But Michael Madden has become, as he puts it, an “accidental expert” on the men, and the occasional woman, who run the world’s most isolated country. From his couch in a dark basement here, Madden operates the website North Korea Leadership Watch, documenting the appearances — and the telling absences — of Kim and the people around him.
“This regime is the longest-lasting totalitarian system for a reason,” said Madden, an idiosyncratic 37-year-old who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the North Korean elite.
He’s prone to rattling off their family trees or minutiae about their educations or jobs — such as the previous positions held by the current director of the agricultural affairs department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
“Sure, there is a powerful strongman around which the system vests its attention and affection, but the strongman still needs subordinates who ensure that the trains launch on time,” he said. “So it is important we know some things about these subordinates, however expendable they might be.”
Through his website, which is now hosted by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and through his work for government agencies and contractors, Madden has been keeping tabs on the people at the top of the Kim regime for almost a decade.
Loyal readers of Think Tank Watch may recall that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was once called a "one-man think tank" by Politico.
We have previously reported that North Korea has been reaching out to US think tanks to understand President Donald Trump. Moreover, some think tankers have been trying to secretly broker a peace deal with North Korea.