When North Korea announced a crypto conference back in 2018, Canadian journalist Ethan Lou jumped at the opportunity to see what the country’s crypto scene looked like. He encountered many surprises, including being introduced as a presenter to a North Korean audience.
According to Lou, he went there with eight other unsuspecting participants who simply wanted to attend the crypto conference. However, when the plane landed and the conference started, they realized that they were being announced to the audience as foreign experts who flew all the way to North Korea to teach them about crypto.
While Lou did not agree to present, he said that most of the others decided to give improvised talks. However, the Canadian journalist felt that there was no significant exchange of information at the conference:
“There were only eight of us. There were maybe like maybe 60 Korean people. They were basically the audience, and we did not get any meaningful interaction with them.”
The foreign crypto “experts” also encountered some expected security measures. One had his laptop confiscated because it had pictures of his girlfriend. The North Koreans classified the pictures as pornography and held on to the computer until they departed.
Lou also met Virgil Griffith, the only person who was an actual presenter for the event. Griffith explained that Americans need permission from their government when going to North Korea. “Before Virgil went on this trip, he asked his government whether he could go. The government told him no. He told us he decided to go anyway,” Lou mentioned.
While Griffith believed he was doing his country a favor, he was eventually arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This led to a trial where he pled guilty and was ultimately sentenced to over five years in prison.