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But when asked about South Korean DVDs, the man shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His partner spoke up: No South Korean items — not DVDs, thumb drives, cosmetics or food.

“Nothing,” the partner said firmly.

Soap operas, at first, might not seem like conduits of underground information.

Plenty of other smugglers are willing to carry what the man in Hunchun is not.

Millions of foreign TV and movie recordings are thought to be floating around North Korea, though they are most easily available in cities near the Chinese border.

With the crackdown, analysts say, smugglers appear to have shifted to new techniques, at least for videos: carrying recordings on tiny thumb drives, and then transferring the programs to DVDs inside North Korea.

Because once information starts to flow, information cannot be turned off like a spigot. At most it can be slowed.