Passcode to the Third Floor
An Insider's Account of Life Among North Korea's Political Elite
by Thae Yong-ho. Translated by Robert Lauler.
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Pub Date 26 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 03 Jul 2024
Thae Yong-ho was a leading North Korean diplomat to the United Kingdom and Northern Europe—until his dramatic defection to South Korea in 2016. In this gripping tell-all, he reveals the inner workings of the North Korean regime and shares the story of his decision to leave.
Thae spent nearly three decades working under three generations of the ruling Kim dynasty after entering the foreign service as an idealistic twenty-seven-year-old “red warrior” eager to strive for the “socialist motherland.” During this time, he witnessed the arbitrary and tyrannical rule of the Kim family and the enigmatic “Third Floor,” a powerful group of high-ranking officials. Thae provides up-close portraits of the excesses of the North Korean elite and the depths of the cult of personality around the Kims, describing experiences such as concocting reports of Europeans celebrating the birthdays of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il and escorting Kim Jong-un’s older brother to Eric Clapton concerts in London. He also details the economic and political consequences of North Korea’s pursuit of the bomb and the immiseration of the vast majority of the population.
Today a politician in South Korea who advocates unification, Thae offers a powerful plea for the families torn apart by the conflict—including his own, as his brother and sister likely now languish in prison camps. A best-seller in South Korea, Passcode to the Third Floor is an unparalleled look at North Korean politics and diplomacy, giving readers intimate access to the regime’s innermost secrets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thae Yong-ho was North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom before fleeing with his family to South Korea, making him the highest-ranking North Korean diplomat ever to defect. He currently serves as a member of the National Assembly for the Gangnam district of Seoul and is the first North Korean defector to win a South Korean parliamentary seat.
Robert Lauler has a BA in Korean language and literature from the University of Washington and an MA from Seoul National University. He currently works as English-language editor at Daily NK, an online newspaper that operates a clandestine network of sources inside North Korea.