~ 1 ~
ATTACK OF THE TROLLS: So the other day, while reading something at NK News, I noticed that some obvious troll(s) had claimed in the comments that the North Korean Human Rights Film Festival in Toronto was a “fake event” that never took place. Now, I wasn’t there myself, but this Al Jazeera reporter was, which causes me to suspect that some person or persons is or are trying to sow false information to discredit a message they don’t want people to hear. This interests me in part because someone also tried similar shenanigans at this site. (Their IP addresses are blocked now, but they’ll be back. If the administrators of other sites would like to cross-match IP addresses, drop me a line.)
According to the Daily NK, the trolls were also out in full force against a human rights film festival in Seoul. These anecdotes add circumstantial support to reports that North Korea is deploying its own army of paid trolls, like the ones that China and Russia both employ. I have no direct evidence linking these commenters to North Korea, but if someone with the aptitude and resources can find it, it would mean that they’ve entered the online Anglosphere.
There are also allegations that North Korean trolls engaged in an organized online campaign against conservative candidates during last year’s elections in South Korea. I have no problem believing that, despite the fact that the allegation comes from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, as a purported justification for why it assigned some of its officers to attack liberal candidates (which it is not).
Different people have different ways of dealing with this sort of thing. Popular Science took the most extreme path, but for a small site, it’s sufficient to just ban those IP addresses. Moderation is a chore for bigger sites with more traffic. For example, just about every time I’ve read a WaPo or Foreign Policy comment thread — something I’ve always regretted doing — I suspected that I was reading the work of state-sponsored trolls pretending to be Americans to influence our political debate (after all, even paranoid people have real enemies). When I do read online comments at other sites, I read them with as much skepticism as I’d read an email from a Nigerian prince. So should you.
~ 2 ~
AS ROBERT KOEHLER WOULD SAY, “THE HUMANITY!” North Korea is putting malmare into online games and pornography. If nothing else, I hope this message will serve as a useful warning to the visitors who surge in from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan I get every time I write the word “pornography.”
~ 3 ~
ACCORDING TO THE SWISS WATCH-MAKING INDUSTRY, North Korea is importing fewer Swiss watches. I can think of plenty of reasons by the Swiss government and that industry would want to tell us that, but the most innocuous (and likely) explanation is that as more members of the elite acquire Koryolink phones, fewer of them need watches.
Here’s my question: how would the Swiss watch-making industry know how many watches North Korea is importing if North Korea isn’t importing the watches directly from Switzerland? It seems to undercut the potential defense that North Korea is importing them through China and that the Swiss aren’t responsible for their roles in these sales.
~ 4 ~
CHOSEN SOREN UPDATE: A few days ago, the Chosun Ilbo reported that a shadowy Mongolian firm had purchased the Tokyo headquarters of Chosen Soren, a/k/a Chongryeon, Pyongyang’s bankrupt money laundering syndicate in Japan, just in time for the Mongolian President’s visit to Pyongyang. Late word I’m getting from my sources, however, is that the Mongolian firm backed out of the deal, perhaps even during the state visit. Does anyone have more information about that?
~ 5 ~
PRESIDENT OBAMA LOSES BOB MENENDEZ ON IRAN:
To put it simply, while we welcome Iran’s diplomatic overtures and their willingness to come to the table — we cannot allow the Iranians to buy time, avoid sanctions, and continue the march toward a nuclear weapons capability.
This is not the time to loosen sanctions. We can’t want a deal more than the Iranians and we can’t be so anxious for a deal that we weaken our hand at a moment when we hold the best cards.
When Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, our lead negotiator, appeared before my committee before she left for the talks in Geneva, I had an opportunity to express publicly, as well as privately, and will express again today to all of you — what I have said many times before: In my view, the hard, punishing and far-reaching sanctions we enacted against Iran have been successful and have been the single most powerful tool in bringing Iran to the table and bringing us to this pivotal point. [via Jennifer Rubin]
If Menendez thinks the same way about North Korea that he does about Iran, we may be just one nuke test away from a sea change in North Korea sanctions law.
It’s common for voters to feel buyers’ remorse about second-term presidents, but for this president, the consequences of a lot of bad policy decisions (and with respect to foreign policy, indecisions) are coming due at once. Maybe having John Kerry as a weak Secretary of State is a small price to pay for getting him out of his seat as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and for getting Bob Menendez in. It may also remind voters why a weak foreign policy isn’t the best alternative to a clumsily interventionist one.
~ 6 ~
AT THE GRAUNIAD, more chatter about bringing North Korean officials to the International Criminal Court.
~ 7 ~
KIM JONG UN experiences another bimbo eruption. I have little confidence in the accuracy of reports like these, but I’m always happy to draw attention to them.