The Commerce Department should review PUST’s export licenses for North Korea

Last week, several news outlets reported that representatives of PUST, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, are in the United States, seeking support to expand their curriculum in North Korea. PUST didn’t say what kind of support it seeks, but recent reports suggest that PUST has lost donors and had to slash its budget. PUST is probably looking for money. Donors, however, would be wise to keep their checkbooks closed until the Commerce Department and a U.N. Panel of Experts review precisely what PUST is teaching the North Koreans.

1. PUST needs to give better answers to charges it’s training North Korean hackers.

PUST teaches its mostly male, entirely elite students what their government wants them to learn. PUST trains doctors and nurses, and without knowing more, that’s probably unobjectionable. But PUST also teaches information technology subjects that could be a baseline for training hackers, such as those who hacked Sony Pictures and made terrorist threats against theaters showing “The Interview.” (North Korea both denied and applauded the attacks.) Subsequently, two defectors claimed that PUST is indeed training North Korean hackers. PUST denies the claim, but without the ability to track its alumni through some of the most secretive parts of North Korea’s government, it’s hard to see how PUST could possibly know this, one way or another.

If PUST is training North Korean hackers, it’s probably doing it pursuant to a license from a the U.S. Commerce Department. Without knowing exactly what PUST is exporting to North Korea, it’s impossible for me to say which of those exports are controlled by the Commerce Department, but the list of items that may require export licenses includes software, information security, telecommunications, and computers, and PUST has admitted that it operates pursuant to Commerce Department licenses. It’s past time for the Commerce Department to review those licenses, and (at a minimum) revoke those related to information technology. The continuation of some of those programs may well violate both U.S. law and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

2. U.S. law imposes mandatory sanctions for cyber-related activities.

Ethan Epstein’s post at The Weekly Standard raises another potential legal issue for PUST: the new sanctions law, and the executive order, section 104(a)(7) of which imposes mandatory sanctions on any person who facilitates North Korean hackers, and section 104(a)(8), which bans the export of software for the use of North Korea’s ruling party.  What I can’t say is exactly what North Korean entities PUST is dealing with and how those entities are linked to North Korea’s hacking operations. The government should investigate, and until it gets satisfactory answers, it should suspend PUST’s IT-related licenses.

3. The latest U.N. resolution requires the suspension of scientific and technical cooperation with North Korea, pending U.N. or U.S. government review.

If North Korea is using PUST to train hackers, it wouldn’t be the first time a scientific or academic engagement program came under suspicion of misuse for nefarious purposes. There was the time that North Korea’s aerospace agency tried to join the International Astronautical Federation, until the U.N. Panel of Experts pointed out that Federation might have given Pyongyang access to sensitive missile-related technology. Or the Indian institute that trained North Korean rocket scientists. Or the Russian institute that hosted North Korean nuclear scientists to conduct joint research, including one who is sanctioned by name. Or the program sponsored by Syracuse University that may well have taught the North Korean security forces how to digitally watermark and trace documents smuggled into North Korea on USB drives. But surely, an exchange program to help North Korea grow food couldn’t have sinister purposes? But yes, even a Swiss-funded project, ostensibly to teach North Korea how to make bioinsecticide, turns out to be perfectly suited to produce biological agents. All of which may explain why the U.N. Security Council adopted this provision late last year:

“11.  Decides that all Member States shall suspend scientific and technical cooperation involving persons or groups officially sponsored by or representing the DPRK except for medical exchanges unless:

(a) In the case of scientific or technical cooperation in the fields of nuclear science and technology, aerospace and aeronautical engineering and technology, or advanced manufacturing production techniques and methods, the Committee has determined on a case-by-case basis that a particular activity will not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or ballistic missile-related programmes; or

(b) In the case of all other scientific or technical cooperation, the State engaging in scientific or technical cooperation determines that the particular activity will not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or ballistic missile-related programmes and notifies the Committee in advance of such determination; [UNSCR 2321]

I read this language to require the U.S. government to suspend PUST’s scientific and technical cooperation with North Korea pending a full review. Whether you agree that that’s required by the letter of the resolution, that position is certainly consistent with the resolution’s spirit. Suspending PUST’s Commerce Department export licenses, and any licenses it has been granted by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, are the most obvious ways to effect that suspension.*

PUST wanted to “open a door to the outside world for the future leaders,” but as this blog has chronicled for more than a decade, this theory hasn’t worked so well in practice. Sixteen years after its founding, PUST admits that its staff “avoids talking about politics and religion in the classroom.” (Update: According to this report, PUST actually started teaching students in 2010.) For those who’ve read Suki Kim’s memoir of her experiences at PUST, that’s an understatement. She describes a suffocating, Orwellian environment where the air is thick with fear for one’s self, and for the others one might incriminate with a careless expression of free thought. PUST’s furious reaction to Ms. Kim’s book — revealing its own efforts to vicariously censor her on Pyongyang’s behalf — lent further credibility to her account.

So it always goes with those who engage Pyongyang, thinking they’ll change North Korea; it always works the other way around — there are no exceptions. Invariably, they must enlist as Pyongyang’s propagandists, censors, or financiers, or they must leave. Every wide-eyed engager predicts a Pyongyang Spring, but in Pyongyang, it’s always Groundhog Day.

~   ~   ~

* I edited this paragraph after publication.

~   ~   ~

Update, 2/9: Two readers forwarded me links to Korean press reports that PUST spent donated funds on building a Juche research center and a Kim Il-sung monument on campus.

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State Department Funds Global Internet Revolution

I believe that history will eventually record this little-noticed policy decision as the game-changer in America’s half-century standoff with North Korea. No one can predict when we’ll see the result, but for all their imperfections of vision and execution, the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Clinton in particular deserve tremendous credit for this.

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

The American effort, revealed in dozens of interviews, planning documents and classified diplomatic cables obtained by The New York Times, ranges in scale, cost and sophistication.

Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe. [NYT]

Needless to say, this will have vast implications around the world. The effects may well catalyze significant political change in China before they reach North Korea, but when they do reach North Korea, they’ll hit like a shock wave for the very reason that North Korea’s extraordinary isolation has created such a powerful pent-up demand to speak freely, to trade freely, to love freely. Clandestine journalism has already had a tremendous impact our understanding of North Korea is the last two years. It may soon have an even more revolutionary impact on North Koreans’ understanding of us.

[T]he latest initiative depends on creating entirely separate pathways for communication. It has brought together an improbable alliance of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and dissidents from at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the new approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler.

Sometimes the State Department is simply taking advantage of enterprising dissidents who have found ways to get around government censorship. American diplomats are meeting with operatives who have been burying Chinese cellphones in the hills near the border with North Korea, where they can be dug up and used to make furtive calls, according to interviews and the diplomatic cables.

Here, I want to credit a reader and friend I won’t name, but who read this small post and began to proselytize the idea it raised at multiple layers within the U.S. and South Korean governments. No doubt, he wasn’t the only one talking about the potential impact of so many ideas like this that are only now congealing in the minds of right-brain policy-makers who are usually at least a generation behind this new, left-brain technological revolution. It is to the immense credit of those policy-makers that, despite those limitations, they’re capable of seizing on ideas like recycling old cell phones, increasingly inexpensive satellite phones, portable DIY base stations, and mesh networking, which is particularly interesting for its potential for North Korea:

The group’s suitcase project will rely on a version of “mesh network” technology, which can transform devices like cellphones or personal computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized hub. In other words, a voice, picture or e-mail message could hop directly between the modified wireless devices — each one acting as a mini cell “tower” and phone — and bypass the official network.

Mr. Meinrath said that the suitcase would include small wireless antennas, which could increase the area of coverage; a laptop to administer the system; thumb drives and CDs to spread the software to more devices and encrypt the communications; and other components like Ethernet cables.

Until now, all that these ideas lacked was a modest amount of seed money for testing and evaluation, and enough political will for governments to pursue them. Markets — both commercial and political — will assuredly be much faster to seize on these concepts once they’re proven and ready for use. And once North Koreans can speak, trade, and organize without fear of detection or interference by the regime, the regime is doomed.

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Mesh Networking: Another Way to Bring Cell Phone Service to North Korea?

This video gives a simple explanation of the concept of mesh networking, which allows android phone users who download some additional software to connect with each other wirelessly without a base station or cell phone towers. An Australian group known as The Serval Project is trying to raise funds to test and prototype the technology, and OFK reader Josh Hansen wrote me a few weeks back to start a discussion about the potential this technology could have for bring cell phone service to North Korea, without the obvious involvement of any foreign government.

Here’s how the Serval Project’s founders explain the potential for mesh networking to penetrate closed societies:

Mesh Networks in Authoritarian Regimes, with Dr. Paul Gardner-Stephen, founder of the Serval Project by salimfadhley

Several months ago, I wrote about the potential of cheap portable base stations to cover much of North Korea with a cell signal. The obvious drawback to that concept is that this system still depends on a centralize network with base stations, which would have to be hosted on South Korean territory. South Korea probably still lacks the testicular fortitude to allow that.

Personally, I lack the technological knowledge to say whether or not this could work. I’d be interested in your thoughts below, in the comments.

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Could North Koreans get wireless internet through the power grid?

Until I saw this linked at Instapundit, I had no idea that it was possible to plug a router into an electrical socket, tap into the electrical grid, and get wireless internet service in areas where the signal is usually weak. Exploring a bit more, I found this customer review, which gives some idea of the performance capabilities:

I loved my network-able Blue-ray player I purchased, but I hated the wireless adapter which left me always praying my Netflix or U-tube content would actually play. Same with my networkable TV, I’d always lose the radio or the news. My PS3 online gaming was a joke wirelessly. I dreaded running a network cable from my livingroom into my bedroom. Such a downer for such great products.

However, I found this little device and AMAZINGLY everything works flawlessly! It’s literally plug and play. High-speed networking that’s virtually wireless!!! You need one on your router end to plug “wire” a Cat5/ethernet cable into and one for wherever you want to have a “wired” connection for your equipment. You use a Cat5/ethernet cable to “wire” your components into the Monster PowerNet which is plugged into the wall. No cables between rooms, only between your router to PowerNet which plugs into the outlet and one from your components to the PowerNet 200 or 300.

You may have to reset your components from wireless to wired, but after that, it just works! NO more jagged netflix, waiting for info to load, missed songs or slow online gaming. It actually downloads the best quality off netflix. I’m really happy with this. I’m used to wiring and setting up computers, home theatre, and complicated set-ups. I was really amazed at how easy it was. [link]

Some obvious questions come to mind:

* Would this still work if the power grid isn’t actually carrying juice (see masthead image!), provided the wires aren’t cut?

* Would this system be able to carry a signal that was broadcast from South Korea, or would it be necessary to surreptitiously link into the North Korean power grid?

* Could this same concept could work by tapping into North Korea’s “cable radio” network, by which I refer to the ubiquitous telescreen-style propaganda speakers?

The customer reviews seem favorable. If anyone out there has the technical expertise to explain the potential of this idea, please e-mail me or drop a comment.

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Once Again, South Koreans Prove Exceptionally Prone to Mass Hysteria

There are times when I wonder if South Koreans will ever learn anything from the entire Mad Cow fiasco, when all it takes to spread mass hysteria in a prosperous, technologically advanced, industrialized society is a 16 year-old with high speed Internet:

Police said yesterday that the boy, resident of Yeosu, South Jeolla, identified only by his surname, Yoo, sent 15 friends an online message that South Korea had decided to “make a pre-emptive military attack on North Korea” because it was “only a matter of time” until the North, fully prepared for war, invaded.

“All males over the age of 17 should take part in the battle and all schools will be shut down,” read the message sent at 11:23 p.m. on May 26.

Yoo allegedly sent his message as military tensions between the two Koreas made headlines after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for sinking South Korea’s Cheonan warship. Yoo reportedly told police he wanted to “fool people.

Yoo’s friends soon started relaying the message to their own friends, police said. The spread of the message increased exponentially as teenagers in South Chungcheong, Gyeonggi, Gangwon, Seoul, Busan and Incheon passed it to their own friends on in the following 48 minutes, before one of them, a 12-year-old elementary school student, posted it on the online board of a major Internet portal site.

And to think they’ll all be voting in just a few years!

In what must be one of the great ironies of our time, a society known for technological Luddism is proving to be exceptionally capable at stealing online ID’s to circumvent South Korea’s lame internet restrictions, spreading conspiracy theories, and posting propaganda videos that become viral hits in South Korea. And the best response the hub of LG and Starcraft addicts can muster is … a couple of loudspeakers blaring K-pop to bored North Korean soldiers? Are you kidding me?

Why do the North Koreans have such a pathological fear of the free flow of information? My guess is, they’ve seen how gullible and easily manipulated South Koreans are, and they suspect that the same is true of their own subjects.

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Anti-Castro Group Working to Put Cheap Cell Phones into the Hands of Cubans

Another interesting cell phone idea: An anti-Castro blogger is asking readers to donate old cell phones:

Cell Phones for Cuba takes old cellphone donations and using a recycling entity here in the States, uses the moneys generated from the usable parts of the old phones to purchase new, unlocked phones that work in Cuba. And then through various entities and other means, get said new cell phones into Cuba and into the hands of the Cuban people.

I’ve heard that new cell phones can be had for as little as ten bucks a pop, and it seems to me that the biggest technical barrier is still providing service, which is why portable base stations are such a brilliant idea.

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More Blockade-Running Technology: Cheaper Satellite Phones

sat-phone.jpgAfter this post on DIY cell phone base stations generated interest from readers, I followed one suggestion in the comments to see whether satellite phones have gotten any cheaper recently. They have, and how. This model is currently selling for under $235 new on Amazon.com.

I have to think that they could be acquired for even less in volume through sources in India or China. Can anyone out there find a better price?

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A DIY Cellular Network: Could This Work in North Korea?

[A]n open-source project called OpenBTS is proving that almost anyone can cheaply run a network with parts from a home- ­supply or auto-supply store. Cell-phone users within such a network can place calls to each other and–if the network is connected to the Internet–to people anywhere in the world.

The project’s cofounder, David Burgess, hopes that OpenBTS will mean easier and cheaper access to cellular service in remote parts of the world, including hard-to-reach locations like oil rigs and poor areas without much infrastructure. [link]

Does anyone out there have enough technological knowledge to tell me what it would take to adapt this idea to North Korea?

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Was North Korea Really Behind the Cyber Attacks?

The London Times reports that a Vietnamese computer forensic company has traced the attacks from computers in North Korea back to UK, causing some papers’ headlines to strongly suggest that North Korea has been absolved.  Reading further into the Times’s piece, one reads that the attack was traced back to a “master computer” operating from a Brighton, UK ISP, but makes no conclusions as to who was controlling that computer. The New York Times explains why it can be so difficult to trace cyber attacks.

Me:  nothing I’ve seen either implicating or absolving North Korea thus far looks very convincing, although the choice of particular U.S. and South Korean government targets (including Treasury and Secret Service) is suspicious, but I’m not drawing any firm conclusions until I’ve seen more evidence.  If the hackers intentionally went to the trouble of routing their attacks through North Korea, that would suggest an attempt by some third party to deflect suspicion on the world’s most usual suspect.

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ROK Intel Blames N. Korea for DDOS Attacks, But You Already Knew That

This, from the now-familiar ROK Intel Leak Ticker — unnamed members or staffers from the intelligence committee of the South Korean National Assembly, quoting unnamed members of the National Intelligence Service:

A North Korean army lab of hackers was ordered to “destroy” South Korean communications networks — evidence the isolated regime was behind cyberattacks that paralyzed South Korean and American Web sites — news reports said Saturday, citing an intelligence briefing.

Members of the parliamentary intelligence committee have said in recent days that the National Intelligence Service has also pointed to a North Korean boast last month that it was “fully ready for any form of high-tech war.”

The spy agency told lawmakers Friday that a research institute affiliated with the North’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces received an order to “destroy the South Korean puppet communications networks in an instant,” the mass-circulation Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported.

The paper, citing unidentified members of parliament’s intelligence committee, said the institute, known as Lab 110, specializes in hacking and spreading malicious programs.  [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]

Either (a) all of this is disinformation, or (b) North Korea’s government has been penetrated more times than Annabel Chong.  The North Koreans certainly would know if all these reports are true, which would mean our answer is (b), which could inspire a round of bloody purges, resulting in plenty of the wrong people being shot or sent to camps and the fomenting of factionalism and distrust within the regime.  We’ve seen this kind of dynamic in other places before.

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S. Korea Tightens Controls on Dual-Use Technology Transfers to N. Korea

I’ve long suspected that technology transfers to Kaesong included many dual-use items, including American technology, that the North Koreans would easily put to destructive uses.  South Korea finally seems to be doing something about this:

South Korea’s audit agency expressed concern Wednesday that materials used to develop weapons of mass destruction may enter North Korea due to Seoul’s lax monitoring and advised the Unification Ministry to tighten rules.

The ministry, in charge of overseeing personnel and equipment exchanges with North Korea, should consider the “special nature of inter-Korean relations” and give censoring priority to strategic materials over general trade items, the Board of Audit and Inspection said in a report.

“The process of monitoring items exported to North Korea has no order of priority, raising concern that there could be a chance of strategic materials going to North Korea,” the audit agency said after an investigation requested by the National Assembly.  [Yonhap]

“Strategic materials,” meaning “equipment or technology used to make nuclear or biological weapons or missiles,” which would be a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718.  Yonhap’s report did not specify which strategic materials might have been shipped North, other than some black powder, 270 used computers, and as many as 2,000 other computers that were “temporarily” brought North by South Koreans, but which were never brought back to the South as promised.

Why North Korea couldn’t just as easily get computers of the same quality from China wasn’t clear, nor is it clear to me that ordinary desktops or laptops should be classified as “strategic.”  Still, it’s good to see South Korea starting to come to grips with the technology transfer problem, though much harm has probably already been done.

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Iran Tests North Korean-Made Missiles

Mingi Hyun has cool pics and a YouTube of Iran’s latest missile test.  The  clarity of the photographs is remarkable as the zaniness of the Iranians.  If you observe, you will note something that looks almost like an Mil Mi-8/14/17 flying around, but the dorsal area looks different.  Does anyone know just what the heck that thing  is?  It’s unidentified, it’s flying, and it’s an object.

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Airborne Laser Leaves the Hangar

The system, mounted in a modified 747, is designed to track missiles in their boost phase.  Although it won’t be ready for test firing at a missile until 2008, it should be operational by the end of the decade.  And it looks cool.

airborne-laser.jpg

In a ceremony at the Boeing Co.’s Integrated Defense Systems facility in Wichita, the agency announced it was ready to flight test some of the low-power systems on the ABL aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400F designed to destroy enemy missiles.

Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he embraced early critics’ comparison of the laser-equipped plane to the Star Wars movies.

“I believe we are building the forces of good to beat the forces of evil. … We are taking a major step in giving the American people their first light saber,” Obering told dignitaries and employees gathered for the ceremony.

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Proliferation Security Watch

*   Hong Kong authorities have detained a North Korean ship “Kang Nam I, a 2,035-ton general cargo ship,” which had arrived from Shanghai.  North Korean crew members and Hong Kong customs officials suggest that the inspection is related to a couple dozen safety violations, that the ship is empty, and that the inspections are not related to U.N.S.C.R. 1718.  Crew members claim that the ship will sail again in two days.  The Chosun Ilbo reports that the search didn’t turn up any prohibited cargo.  [Update:   the Daily NK says this is related to 1718 and is based on recent U.S. intel.]

*   South Korea is denying reports that it allowed North Korean ships to pass through its waters without being searched.  Far be it for me to defend the South Korean government, but it’s not clear that the alleged  South Korean inaction came before or after  1718.  It’s also not clear from the text  why the headline suggested that the ships might have carried weapons.  I’ve disagreed with many of the South’s permissive and gullible policies toward the North, but I’m less interested in  past differences than in the question of whether the South knows that the rules have changed.

*   Opposition lawmakers are asking for more details on $13M in South Korean funds that ended up in blacklisted Banco Delta Asia.  The Chosun Ilbo report implies, but  does not state,  that the funds may have gone to North  Korea.  Not surprisingly, the Bank of Korea is denying the lawmakers access to the transaction records.

*   Clear the China shop!   John Bolton is on his way to Seoul!   “‘Ambassador Bolton’s trip here will not directly sway the government’s decision to implement the U.N. resolution,’ the official said. ‘It will just provide a chance for the government to confirm the U.N.’s stance on the North Korean nuclear issue.'”  Rrrrright.  Still you can’t argue with results like these.  Incidentally, John Bolton happens to be the architect of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which the United States is pressing the South Koreans to join.  Coincidence?  [Update:   cancelled.]  

*   South Korea is making one concession — it’s cracking down on strategic exports.  Readers may recall some very interesting remarks by U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow when he visited the Kaesong Industrial Park recently, which led to this very long post on how U.S. export control laws could affect Kaesong.

*   Here’s your official stud book on the U.N. sanctions committee that will oversee 1718 compliance.

*   Missed any good late-night TV recently?  This should take care of that:

Chinese police last month arrested two men on charges of trying to sell 1 kg of enriched uranium, an essential raw material for nuclear weapons, press reports said Monday. The two were ethnic Koreans living in China, police in Beijing confirmed. Press reports said Beijing police arrested the two men, identified as Chang and Chung, on charges of attempting to sell 969.03 grams of enriched uranium at a hotel there on Sept. 11.

Whether this is a case of loose nukes or the regime trying to disguise a transfer isn’t clear, although it would seem that the regime would have easier means than this to sell nuclear materials.  DPRK Studies has more.

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A Major Success for Missile Defense

Another success for the right of self-defense:

The U.S. military shot down a target ballistic missile over the Pacific on Friday in the widest test of its emerging antimissile shield in 18 months, the Defense Department announced. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said it had successfully completed an important exercise involving the launch of an improved ground-based interceptor missile designed to protect the United States against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack. The test results will help improve the performance of a multibillion-dollar shield against the type of long-range ballistic missile that could be used to attack a U.S. city with a weapon of mass destruction, the agency said in a statement.

[….]

In the exercise, a target missile was launched from Kodiak, Alaska.

Certain despotic rogue leaders are no doubt disappointed. Of course, I’m referring to Margaret Floyd. Don’t let her grandmotherly appearance fool you; Kim Jong Il’s doesn’t make him any less dangerous, either.

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Be the First One on Your Block to Instigate a Missile Crisis (No, really.)

Update: Scroll down and tell me I didn’t find what I think I found.

AAA Batteries -- probably SAM-2's or SAM-5's -- northeast of Pyongyang.

Yes, I had spent many hours “flying” over North Korea with Google Earth, but it took this article to tip me off to an entire online community of amateur photo intel analysts. The L.A. Times reports:

An intrepid German poster named “wonders” has flagged more than 332 sites of interest. Most are military — the vast air defenses ringing Pyongyang, the artillery along the demilitarized zone, the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, tunnels, caves and weird earthworks. He’s labeled a gigantic buried half-cylinder as “Underground parking garage — not!” and an ominous-looking lump as a “Not too friendly looking thing.”

[….]

Of course we know the ugly facts about North Korea — in the abstract: That it’s one of the poorest, most highly militarized nations in the world, with a malnourished population and a thirst for nukes. That it sends children of the disloyal to be worked to death in camps. That visible earthworks are most likely telltale signs of vast underground cities it has dug to hide its military facilities from Western spy satellites.

But we haven’t been able to see it for ourselves. Now Korean War veterans in Peoria or cyber geeks in Hong Kong can peer down upon the repressive state from their living rooms, for kicks.

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