imprisoned in the country, negotiate for his release and ultimately expose "the 'human rights situation" in the country after leaving jail, the nation's state-run news agency said Saturday.

Matthew Todd Miller, 25, of Bakersfield was sentenced to six years of hard labor at a trial Sept. 14 in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Although the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Miller was part of the "U.S. anti-DPRK human-rights campaign," the agency's description of Miller's behavior seemed to indicate he was a solitary and unsophisticated actor who planned to tell the North Koreans he had secret information about U.S. military bases in South Korea. DPRK is the abbreviation for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of the reclusive Communist state.

It was impossible to independently verify the agency's account and Miller, who was permitted to speak briefly with several foreign media outlets before his trial, offered few details about his motivations or background in those interviews. But Miller has acknowledged ripping up his tourist visa upon entering the country at Pyongyang Airport in April.

The agency said Miller had dropped out of university and spent time in South Korea's capital, Seoul, without a job. It was unclear what university Miller had attended or how long he had been in Seoul before joining the tour group to North Korea.

In a somewhat confusing account, the news agency said Miller had prepared a notebook prior to his trip in which he wrote: "I seek a political asylum. I am seeking refuge after failing in my attempt to collect information about the U.S. Government. I am planning to open to public information like Snowden," referring to former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden, who disclosed details of secret U.S. surveillance programs last year.

At the same time, the agency said Miller planned to claim he had gathered "important information" on an iPad and iPod and intended to tell North Korea that he could provide details "about the military bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in South Korea."

The agency said Miller was seeking to meet American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was jailed in North Korea in 2012 for "hostile acts."

Miller "perpetrated the above-said acts in the hope of becoming a 'world-famous guy' and the 'second Snowden' through intentional hooliganism," the agency said. "This is an intolerable insult and mockery of the DPRK and he, therefore, deserved a punishment."

The agency added that Miller's behavior was "not because of simple lack of understanding and psychopathology" but a deliberate criminal act of "spying" on North Korea's "human-rights performance and making it known to the world." Miller's arrival came around the same time U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry referred to North Korea as a "country of evil," the agency noted.

Neither Miller's family nor friends have spoken publicly about his situation.

In a dispatch from Seoul last week, Reuters said Miller had told people in South Korea he was a British citizen named Preston Somerset and was pursuing an anime adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." Several people interviewed by Reuters described Miller as "curt," "awkward" and "mysterious."

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