Issue in Focus
Sep 15 2017
Thirteen years ago a 24-year-old Brigham Young University student named David Sneddon vanished in China’s Yunnan province.
After a cursory investigation, Chinese officials concluded that David must have died while hiking alone through Tiger Leaping Gorge.
But David’s kin retraced his steps, and they found that the official story didn’t add up.
For one, David was an experienced hiker and a responsible kid—an Eagle Scout, in fact. Could he have fallen into such peril on a well-traveled trail? Unlikely.
Supposing he had, where was the body? Over a decade later, no remains have been produced.
Eyewitness testimony, meanwhile, placed David in a Chinese city at the end of his planned hiking route. This suggests he passed safely through the gorge before disappearing.
He would have had to circle back through the gorge in order for the official explanation to be correct. Again, unlikely. After thirteen years, no evidence exists to support the official explanation of an untimely death in the gorge.
And then there were other curious details.
David Sneddon was traveling near the so-called “Asian Underground Railroad,” a network of mostly Christian missionaries who help North Korean defectors flee to safety.
North Korean agents are known to operate along the route, ruthlessly hunting down and intercepting defectors and returning them to execution or permanent captivity on the gulag peninsula of North Korea.
And Sneddon was last seen leaving a Korean restaurant. Korean restaurants reportedly are used as outposts for North Korean espionage and illicit enterprise.
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, one month before David’s disappearance, North Korea took the rare step of releasing an American captive, 64-year-old Charles Jenkins. North Korea had forced Jenkins to teach English to its spies at a military university during his almost 40-year captivity.
After his release, the regime needed a substitute teacher. David Sneddon was an Asian Languages major. Highly educated, David spoke perfect American English with a Midwestern accent.
Subsequent intelligence from inside North Korea has supported what these facts strongly suggest: It is likely David Sneddon was taken by the North Korean regime in 2004. He likely has been held captive in that country ever since.
David Sneddon’s possible abduction is one link in a chain of North Korean crimes that stretches back to the Korean War, when the regime ordered the capture of over 80,000 “prominent” South Koreans.
Since the Armistice, North Korea has used a combination of flattery and force to abduct many thousands more.
The regime tricked more than 90,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan into traveling to North Korea to build a “worker’s paradise” they could never leave.
Roughly 100 other disappearances in Japan have been attributed to Pyongyang. In many cases, individuals were snatched from Japanese shores and spirited away on speedboats, never to be seen again.
Similarly, nearly 4,000 South Korean fishermen have been abducted after run-ins with North Korean intelligence vessels.
Recent reports indicate that North Korea has been hunting in China to discourage involvement in the Asian Underground Railroad.
And Pyongyang’s reach extends beyond the Asia-Pacific region. Its operatives have attempted kidnappings in such familiar locales as London, Copenhagen, and Beirut.
All told, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea estimates that as many as 180,000 people have been abducted by North Korea.
One-hundred and eighty thousand. That’s just a few thousand less than the population of Salt Lake City.
Of those 180,000 abductions, only 13 have been acknowledged by North Korea and of these 13, only 5 were allowed to return.
The regime likely acknowledged this in the hope it would lead to a multibillion-dollar reparations payment from Japan. In the process of making this limited admission, it fabricated evidence and stonewalled investigators in order to cover up the true extent of its crimes.
It is easy for us to lose sight of North Korean abductions in light of the regime’s other flagrant offenses.
It has swapped weapons and expertise with other pariah states, including Iran and Syria.
It has conducted a campaign of political murders, including the assassination of a member of the Kim family in the public terminal of a Malaysian airport.
It continues to subjugate the North Korean people in conditions relatable to us only through the writings of George Orwell. For the majority of the impoverished, oppressed citizens of North Korea, from birth to death, they are doomed to suffer out their lives in the gulag peninsula of North Korea.
And of course it has made rapid strides in its nuclear weapons and ICBM programs, raising the terrible spectre of nuclear Armageddon once again.
In stark contrast to its nuclear program or its missile tests, North Korea’s abductions are quiet crimes.
They are marked not by seismic activity but by the absence of loved ones. By late-night walks never completed. By fishing boats that never return. By hikers who vanish from the trail.
Because of the quiet nature of North Korea’s abductions, it is up to the Free World to be loud. We have to be like the Sneddon family in Utah and the Yokota family in Japan, who have advocated tirelessly for their loved ones and all other abductees.
In that spirit, I, along with several of my colleagues in Congress, have introduced a joint resolution expressing our concern about the disappearance of David Sneddon.
The resolution encourages the State Department and Intelligence Community to investigate all plausible explanations for David’s disappearance—including abduction by North Korea.
The resolution further encourages the United States government to work with the Sneddon family and our allies in the region to investigate the disappearance and hopefully secure his release.
This resolution is a start, and I pray that one day soon the Sneddon family will be reunited with David.
It is unlikely we will ever know the stories of all those held captive in North Korea, so great are its crimes. But we can do much more for the few we know.
We can shine a narrow searchlight into the darkness of tyranny, and wait for dawn to break on North Korea.