P5DX-what could have been….
As a Blogger, my blog represents my
thoughts and my views only. The content of this Blog does not represent
anyone else but me.
This morning, I had to cancel a DXpedition. It was one of the hardest
decisions of my life. It was not for lack of permission, it was not for
lack of a team and equipment willing to go.
The prospect of a P5 activation brings out the worst in this hobby. The
posers, the nuts, the ill-informed and the opinionated. But in the end,
it mostly came down to a surprising lack of support and lack of funding
from some of the world's paramount DX foundations when asked to fund
grants to the world's #1 Most Wanted Entity.
This is the story of P5DX.
Throughout several years of ongoing negotiations, the North Koreans
have told us that they have never before given permission for an
amateur radio activity within the DPRK. Of course we don't know if this
is true or not as others have gone before us and have been approved for
DXCC, but this is what we were told. We had hoped to be the first large
DXpedition with clear and unambiguous proof that we were active within
the country and with real evidence of permission. After tireless
efforts, we finally had a letter of invitation in hand from DPRK
authorities inviting us into the country as the first-ever large scale
amateur radio event.
In April, 2013, we informed the world of our "P5 Project". We were
making numerous visits to the DPRK and establishing real contacts. We
were spending thousands of dollars of our family's money shuttling back
and forth from our homes to Pyongyang, and we wanted to give hope to
the DX Community that an operation might actually take place.
All told, we made nine visits to the DPRK. Despite several false leads,
for the most part our efforts seemed pointless, unproductive and futile.
Until recently, when we finally got our big break.
As part of our P5 Project, we retained an expert in all things North
Korea to work and lobby on our behalf. Our "Emissary" was very
interested in our project and asked for no money from us. Our
"Emissary" has strong relationships within the DPRK and regularly
In February 2016, our Emissary contacted us while we were on the
VP8STI/VP8SGI DXpedition. Our Emissary had been communicating with
relevant DPRK officials and sensed a new willingness to consider our
We renewed our proposal and the talks continued. When we returned home,
we learned that we were very close to having complete permission. After
a couple more months of back and forth negotiations, the DPRK agreed to
a ten day amateur radio activity with three radios and up to 20 team
members. A venue was investigated and approved.
Like the 2012 7O6T Dxpedition, the DPRK officials wanted to showcase a
new resort and offered it as a DXpedition location. Within a span of a
few weeks our Emissary and one of our team leaders made a visit to
Pyongyang to have face to face meetings with high level officials.
These officials had been involved in Dennis Rodman's visit as well as
the just-completed Pyongyang marathon race. Now that the marathon was
over, we had their full attention and cooperation. Things were moving
The DPRK officials stipulated that only three Americans could be on the
team and no Japanese, but beyond that we were given the green light to
begin assembling a team of varying nationalities from Europe, South
America, and Oceania.
The DPRK officials insisted on no publicity in advance of us going on
the air, so everyone joining our team was sworn to secrecy. A website
was developed but would not be launched until we were live and on the
air within the DPRK. It was agreed that we would use the call sign P5DX.
Our last major hurdle was that the DPRK was asking for a very large fee
to be paid for the permissions at various government levels and
ministries to operate from within the DPRK. It is a very common
practice for various governments throughout the world to request a fee
to be paid for DXpedition permission and licensing. These fees are
typically several thousand dollars in many Third World countries. As we
would see, the DPRK fee would be considerably more.
While still trying to keep everything a secret, the largeness of this
fee required that we approach several of the biggest amateur radio
foundations for financial grants to help us with our tremendous
We also consulted with an international attorney who counseled us how
to avoid becoming entangled in violations of the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act. Essentially, it is a serious crime for Americans to
bribe foreign government officials. However, it is not a crime for
Americans to be charged extra fees to visit a foreign country. All of
our fees would be paid directly to a China-based tour company and no
direct exchange would take place with the North Koreans.
Given the outpouring of support that these amateur radio consortia had
given to lesser-needed entities in the past, it never occurred to us
that they would resist supporting a trip to P5. One organization
actually said that we didn't need their funding because we could charge
whatever we wanted for the QSLs! It was a disheartening revelation that
they seemed more interested in our ability to raise funds by charging
high fees later for confirmation "because we can" rather than in
assisting a major DXpedition that was in dire need of immediate
pre-departure funding to pull it off. We later proposed that they
merely pledge an amount to be donated if we were successful and our
operation was accredited by the DXCC staff, thus giving them an easy
way out if they were not pleased with our performance. This still did
not sway them. Here we were, just a couple of weeks away from the first
authorized multinational DXpedition from the world's most needed
country, and we were told we were on our own. I never thought it would
come to this.
I have tremendous respect for these organizations and I am deeply
disappointed that they could not find a way to support our plans.
This left my Co-Leader, David-K3LP and I no other recourse but to drain
our own personal retirement savings to provide the bulk of our funding.
In addition to our upfront license fees, we needed to buy radios, power
supplies, coax, antennas and many more items. We purchased roughly
$16,000 in equipment and we spent almost $4000 to ship it FedEx to
Beijing to our staging area, where it still sits as I write this Blog.
We continued to discreetly build our team. Many potential team members
were not able to travel to the DPRK with such short notice, which was
understandable. We worked very hard and we were glad that we were able
to complete a final team of 14 very able operators by the time the
deadline to apply for our DPRK visas was upon us. Our plans continued
to come together and everyone booked their flights to Beijing. A hotel
in China was secured for our pre-DXpedition briefings. Reservations
with Air Koryo, the DPRK's national airline, were made. Less than two
weeks to go now. We were delighted that everyone seemed to respect our
need for confidentiality. Nothing had been leaked.
But that euphoria would not last. Much to our disappointment, April 19
featured the first of many betrayals of our trust when a blogger opined
that he was "hearing rumblings of a P5 activation by 10 US/EU Ops
planned for May 2016". Someone talked. These leaks came almost
immediately after our attempts to recruit our team and to get grant
funds, despite our repeated insistence that our plans not be made
public. And soon the repercussions of that would unravel our plans and
cost tens of thousands of DXers a possible contact with P5.
Within a short time, we were contacted by numerous other amateur radio
websites and bloggers asking if we were the ones involved in these
rumors. We tried not to comment at all, but the rumors would not go
away. Finally we admitted we might be making progress but begged for
discretion, saying that negotiations were still ongoing and that one of
the conditions of the trip was that we not go public until we were
ready to go on the air. But in pursuit of their own interests in having
a "scoop", most re-published the unsubstantiated rumors and, as
expected, this brought out the crazies and every armchair DXer with an
opinion chimed in.
One eHam commenter posted that if all, or some of us were to wind up in
a North Korean gulag, that none of us would have his sympathy. We were
powerless to act or respond and we kept our heads down and focused on
moving forward. Within days, all four Web and Email based DX news
sources ran with the rumors, providing links to the original Blogger.
All of this was in defiance of the directive of the DPRK officials that
we make no pre-event publicity. All of this was working against our
The Internet ramblings continued and more and more information was
shared. Things began to spiral out of control. Impostors pirated my
call sign and made numerous posts on DX Summit revealing more of our
plans. I had to ask DX Summit to block the use of my call sign after
On April 23, just a week before our departure to Beijing and then into
Pyongyang, our Emissary traveled to Pyongyang to make final
arrangements and obtain our visas. On April 24, our Emissary alerted us
that all of the visas were approved with a couple notable exceptions,
I will never know why my DPRK visa request was refused. I had been to
the DPRK on two previous visits and everything was quite positive. It
is possible that my pirated call-sign on DX Summit was seen by the DPRK
authorities who may have viewed it as a violation of their trust and me
not keeping quiet. But i feel I know where the real blame lies.
As I was one of the team members bringing a significant amount of
equipment to Beijing with me as well as providing a major portion of
the upfront funding from my own personal savings, this proved to be an
insurmountable problem. I could not devote a sizable chunk of my life
savings for a project that I could no longer participate in.
And since we received absolutely no financial support from the DX
foundations we courted for funding despite our desperate pleas for
assistance, we decided we had no choice but to cancel the P5DX
DXpedition. We waited another 24 hours hoping for a miracle that would
never come before finally sending word to Pyongyang to ask our Emissary
to inform the DPRK officials of our decision to terminate the project.
At this time, we have a significant amount of equipment waiting for us
in Beijing that we shipped a few weeks ago and that would consume
another several thousand dollars to ship back. We all have full-fare
non-refundable flights that we have to cancel at considerable expense.
The financial losses suffered by Intrepid DX and all of our team
members are substantial.
I can't help but feel a tremendous sense of frustration that someone
felt the need to betray our request for confidentiality by blabbing
about our plans to others, and by those who published these rumors
despite being told this would be counterproductive. I am also certain
that if some of the large foundations that we had approached had funded
our grant request, the remaining team members who already had visas
cleared would have been able to continue on to the DPRK and conduct a
successful CW/SSB/RTTY activation.
Let me reiterate. We had permission. We had a team. We had all
necessary equipment staged in Beijing. We had a venue in North Korea.
We had flights and hotels to China and the DPRK confirmed.
What we did not have was the support of those we asked to remain quiet,
nor the support of anyone we asked for help with funding. This could
have been a DXpedition for the record books.
But now we will never know.
What do you think?