Smith, co-founder of Vice Magazine and VBS-TV, and his cameraman, first applied for permission to enter the Communist nation as journalists, but Pyongyang agreed to let them in as tourists.
He says that led to their being terrified of the North Koreans discovering their real reason for being there. "They already knew we were journalists," Smith says on his network's Web site, "and over there, if you get caught being a journalist when you're supposed to be a tourist, you go to jail. We don't like jail. And we're willing to bet we'd hate jail in North Korea."
On The Early Show Tuesday, Smith told co-anchor Harry Smith North Korea is "an alternate universe. It's like going back in time to Stalinist Russia. We used to joke about it being a sort of Disneyland ride of a socialist utopian state. It's crazy."
The entire regime, he said, is about "the great leader propaganda," meaning glorifying Kim Jong Il.
Shane Smith told Harry Smith he didn't notice even a hint of a desire to rebel beneath the surface. "We had interviewed a lot of refugees or people who had snuck out of North Korea when we were in South Korea and China," Shane said, "but when you're in North Korea itself -- first of all, you have guards, secret police with you at all times. You can't really go talk to the real people. But, no, you wouldn't see it. And I don't believe there's a lot of it there because, from the time you're born, you're taught that the socialist state of North Korea is the best."
Shane said he hopes Pyongyang uses Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two American journalists just, as pawns. "Hopefully," he said, "they'll be used to get more food, humanitarian aid, energy. When I was there the second time, the guards opened up and said, 'Quite frankly, we have no food.' And that was a huge, huge admission. So hopefully, they won't go to a war camp because that's -- a North Korean war camp is..."
"That literally is a death sentence for many people who come because there is no food. Conditions are phenomenally harsh," Harry Smith remarked.
"It's a death sentence," Shane Smith agreed. "Unbelievably harsh. We've been to Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq -- it's nothing like a North Korean war camp. So hopefully, they're going to use them as pawns to get energy and food, which is what they really need."
Shane Smith says his whole mindset while in North Korea was, "Don't get caught by the secret police. We were shooting on Sony cyber-shots and on large memory cards, and I was really worried that, when we left, they were going to check the cards, see what they were shooting, and that would be it. (We were) really terrified of getting caught. And it's not like getting caught in Iraq or Afghanistan, or taking a stray bullet. You know you're gonna go away and go away for a long time."
To see the entire VBS-TV series on Smith's time inside North Korea, click here.
The series aired last year.