AP Watch Terrorism (NK)

Journo-Terrorism Gives Us a Reason to Take KCNA Seriously

On October 11, 2008, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as a preemptive reward for North Korea’s agreement to give up its nuclear weapons programs. Since that date, North Korea has steadily escalated its use of words and actions that are — to quote the statutory definition of “international terrorism” — “intended … to intimidate or coerce a civilian population [or] to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” A few months after North Korea’s removal from that list, it embarked on a long series of threats, acts of terrorism, and acts of sponsorship of other terrorists.  The list that follows is just a selection of North Korea’s recent actions:

* Mar. 2009: North Korea threatens civilian air traffic to and from South Korea.
* June 2009: KCNA issues threat to “wipe [U.S.] aggressors off the globe.”
* Aug. 2009: A cargo container is intercepted in Dubai, loaded with rocket-propelled grenades in transit from North Korea to Iran.
* Dec. 2009: An Il-76 cargo plane loaded with weapons — reportedly including man-portable surface-to-air missiles — is intercepted on the way to Iran, apparently for the use of its terrorist clients.
* Mar. 2010: North Korea sinks the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46 South Koreans. The State Department later claims that the action is against a military target, and thus does not qualify as an act of terrorism.
* Mar. 2010: North Korea threatens U.S. and South Korea with “unprecedented nuclear strikes.”
* Nov. 2010: North Korea shells a village on Yeongpyeong Island, South Korea, killing four civilians.
* Nov. 2011: North Korea threatens to turn the South Korean presidential palace (The “Blue House”) into a “Sea of Fire.”
* Feb. 2012: North Korea threatens the Daily NK, a South Korean newspaper.
* April 2012: A North Korean agent is sentenced to prison for attempting to assassinate defector-activist Park Sang-Hak in South Korea. It is the latest in a series of attempted and executed poisoned-needle assassination plots against defectors and activists in South Korea or China, leading to multiple arrests and convictions of North Korean government agents.
* April 2012: North Korea reacts to a perceived slight by South Korea by threatening to destroy Seoul and reduce its elected government “‘to ashes’ in three or four minutes.”

Yesterday, North Korea added to that list with a chillingly specific threat against South Korean newspapers that have published criticism of the North Korean regime. I don’t usually print quotations this long, but I this time, an exception is appropriate (See “General Staff of KPA Sends Open Ultimatum to S. Korean Group of Traitors,” June 4, 2012):

Officers and men of the army corps, divisions and regiments on the front and strategic rocket forces in the depth of the country are loudly calling for the issue of order to mete out punishment, declaring that they have already targeted Chosun Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 56 minutes 83 seconds North Latitude and 126 degrees 97 minutes 65 seconds East Longitude in the Central District, Seoul, Choongang Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 33 minutes 45 seconds North Latitude and 126 degrees 58 minutes 14 seconds East Longitude in the Central District, Seoul, the Dong-A Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 57 minutes 10 seconds North Latitude and 126 degrees 97 minutes 81 seconds East Longitude in Jongro District, Seoul, KBS, CBS, MBC and SBS, the strongholds of the Lee group orchestrating the new vicious smear campaign.

In view of this grave situation the KPA General Staff sends the following ultimatum to the Lee group of traitors:

The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK are the army of the supreme commander and the people’s army which is devotedly defending the supreme commander and protecting his idea and the people and children whom he values and loves so much.

It is the iron will of the army of the DPRK that the dens of heinous provocateurs hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and desecrating its idea, system and people should not be allowed to exist as they are.

We would like ask the Lee group if it wants leave all this to be struck by the DPRK or opt for apologizing and putting the situation under control, though belatedly.

It should take a final choice by itself.

Now it is impossible for the officers and men of the KPA three services to keep back their towering resentment any longer. In case dens of monstrous crimes are blown up one after another, the Lee group will be entirely held responsible for this.

If the Lee group recklessly challenges our army’s eruption of resentment, it will retaliate against it with a merciless sacred war of its own style as it has already declared.

We are fully ready for everything.

Time is running out. -0-

Since KCNA’s publication of this latest threat, Evan Ramstad has picked up on this post by Martyn Williams, noting something odd about the targeted coordinates — in some cases, they list a number of minutes or seconds exceeding 60. It was immediately obvious to me where the error was — the North Koreans had taken a set of decimal degree coordinates and written them down in degree-minute-second format. It’s an easy mistake to make in Google Earth. Take the same digits and plug them in as decimal degrees, and you get a direct hit on the Chosun Ilbo:

The North Koreans’ coordinates — again, using decimal degrees — would have missed the Joongang Ilbo, barely, but would have shelled the Australian Embassy across the street. In the case of the “Choongang Ilbo,” their impact zone would be a big splash off the coast of Incheon. I’m not sure where they went wrong there — decimal minutes, maybe? Either way, two out of three targets are in downtown Seoul, and in either case, the North Korean gunners would have to chew their way through a lot of office workers to get to their actual targets. In other words, it’s about as indiscriminate as you’d expect North Korea to be. Since at least 2010, this kind of thing hasn’t been unthinkable.

As with most of North Korea’s threats that meet the legal definition of “international terrorism,” today’s threat is communicated by the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official “news” agency and the business partner of the Associated Press. KCNA is better known for its fake photographs and its reliance on a 19th Century Korean-English dictionary, but let’s not overlook this side of KCNA’s function, either:

I have to suspect, based on the reduced volume of the AP’s reporting from North Korea lately, that it was already feeling embarrassed by its association, and I have to think they’re more embarrassed than ever today. The AP had to report this threat, of course, although the tone of its article makes for an interesting contrast to that of the AFP’s report on the same incident.  While the AFP’s report focuses on the North Korean threat and quotes extensively from the statement KCNA printed; the AP’s devotes several paragraphs to the criticism that set the North Koreans off — a comparison between its children’s festival and a Hitler Youth rally. The AP’s corporate leadership may be unprincipled, but they aren’t oblivious or stupid. Having tried without much success to sell KCNA as a legitimate news agency, they must now answer the charge that they’ve partnered with an organization that issues terrorist threats against fellow journalists in Seoul. If the AP was looking for an excuse to walk away from its collaboration with KCNA — and even if it wasn’t — KCNA’s latest action makes that collaboration more difficult than ever to justify.

Who else have the North Koreans embarrassed today?  Everyone in the State Department who continues to oppose restoring North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.  That decision never rested on solid ground legally, and the list of examples of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism continues to grow longer and more flagrant with the passage of time. This incident calls for reconsideration of that decision.

Understandably enough, the South Korean government is upset about this.

Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said Pyongyang’s latest threat was “completely out of line”. This…is a significant challenge and provocation to free democracy,” said a ministry spokesman. “We are taking this very seriously and urging the North to stop such threats to our media immediately.” [AFP]

But what are they prepared to do about it? The usual nothing? The government of South Korea sees this threat for what it is — an attempt to intimidate its free press and civil democratic form of government. If they’re still not prepared to wind down their financial subsidy to North Korea via the Kaesong Industrial Park, then maybe they should ask the U.S. government to return North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism now.


  1. Amazing. When democratic countries adopt even modest short term restrictions on press freedom reporters band together to denounce censorship – and maybe they should. I have seen TV news stories where the anchorman will say “We must inform our audience that this story was reviewed by military censors” or some such thing. Here you have the armed services of a heavily armed nation openly threatening reporters in another country with military action and so far I have not heard a peep of protest.


  2. When I first started following North Korea, I was constantly amazed that South Korea didn’t declare war. From an average American’s perspective, we are well overdue for some military action. It took a while for me to understand all the reasons we have for restraint. I know that putting North Korea back on the state sponsored terrorism list creates a pathway to further sanctions, and there is some evidence that sanctions have had effect in the past, but that’s a lawyer’s answer to the (very complex) problem. Largely, American citizens do not understand why DPRK acts of war are not treated as such.


  3. Most reluctantly, I think your analysis is wrong. Of course the DPRK is a terrorist state…but the threat that they’ve issued isn’t, in diplo-speak, a threat. It says that its troops are annoyed, and they’ve targeted the news arms of a peaceful state…but it doesn’t say that the order to fire has been given, or that it will be given, not does it state the grounds on which such an order would be given. It just says “Our soldiers are fed up with your reporting. Be warned.”

    It’s part of the war of nerves, and it’s best ignored publicly, while sending in those Special Forces (which don’t exist) to find out whether such co-ordinates have been entered, and on which systems. But thanx to a stupid general, an ill-considered election campaign and our own free press, we can’t do that for a few months.



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