Archive for Propaganda

AP outraged about free speech in Cuba

Is the AP a cabal of closet Marxist-Leninists or just the supine courtesan of every tyrant who lets it open a bureau in his kingdom? Either way, I really don’t understand what drives its corporate conscience. On one hand, it recently criticized the Obama Administration for “propaganda” photos. On the other hand, it did this not long after putting on an exhibition of actual propaganda photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Now, the AP has released a breathless expose of a U.S.A.I.D.-backed program, launched by the Obama Administration, to bring just a sliver of free speech to Cuba, in the form of a Twitter clone called “ZunZuneo.” AP even gave the 60 Minutes treatment to the civil servant who ran the program, following him home and sticking a camera in his face.

Let’s sum this up. The program was completely non-violent and appears to have broken no laws except Cuban censorship laws. It never even got far enough to plant any subversive information (unfortunately!). It was also popular and potentially effective. Before the AP exposed it, it was providing a service that Cubans liked and used. What if they liked and used it even more after it became a safe place to complain about food shortages, nosy block committees, corruption, the persecution of dissidents, and censorship? Is it morally wrong for people living under oppressive governments to be able to complain about those things or organize online?

ZunZuneo’s organizers wanted the social network to grow slowly to avoid detection by the Cuban government. Eventually, documents and interviews reveal, they hoped the network would reach critical mass so that dissidents could organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice — that could trigger political demonstrations, or “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” [AP]

I want our government to help people do that! There’s no evidence that anyone was hurt by this program, and had it succeeded, no one would have been hurt except the Castro brothers and their censors. At worst, the program might have been housed more appropriately in the CIA or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, although U.S.A.I.D. didn’t deny its involvement after the program’s exposure. The Cubans who used ZunZuneo were unaware of its U.S. government connections and weren’t endangered (one good reason why U.S.A.I.D. initially concealed its links to ZunZuneo). Why is this a scandal — other than the fact of its public exposure? Is it the AP’s position that the Cuban people should spend their whole lives living under poverty and oppression? How else will those conditions ever change?

Also, note how the AP “interviews” Cuban citizens, almost certainly in the presence of government minders, without telling us whether any minders were present. That fact, however relevant to the viewer, would have illustrated the absurdity of the AP’s argument nicely.

Say, do you suppose the AP has a bureau in Havana? Do you suppose it ever covers stories about dissent in Cuba, or is it pretty much like AP’s bureau in Pyongyang — a lucrative partnership with censors and propagandists? This story is a good example of why, as much as I distrust all news media, I distrust the AP more than the rest of them.

Based on everything in the AP’s report, I conclude that this was actually a great idea that served both the interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people. I wonder how hard it would be for the CIA to hack into Koryolink and bring Twitter to North Korea. I wonder how long it would take for the AP to blow the lid on that.

How to build a guerrilla communications network

Last weekend, while reading Popular Science, I stumbled on this fascinating article about how the Mexican drug cartel known as The Zetas used ordinary two-way radios and hidden antennas to build a sophisticated intra-national and international communications network that stretched from Guatemala to Arizona, facilitating drug smuggling and money laundering across its entire reach.

The potential for nobler applications in North Korea is obvious. The prerequisite to the rise of any national resistance movement is the creation of a broad-based, grass-roots political organization with a unifying ideology and the capacity to communicate and provide for its members. As you read this — especially those of you who are more tech-savvy than I am — think about how the Zetas’ environment differs from North Korea, and about ways to level those differences. Off-hand, the only one that occurs to me is that Mexico has a crowded radio spectrum, a problem that can be solved by flooding North Korea’s spectrum with decoy signals.

The U.S. nerve center of the Zetas’ network was an inconspicuous little shop on the outskirts of a small border town.

One of those swept up in the net was a 37-year-old resident of McAllen, Texas, named Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada. He seemed, at first, not particularly significant—a luckless guppy caught swimming with sharks. His arrest barely warranted mention in the local paper. His house, a well-maintained white-brick rancher with an arbor of pink flowers over the front door, contained no cocaine or caches of AK-47s. He lacked an extensive rap sheet and in fact seemed to have no criminal record at all. On the outskirts of McAllen, he ran a small, nondescript shop that installed car alarms and sold two-way radios. 

In the weeks that followed, a different picture began to emerge. Del Toro Estrada was neither capo nor killer, but he played a critical role in The Company. According to federal prosecutors, the shop owner—who went by the alias Tecnico—had served as The Company’s communications expert. He was the cartel’s in-house geek, the head of IT, and he had used his expertise to help engineer its brutal rise to power. Del Toro Estrada had not only set up secret camera networks to spy on Mexican officials and surveil drug stash houses, but he also built from the ground up an elaborate, covert communications network that covered much of the country. This system enabled the cartel to smuggle narcotics by the ton into the U.S., as well as billions of dollars in drug money back into Mexico. Most remarkably, it had provided The Company with a Gorgon-like omniscience or, according to Pike, the ability to track everything related to its narcotics distribution: drug loads but also Mexican police, military, even U.S. border-patrol agents. That a cartel had begun employing communications experts was likely news to most of law enforcement. That it had pulled off a massive engineering project spanning most of Mexico—and done so largely in secret—was unparalleled in the annals of criminal enterprise.

The Zetas rejected cell phones in favor of old-fashioned two-way radio.

It’s impossible to say exactly why the Zetas chose to build the radio network, but given their military and law-enforcement background, it seems likely that Z1 and his capos understood that a widespread communications system would provide a crucial competitive edge over other cartels. Radio was the clear choice. Unlike cell phones, which are expensive, traceable, and easily tapped, radio equipment is cheap, easy to set up, and more secure. Handheld walkie-talkies, antennas, and signal repeaters to boost transmissions are all available at a good radio shop or from a Motorola distributor. A radio network could provide communications in many of the remote areas in Mexico where the cartel operated. And, if they suspected law enforcement eavesdropping, the cartel’s drug smugglers and gunmen could easily switch frequencies or use commercially available software to garble voice transmissions.

It’s not clear to me why radio was “a clear choice.” After all, cell phones use a radio signal, too. (Maybe someone can explain this.) But the network had enormous utility to the Zetas.

How Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada was tapped to develop the covert radio network also remains a mystery, but as his system grew, it supplied the Zetas with what’s called a command-and-control capacity. “It essentially linked all the different members of the cartel—the people doing the trafficking and the people doing the protection—so there was a communication between them,” says Pike, the DEA special agent. Armed with handheld radios, the cartel’s street-corner halcones, or hawks, could help commanders avoid arrest by alerting them whenever police set up checkpoints. A midlevel boss in Nuevo Laredo could monitor a semitruck carrying several tons of cocaine as it trundled across the border into Texas. Most crucially, Zetas gunmen could use the system to attack and seize plazas, or smuggling corridors, held by other drug gangs.

“With a network like this, you can take what resources you have and maximize them for effectiveness,” says Bunker. “If [the Zetas] are going into a different cartel’s area, they can bring resources in,” such as weapons, vehicles, and reinforcements. “It means for every one enforcer or foot soldier, you get a multiplier effect. From a command-and-control perspective, it’s phenomenal.”

The network wasn’t just an advantage over the police, but also over rival gangs, which the Zetas proceeded to exterminate. Ironically, one of the businesses that the Zetas went into was DVD smuggling (like drug smuggling, it’s also a big business along the Sino-Korean border).

In any new city where the cartel wished to expand, Del Toro Estrada’s first step would have been to map the local radio spectrum. Identifying who operated on what frequencies and which had the lightest traffic would preclude, for example, a local taxi company’s radio chatter from disrupting a coordinated attack on a police station. In urban areas, Del Toro Estrada often affixed a cartel antenna to an existing commercial radio tower. He also hijacked radio repeaters—devices that receive and boost radio signals—from companies like Nextel and reprogrammed the equipment to use the cartel’s preselected, low-volume frequencies. (Nextel maintains both cellular and, for its push-to-talk phones, radio networks). In at least one location, Del Toro Estrada installed a repeater on the roof of a Mexican police station, either a brazen display of the cartel’s impunity or a signal of the department’s corruption.

Expanding into more remote areas, like the jungle in southern Veracruz state, was more technically challenging: Towers had to be built atop high vantage points—a volcano’s summit, for example—to ensure surrounding hills or other natural obstacles didn’t block transmissions. Del Toro Estrada then installed repeaters and antennas on top of the tower, and in some instances, the structure was painted a dark green to camouflage it amid the foliage. To provide power, he wired the equipment to car batteries or, in many cases, photovoltaic solar panels. In Veracruz, a string of about a dozen tower installations provided a 100-mile radius of communications capability—meaning the Zetas could track anything that moved, whether encroaching Sinaloa cartel gunmen or military convoys, in at least 10 towns and cities.

“It was just a constant flow of information,” Pike says. “I equate it to the scene in Black Hawk Down when the chopper’s taking off from the military base and the child up on the mountain with the telephone calls down and says, ‘They’re coming.’”

As subnetworks went live in new areas, Del Toro Estrada daisy-chained them together into a larger, interoperable system. This ability to link different units of the cartel was the network’s strength, more than anything else. With commercial software from companies like Motorola, he could remotely manage thousands of walkie-talkies at one time. If a frequency in one area became too congested, he could switch users’ radios to another. If a local boss in Matamoros had to coordinate a drug load with someone in Monterrey, Del Toro Estrada could connect them. If Zetas were captured, he could disable their handsets to thwart eavesdroppers. He also used digital inversion software, which scrambles radio transmissions into garbled, R2-D2–like squawking. The cartel even established regional command centers to manage some of its communications. In Coahuila state, Mexican soldiers raided a Zetas-occupied home that contained networked laptops, 63 digital walkie-talkies, a central processing unit to remotely control repeaters, and a digital radio that communicated with airplanes.

The Zetas invested significant resources in maintaining, expanding, and exploiting the network:

By 2008, Del Toro Estrada’s infrastructure was operational in most states in Mexico (and likely in the U.S. borderlands as well). Local bosses chipped in for equipment, and the Zetas maintained ledgers detailing outlays for communications gear. Del Toro Estrada himself employed a team of specialists—his own cartel Geek Squad—to research new technology and program equipment. The network’s architecture, like the nodes of routers that undergird the Internet, was resilient: If the Mexican military knocked out one tower, traffic could likely be routed through another. And it was, relatively speaking, cheap: The Company probably spent tens of millions of dollars building the network—a capital investment that would have paid for itself with the delivery of one large cocaine shipment into the U.S.

“This thing was huge,” the former official says of the cartel’s communications system. “It was extensive, and it was interconnected. It was the most sophisticated radio network we’d ever encountered.” [....]

With the Zetas at the center of the violence, the Mexican military decided to strike back at their most valuable asset: the radio network. Battalions of troops were dispatched, and the military began attacking the system, probably aided by DEA-supplied intelligence directly from Del Toro Estrada, who began cooperating with the agency after his arrest and provided information about the system’s infrastructure. During one operation in 2011, Mexican marines discovered several 18-wheelers housing mobile communications systems in Veracruz. Another operation spanned four states and resulted in an astonishing haul: 167 antennas, 155 repeaters, 71 computers, 166 solar panels and batteries, and nearly 3,000 radios and Nextel push-to-talk phones. Later, marines discovered a 300-foot-tall antenna tower by a major highway.

With the help of their radio network, the Zetas made parts of Mexico ungovernable. Given North Korea’s almost roadless interior, the decrepit state of its railways, and the small size of its helicopter force, one wonders how hard it would be for a political opposition — particularly one that supplied the local population with food, medical care, and essential services — to take root, and eventually, to disrupt state control. A network like this wouldn’t have to fire a shot to put an enormous strain on North Korea’s security forces, and impose a potentially crippling financial cost on the state.

The article is interesting in other ways, such as how the Zetas managed to corrupt police, soldiers, and ordinary citizens to serve as spies or soldiers in its network. Of course, North Korea is a state built around internal control, and it’s specifically designed to defend against just this sort of subversion. But a movement that can provide for the most vulnerable elements of the population always has the potential to take root, and to expand its reach to the lower rungs of North Korea’s songbun system.


North Korea approaching provocation phase of its “vicious cycle”

North Korea’s bipolar cycle is now familiar to most Korea watchers, including the President of South Korea. The North pursues its nuclear weapons capability with consistent determination in all phases of that cycle, but not always with consistent ostentation. There are periodic acts of satellite theater — a new excavation here, a new launch pad there, or steam from a cooling tower. Words vacillate between conciliation (often cryptic) and belligerence (but mostly, belligerence).

You can’t really time North Korea’s cycles with a calendar — although it does strike me that it would be interesting to try — but it is possible to identify some broad patterns. The cycles have higher tides and lower ebbs when the North wants to test a new or weakened administration in the United States or South Korea. The tides ebb when the North calculates that it’s about to get a payoff, or that it has gone as far as it can without suffering some consequence that it fears. They probably rise due to a combination of domestic political motives, a desire to keep its opponents off balance, and simple extortion. As for how the tone of North Korean propaganda has changed under Kim Jong Un, I’ll recommend this analysis by the Daily NK.

What is increasingly clear is that North Korea’s current moon-faced tyrant has entered a waxing phase.

Three years ago the retaliation was limited to Yeonpyeong, but in the future it will include the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae and other centers of the puppet South Korean government,” said the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

The KPA command, which is responsible for units facing the sea demarcation line in the Yellow Sea, claimed that if Seoul has forgotten the “crushing defeat” it received in the past, it will face greater tragedy for making any kind of impudent provocations.

A senior North Korean official has also threatened the U.S., South Korea, and Japan with “a nuclear catastrophe.” (North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.)

By the end of the Lee Myung Bak administration, the North had posted banners on the KCNA website calling for the slitting of Lee’s throat. We can already see that Pyongyang has begun the process of making Ms. Park its new Emmanuel Goldstein. Last week, KCNA called Park “a political prostitute.” This week, it’s Uriminzokkiri’s turn:

Uriminzokkiri, North Korea’s main Internet-based media and propaganda website, said a Pyongyang printing house released a booklet called a “diagnosis of the South’s theory of principle” that dissected the follies of policy goals being pursued by the conservative Park government.

It said the so-called principled approach lauded by the chief executive who took power in late February effectively aims to change the North, and is based on the arrogant idea that the South can dictate actions of the North.

According to the website, the booklet claimed South Korean hardliners want to wrestle the initiative in inter-Korean dialogue and use this advantage to strive for unification based on a free and democratic political system.

Where else is this headed? For one thing, we continue to read rumors that the North is ready to conduct another nuclear test. Recent strains between the U.S. and China may tempt Pyongyang to see a moment of opportunity to get away with a provocation.

Personally, I hope North Korea does test a nuke. If it can be said that the Obama Administration has a North Korea policy at all, that policy clearly isn’t working, and is allowing North Korea to rush toward nuclear breakout almost unimpeded. The administration seems disinterested in North Korea, perhaps because it has quietly resigned itself to a nuclear North Korea, or perhaps because it’s distracted by domestic troubles or Iran. Whatever the cause of the administration’s apparent lack of a coherent policy, it’s not going to change unless busy policymakers stop thinking about immigration reform, Obamacare, the 2014 elections, or Iran long enough to focus on this problem for a week or two. Every time they do, it becomes more obvious to them that the old approach has failed and that a new, tougher approach is needed.

What will make this test different from every other test is that this time, there is a ready policy alternative at hand that threatens to cause severe (and possibly fatal) damage to North Korea’s ruling class. At the very least, a sudden case of bankruptcy should convince an unsteady new North Korean leader that time isn’t on his side.

Would Dennis Rodman have played Sun City?

Visit Pyongyang – An idiom used to describe a desperate plea for media attention (see also Jump the Shark) by a washed-up celebrity or politician (see Jimmy Carter, Bill Richardson, Ric Flair) who, lacking the residual talent to attract such attention by any other means or device, visits the one place on Earth where any publicity-seeker whose name is vaguely recalled by persons over 40 can be assured of making global headlines without being arrested, indicted, or otherwise worthy of public interest. Lacks the mortality risks of space travel (see Lance Bass) or Celebrity Rehab, but does require travel on Air Koryo.

I don’t intend to spend a lot of time writing about Dennis Rodman, so I will answer Max Fisher’s question this way:  ”No.”

If no right-thinking person would visit or do business with apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s, how can any right-thinking person justify paying money to Kim Jong Un-era North Korea? It would be (mildly) interesting to know what Dennis Rodman’s views on apartheid were, but I don’t have to go out on a long limb to suppose that he thinks it was unjust. He would be right about that, of course.

There were some important differences between these two dictatorships, but none supports a defense of Rodman.  The most important one is that present-day North Korea kills a thousand-fold more people and keeps the survivors in a state of infinitely greater misery.  Other important differences can be seen in this historic video of “Sun City,” a single used to popularize an artistic boycott of apartheid-era South Africa. There is a manifestly hypocritical difference in elite mass opinion about how to treat these two dictatorships — isolate (bad) South Africa, engage (worse) North Korea:

A third difference is all the b-roll that was available to fill this video. There is, of course, nothing like this in North Korea (well, almost nothing). If P.W. Botha had known how to run a real dictatorship, there wouldn’t have been a Sun City, there might not have been a boycott, and there might still be apartheid in South Africa today.

One can only hope that Rodman will eventually perceive his surroundings with the moral clarity that Muhammad Ali did despite the ravages of Parkinson’s disease (hat tip to me for that cite).

Sometimes, a missile is just a missile

Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”).  North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs.  You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.

There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space.  [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]

Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.

North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.

The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13″ among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980′s.  [Yonhap]

Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence.  No need to infer any malicious intent here, right?  So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:

Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content.  Or so you may have heard.  (Hat tip)

If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.”  A theme seems to be emerging.

I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers.  Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities.  I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.

If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the North Koreans aren’t just fucking around.  We already know what they’re capable of, morally speaking.  Faster, please.

From the Gallery of Unfortunate North Korean Photo Ops: Jabba at the Gym

Good news: Margaret Chan may have missed the evidence, but at least one North Korean has an obesity problem. Bad news: He just appointed himself National Personal Trainer.

That may be the worst photo op since this one. Or this one.

North Korea’s KCNA state media said Kim was accompanied by his new wife, Ri Sol-ju, and that the exercise centre had been “built according to the direct initiative and plan” of the Young General, as he is known. It added that Kim is “always deeply concerned for the promotion of people’s health and living standards.”

So concerned that he blew enough rice money to feed a small town for a year on a new gym that no one in North Korea but him needs, in the middle of its 18th annual food crisis since his grandpa became North Korea’s largest stockpile of preserved meat.

Kim told the staff that if office workers who work indoors all day, “take exercise and receive medical treatment at the centre, they can devote themselves to revolutionary work in good health.” - The Telegraph, Julian Riall

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be one of the gym staff members, being lectured on fitness and exercise by a morbidly obese man … who showed up in a Mao suit? Suppress your amusement, comrade. Think of your children.

And of course you’re right. This really isn’t funny at all.

Forgive me. If I didn’t laugh, I’d be too depressed to write this and you’d be too depressed to read it. I wonder how many people living outside Pyongyang will ever see that picture.

Sticks and Stones

Sure, it’s creepy when North Korea teaches children to torment effigies of your president, but that’s the kind of insult a mature society learns to ignore.  The next time the North erupts in contrived outrage about some perceived slight to its leaders, just put that into perspective.  Words are just words, unless they’re threats. When North Korea communicates threats, we need to treat those like acts of terrorism and sanction them accordingly.

North Korea’s jamming of GPS used by airliners, of course, is more than just words — it has caused “four close calls where passenger jets approaching Incheon and Gimpo airports abruptly shifted course when their GPS malfunctioned and landed only after circling the airports.” I can see why South Koreans would call that terrorism, too.

North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008.

Report: North Korea’s Control of Information Breaking Down

For years, advocates of appeasing the North Korean regime have claimed that more “engagement” with its dictators would gradually change its character and moderate its belligerent and brutal tendencies.  U.S. policy expressed this hope in a series of failed agreed frameworks by presidents of both political parties.  These made no progress toward disarming North Korea, but did provide significant, regime-sustaining financial windfalls for Kim Jong Il.  South Korea’s version of this theory was its “Sunshine” policy, which was — you guessed it — an immense, regime-sustaining financial windfall for Kim Jong Il, but which probably did more to change the character of South Korea’s regime than North Korea’s.

The latest Sunshine experiment is the AP’s establishment of a bureau in Pyongyang, which the AP hailed as a “new window” into North Korea, but which has been controlled strictly on North Korea’s terms.  So far, this experiment has produced plenty of propaganda and at least some outright fakery, but no new insights into reports of, say, widespread famine deaths and human rights atrocities a short drive from the AP’s bureau.

This is not to deny that engagement on the right terms can change the character of North Korea, both profoundly and irreversibly.  It has — when the engagement is directly with the people of North Korea, not with its regime, but in spite of the regime.  We saw the first hard evidence of this in Witness to Transformation, by Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard.  More recently, outside observers were surprised when North Korea admitted that its launch of an Unha-3 rocket had failed, causing most to speculate that the regime knew it couldn’t keep the failure secret.  Today, a new report finds that the North Korean regime shows no signs of easing its controls on information intentionally, but is losing control over what its subjects can read and hear, and the subversive impact could be profound:

More and more North Koreans are defying strict government controls on access to outside information that starkly contrasts with official propaganda, said a U.S. study released Wednesday.

Avid consumption of South Korean movies and pop music as well as foreign radio and television broadcasts is changing North Korean views of its southern neighbor and even of the United States, a report by the InterMedia consultancy showed.

“In 2012, North Koreans can get more outside information, through more types of media, from more sources, than ever before ? and they are less fearful of sharing that information than ever before,” said InterMedia.

The U.S. State Department-commissioned study, “A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment,” captures 10 years of research on refugees, travelers and defectors from North Korea, including face-to-face interviews with more than 650 adults in 2010 and 2011.  [Reuters, Paul Eckert]

The information leakage includes “mobile phones, computers, MP3 players and USB drives . . . in substantial numbers, particularly among the elites.”

You can read the full report and see a webcast on InterMedia’s site.

Access to information by itself will disillusion the North Korean people, but by itself, it will not change the regime.  The regime is willing to use any degree of force necessary to preserve its power, and the people know that.  The problem of communication in North Korea is not only the problem of establishing communication between North Koreans and the outside world, but also of communication between North Koreans and other North Koreans.  Without the means to organize, North Koreans can never pose a significant challenge to the state.  That’s why multiple incidents of anti-regime resistance were quickly contained and quelled.  Organization will begin in small ways, like social and trade networks, and then evolve toward more political applications, like churches, alternative media, and labor organizations.  It will be the ability to organize the North Korean people on a wider scale that will enable the people to challenge the state, whether by popular mobilization or by force of arms.  This report is several steps from that inevitable consequence, but it shows us that North Korea has made strides toward it.

Update:  Radio Free Asia reports that smuggled South Korean DVDs are widely available in the North now.  No surprise there.

A New Approach to North Korea: Contain, Constrict & Collapse

Sometime in the next few hours, North Korea will launch a prototype for an intercontinental ballistic missile, in flagrant violation of three U.N. Security Council resolutions. The North Koreans announced the launch two weeks after agreeing to a deal to freeze their missile and nuclear programs in exchange for U.S. food aid. It now seems they will follow their missile test with a nuclear test. Traditionally, Chinese obstructionism delays U.N. Security Council action by about three weeks after a North Korean missile test, and North Korea’s next nuke test usually follows that by six to eight weeks. A month later, there will be more U.N. action — this time, maybe even another resolution. The resolution won’t do much, because China will undercut sanctions by funding the regime, and will even let North Korea smuggle missile parts and luxury goods through Chinese ports.  After another six to nine months, the State Department will have convinced the President that the sanctions aren’t working and announce its latest agreement to give North Korea real aid in exchange for fake promises to disarm.  If we’re lucky, the next missile test won’t happen for another two years after that.

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Jabba the Kim among the Ewoks, or worst photo op ever

Maybe the Associated Press’s new vocation as a propaganda outlet for North Korea has a brighter side than I’d originally realized. Today, the AP brings us what must be the worst photo op ever, a barracks inspection by Kim Jong Eun.

Where to begin? The unwittingly (I think) subversive decision to surround the morbidly obese kid — has he ever looked so fat? — with these lean, hungry leprechauns and their leathery, wizened officers? Posing him next to the their tiny little day-care bunks, about one-third of a Kim wide? Or standing His Porcine Majesty behind the tin plates holding meager rations that can’t possibly exceed his hourly caloric intake, set at intervals to fit wretches stunted down to the size of organ grinder monkeys? It’s things like this that convince me he’s doomed. It’s not just the manifest obscenity of his weight as ruler of a land where the lower castes and their orphans are left to starve in front of train stations. It’s the projection of inept fragility from the figurehead and the machine that made him one.

If the producer of this film really meant to glorify Jong Eun, he deserves to be sent packing to some God-forsaken ash-heap in the outer provinces. If he’s the world’s most cunningly courageous dissident, Seal Team Six should extract him and his entire family. On the Goebbels Scale of insidious propaganda genius, this makes Dukakis-in-a-tank look like Triumph of the Will. Not even Brian Myers can explain this away. Sure, I can believe that this video would be awfully persuasive to North Koreans, but to believe that it will be persuasive in the ways the regime wants it to be, you also have to believe that North Koreans are not just culturally different, but less than fully human.