Archive for Terrorism (NK)

Once again, North Korea threatens free speech here in the United States

On December 19, 2014, in response to the FBI’s conclusion that North Korea was behind the threats against audiences for “The Interview,” President Obama said, “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.” After all, the President reasoned, “if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.”

Or, he might have added, a human rights conference put on by an N.G.O. in downtown Washington, D.C., where current and former U.S. diplomats were in attendance.

North Korea says it will respond “very strongly” to a conference in Washington on Tuesday about its widespread human rights abuses and says the United States ignored Pyongyang’s offer to attend and defend itself. Puzzled conference organizers said the event was open to the public.

North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Jang Il Hun told reporters Monday his country has asked the U.S. government to “immediately scrap the so-called conference” hosted by the nonprofit Center for Strategic & International Studies. Speakers include Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues. [AP]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

You can debate what Jang meant and exactly what he was threatening, if you care to. I have no doubt that Jang’s masters chose exactly the words they did so that they could preserve a modicum of deniability, while allowing the rest of us to put his words into the context of North Korea’s recent actions and draw the obvious conclusions. What’s beyond dispute is that Pyongyang is trying to censor debate right here in Washington, D.C., by purporting to tell Americans what they can meet and talk about. Pyongyang now believes it can enforce its censorship writs on Rhode Island Avenue. It must be disabused of that notion.

If the President of the United States believes in defending our freedom to debate issues that are important to public policy, his first response will be to expel Ambassador Jang for activities incompatible with his diplomatic status. His second response will be to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. His third response will be to get on with that “proportional” response he promised, after North Korean hackers threatened to attack American moviegoers. Those threats successfully suppressed two major films, and they have done incalculable harm to our freedom of expression. The President’s response ought to be premised on the determination that if North Korea forces us to choose between our freedom of expression and North Korea’s existence, then North Korea must cease to exist. A policy of imposing incremental inconvenience would no longer do.

Few Americans would describe President Obama as a particularly good president, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, although I’d still argue that with respect to North Korea, President Bush’s combination of empty tough talk and appeasement was even worse. Yet for some reason, fair or unfair, the North Koreans have made the calculation that Obama is a lightweight, and that he won’t offer a serious response to this sort of thing. That means we’re sure to hear more like this from them.

Does the State Department think there’s a six-month statute of limitations for terror sponsorship? (Updated)

If the Congressional Research Service had its own store at the mall, you’d often find me there at 3 a.m., sleeping in my lawn chair the night before the next release, possibly in some sort of costume. The researchers are smart and genial people, and most of their work has been terrific. There also appears to be some mutuality of readership between us, because as it turns out, the latest CRS report on North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism cites no less than three of my works in six of its footnotes (just call me the Congressional Research Service research service). Large portions of the CRS report read like a response to my various briefs supporting North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism (SSOT). Again, it’s always a good thing to have your ideas read and considered, so I hope what follows won’t seem ungracious, but CRS’s latest left me feeling the way I felt after I watched “Phantom Menace.”

That’s because CRS appears to have followed the State Department into a serious legal error that affects the quality of the analysis that resulted. The problem only becomes evident in the conclusion of the report, where CRS argues that most of the events I’ve cited (inter alia) here and here that would support North Korea’s SSOT re-listing would “fall outside the six-month window that the State Department uses to determine governments’ placement on the lists.” That is to say, State thinks there’s a six-month statute of limitations for purposes of an SSOT listing.

Now, as we speak, I’m putting the final touches on a very extensive report on SSOT listing–its statutory history, authorities, key definitions, purposes, and conduct justifying an SSOT listing. Look for it in fine bookstores everywhere (no, not really). I re-checked the key authorities, and there is no such window. Wanna check them yourself? Look at Section 6 of the Export Administration Act (EAA), Section 140 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989, Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act, and Section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act. You won’t find that window, but you will find another possible source of the State Department’s confusion: Section 6(j)(4) of the Export Administration Act. But this is a provision for rescission–in English, removal from the SSOT list–not for listing in the first instance. (There are similar rescission provisions in the EAA and the FAA).

There are other reasons to question that there’s any six-month window, not the least of which is the illogic of writing annual reports that would have to overlook the first half of the year. Not only does text of the EAA provide no support for this view, its use of the term “repeatedly” implies the opposite conclusion. Many of State’s prior SSOT justifications have cited conduct occurring years before a listing (if you doubt me, read them). North Korea wasn’t listed after the 1987 KAL bombing and then de-listed the very next year, after a six-month statute of limitations ran out. Its abductions of Japanese citizens and its harboring of Japanese Red Army hijackers were both cited as reasons for North Korea’s listing years after they occurred. (Arguably, these could be called continuing offenses; they still are.) When the State Department added Sudan to the SSOT list in 1993, it found “no conclusive evidence linking the Government of Sudan to any specific terrorist incident during the year.” And as the State Department itself once said:

The United States is committed to holding terrorists and those who harbor them accountable for past attacks, regardless of when the acts occurred. The US Government has a long memory and will not simply expunge a terrorist’s record because time has passed. The states that choose to harbor terrorists are like accomplices who provide shelter for criminals. They will be held accountable for their “guests’” actions. International terrorists should know, before they contemplate a crime, that they cannot hunker down in safehaven for a period of time and be absolved of their crimes.

Perhaps because of this erroneous interpretation, CRS largely overlooks some of North Korea’s most egregious recent acts of terrorism–its assassination plots against Hwang Jang Yop and Pak Sang-Hak, the assassination of Kim Chang-Hwan in China, the attempt to assassinate another activist in China the following day, the attempted kidnapping of a North Korean student in Paris last year, and the attempted murder of a North Korean refugee in Denmark last year. One could argue that direct, retail terrorism isn’t the “sponsorship” of terrorism, but if that’s so, it’s an obtuse evasion of Congress’s intent. And if it’s so, why has the State Department repeatedly cited Iran’s attempts to assassinate Iranian dissidents abroad to support Iran’s SSOT listing? Or the assassination of Rafiq Hariri to support Syria’s SSOT listing? Or the 1983 bombing in Rangoon, the KAL 858 bombing (the original basis for North Korea’s SSOT listing), or the abductions of Japanese citizens?

CRS’s report thereby concludes “that 2009 and 2013 seizures of North Korean shipments of chemical protection equipment to Syria were the only DPRK actions since 2008 that both (1) were recognized by official U.S. or U.N. bodies, and (2) could conceivably have met the statutory criteria for redesignation.” Now, maybe this is the lawyer in me talking–but I was under the misunderstanding that the final judgment of a U.S. District Court, or the opinion of a federal Court of Appeals, counted as “recognition” by an “official body.” (See here, here, and here.) Also, it seems unfair to count only the orders of U.S. federal courts, while overlooking the multiple convictions of North Korean agents by South Korean courts (here, here, here, and here; this and this may be relevant, too). I’m not going to argue that the South Korean legal system is a paragon of due process, but if its convictions are good enough to merit recognition by our federal courts, they’re good enough for our State Department.

Perhaps consequently, the CRS report also misses the main point of my citation of the 2009 weapons seizures in Bangkok, aboard the M/V ANL Australia, and aboard the M/V Francop—not that North Korea was shipping those weapons to Iran and Syria, but that it was shipping weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah (and maybe the Quds Force for good measure) through Iran and Syria. Begin with the U.N. Panel of Experts reports documenting those seizures and cargoes in exhaustive detail, but that’s only the first step. Then, compare those reports to the contemporary press reports informing us that those weapons (including MANPADS) were destined for terrorist end-users.

Finally, CRS argues that “a decision to redesignate the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism could have a significant impact on diplomacy with North Korea,” to which I ask, “What diplomacy?” Weirdly enough, CRS also cites Kim Jong Un’s byungjin policy—the North Korean policy that declares its dual pursuit of both nukes and economic development—and equates it with reform:

The Kim regime has been promoting a two-track policy (the so-called byungjin line) of nuclear development and economic development, with the latter goal partially dependent upon influxes of foreign investment.…  The DPRK could be particularly sensitive to a redesignation, which could be perceived as a threat to the potential economic gains the North Korean government expects from its byungjin policy. Therefore, those who wish to encourage North Korea’s economic reforms, in the belief that they eventually would lead to changes in the government and/or the government’s behavior, may oppose redesignating the DPRK. In contrast, those who wish to increase economic pressure on North Korea by undercutting the byungjin line may favor redesignating the DPRK.

The latter group includes both the Obama and Park administrations, which hold that byungjin is a non-starter, “a pipe dream.” Officially, our policy is that North Korea can’t have it both ways. That makes the disruption of byungjin a net positive for an SSOT listing. (This also re-raises the question of whether a capitalist, fascist North Korea is less dangerous than a socialist one. It has never been clear to me why that would be the case.)

CRS also argues that “China may be inclined to use redesignation as a pretext for opposing U.S. and South Korean efforts to increase pressure on North Korea through other means.” Like they need one. I’ve given a long series of examples of China violating UNSC sanctions here. I’m not sure why an SSOT listing would give China any needed justification to do what it has done for years.

Finally, CRS punts on the most important question of all—by what standard can we avoid calling this terrorism?

Warning

We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.

Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.

The world will be full of fear.

Remember the 11th of September 2001.

We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.

(If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)

Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

All the world will denounce the SONY.

More to come…

It’s important to make a distinction between the Guardians of Peace’s hacking of Sony Pictures from its threats against American moviegoers. The hacking itself doesn’t clearly fit within the various legal definitions of terrorism, and there’s no precedent for State citing hacking as a basis for an SSOT listing. For reasons I won’t argue today, that’s probably a good policy. Threats against American moviegoers, on the other hand, would clearly fit both the legal definitions of terrorism and the plain meaning of the term.

~   ~   ~

As for the impact of an SSOT listing, I’m not going to argue that the sanctions triggered by a listing would be among the strongest financial and legal tools at our disposal. Sanctions under 31 C.F.R. Part 596 would have less impact than designation as a Primary Money Laundering Concern, a sustained campaign of financial diplomacy to isolate Kim Jong Un’s access to his offshore hard currency, or a serious and sustained campaign of information operations. Still, an SSOT listing would close an important loophole in our weak sanctions against North Korea. To understand the significance of that point, however, you have to understand how weak our sanctions are to begin with. And none of this means that these policy choices would be mutually exclusive.

Maybe the most important reason for an SSOT listing is that it would reflect the truth. The State Department’s dogmatic insistence that North Korea hasn’t sponsored an act of terrorism since 1987 is–there is no other word for this–a lie, one that smacks of unaccountability and bureaucratic arrogance. Regardless of the diplomatic or legal effects of a SSOT designation, it is never acceptable for our government to lie to us. Our own federal courts have found that North Korea has repeatedly sponsored acts of international terrorism. South Korean courts have repeatedly convicted North Korean agents of international kidnappings, assassinations, and assassination attempts. A U.N. Panel of Experts has offered voluminous evidence of North Korea’s arms exports intercepted en route to Iran–arms that intelligence sources tell reporters were bound for Hamas and Hezbollah. And although the legal basis to call a cyberattack “terrorism” is questionable, threats against American filmmakers and moviegoers clearly fit the legal and commonly understood definitions of terrorism. Telling the truth always matters. So does holding people accountable for the evil that they do.

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Update: 2 Feb 2014: CRS has corrected its report to remove any references to a “six-month window.” I’ll add that when I raised the legal question with CRS, they were very classy about reexamining the law and correcting the mistake. The error was not the State Department’s, as it turns out; it was just CRS’s misreading of the Export Administration Act. Hey, I make mistakes, too! The final CRS report, however, still fails to address most of the substance that I’ve argued could be a basis for an SSOT listing. Without the “six-month window” issue, the report now leaves those omissions largely unexplained. I hope CRS will go back and examine those issues in more detail another day, in the near future.

Three Cheers for Obama’s Sony attribution, a golf clap for his “proportional” response.

In The Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima describes how Sony’s decision to cancel the premiere of The Interview catalyzed the Obama Administration’s decision to blame North Korea publicly:

The next day, alarmed by the surrender, President Barack Obama convened his top officials in the White House Situation Room and, based on their unanimous recommendation, decided to take an action the United States had never dared before in response to a cyberattack by another nation: name the government responsible and punish it. [….]

The blocking of Sony’s freedom of expression, on top of a highly damaging hack, is what ultimately compelled officials to act, in the name of deterrence.

“The argument I made was the whole world is watching how we as a nation respond,” said Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, who, other officials said, was at the previously undisclosed meeting.

“And if we don’t acknowledge this, if we don’t name names here, it will only — I’m concerned — encourage others to decide: ‘Well, this must not be a red line for the United States. This must be something they’re comfortable [with] and willing to accept,’ ” Rogers said at an international cybersecurity conference at Fordham University last week.

There “was a significant debate within the administration about whether or not to take that step” of naming North Korea, a senior administration official said. “Attribution is hard, and there are all sorts of reasons we don’t normally want to do that,” including setting a precedent that would increase pressure to name other countries in future incidents and antagonizing the offending governments.

But the attack on Sony’s right to screen a movie struck a nerve. The entertainment company may not be “critical” to national security, but free speech is “a core value,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. “Yes, it was a Seth Rogen comedy, but next time it might not be,” he said. What he described as the hack’s “destructive” nature combined with the element of coercion against Sony “crossed the threshold,” he said. “It took us into a new realm.”

The attack was a violation of U.S. sovereignty “coupled with an attempt to interfere with freedom of expression,” said Christopher Painter, State Department coordinator for cyber issues. “You had, in many ways, the perfect storm of all these things coming together that were really important.” [WaPo, Ellen Nakashima]

I applaud this unreservedly. It was the right decision for the right reasons.

~   ~   ~

The administration has stumbled twice since then, however. For several weeks, the administration failed to challenge inside-job theories from some IT security experts. Some of them challenged the sufficiency of the publicly available evidence, which is fair enough. But to argue that North Korea didn’t do it is much more problematic. Some of the inside-jobbers lost sight of the possibility that they were arguing based on incomplete information. Others may have been motivated by grudges against the administration over the Snowden revelations, or other biases. Yet others, including inmates of the Alex Jones, Christine Ahn, and Ron Paul asylums, shared the sort of skepticism that’s unique to the world’s most gullible people.

The administration continued to lose this argument for several weeks before FBI Director James Comey publicly reaffirmed that he was certain that the North Koreans did it. Comey’s call to declassify more of the evidence is now being answered by the National Security Agency:

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

A classified security agency program expanded into an ambitious effort, officials said, to place malware that could track the internal workings of many of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers, a force that South Korea’s military recently said numbers roughly 6,000 people. Most are commanded by the country’s main intelligence service, called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Bureau 121, its secretive hacking unit, with a large outpost in China.

The evidence gathered by the “early warning radar” of software painstakingly hidden to monitor North Korea’s activities proved critical in persuading President Obama to accuse the government of Kim Jong-un of ordering the Sony attack, according to the officials and experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the classified N.S.A. operation. [N.Y. Times, David E. Sanger & Martin Fackler]

The CIA’s malware was built on its highly successful Stuxnet worm:

For about a decade, the United States has implanted “beacons,” which can map a computer network, along with surveillance software and occasionally even destructive malware in the computer systems of foreign adversaries. The government spends billions of dollars on the technology, which was crucial to the American and Israeli attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, and documents previously disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former security agency contractor, demonstrated how widely they have been deployed against China. [N.Y. Times]

For those incapable of wrapping their heads around the idea of North Korea being technologically sophisticated enough to hack someone, the Times story also provides an extensive history of Unit 121, and an interview with two defectors with insider knowledge of the unit’s operations.

See also CNN and CBS News (quoting Comey, “We could see that the IP addresses that were being used to post and to send the e-mails were coming from IPs that were exclusively used by the North Koreans.”).

Interestingly enough, just a few weeks before the Sony hack, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had dinner with Kim Yong-Chol, the head of North Korea’s Reconnaissance Bureau (RGB), the man responsible for overseeing North Korea’s hackers, and also for multiple attempts to assassinate human rights activists and North Korean dissidents in exile. The RGB’s assets are blocked, but Gen. Kim’s are not. I can’t help wonder if Gen. Kim smiled at the thought of how Clapper would react to the Sony attacks. Let’s hope that the Obama Administration gives Gen. Kim cause to regret this lapse of malignant egomania.

It amuses me some to wonder whether there was a small bandage on Mr. Clapper’s right palm when the two men shook hands.

~   ~   ~

Which brings us to the President’s second stumble: his failure, so far, to respond credibly, to deter others from crossing the red line that North Korea crossed in November, and also to deter others from blunting President Obama’s response by undermining sanctions.

It did not take long for American officials to conclude that the source of the attack was North Korea, officials say. “Figuring out how to respond was a lot harder,” one White House official said. [N.Y. Times]

That’s becoming more painfully obvious by the day. President Obama has said that Executive Order 13,687 and the designations of January 2nd were only a beginning, and let’s hope he’s right about that. Sanctions work better when they hit with a shock than when they’re applied incrementally, and give the target time to adapt. If my guess is right, however, Treasury needs more time to do that, because this administration hasn’t made North Korea a priority in its financial intelligence targeting. But so far, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden said, the administration’s new sanctions have been “symbolic at best,” for reasons I explained here. Worse, our apparent lack of determination is inviting troublemakers to undermine the administration’s negative reinforcement.

Here is Vladimir Putin’s cue to enter stage left.

According to this article, Russia has recently begun to service transactions for the U.S. Treasury-sanctioned Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea in rubles. Treasury sanctioned the FTB in March 2013 for its involvement in servicing WMD-related financial transactions. The article’s author, whose work reads like that of a Putinjugend fangirl, may not have considered the possibility that the Russian businesses involved could still be cut out of the financial system under EO 13,687 or (one day in the not-too-distant future, according to Chairman Royce) the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act. However unwittingly, fangirl has done us a great public service by bringing this information to our attention.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama promised to defend us against cyberattacks. He didn’t mention North Korea by name, but the reference was obvious. Deterrence is a critical part of defense. Imposing new cybersecurity laws and regulations on industry alone will not be a complete answer, and the new requirements will come with massive costs to American industry. Even if the administration has good reasons to delay the main thrust of its response to Kim Jong Un until it finds a critical mass of North Korea’s financial nodes, it still needs to make a bold demonstration that it’s unwilling to tolerate the willful subversion of its policies by Russia and others. If the sanctions of January 2nd are the only price a foreign enemy pays for a devastating and chilling attack on the central principle of our political system, those sanctions will mean less than no deterrent at all.

N. Korea threatens U.S. with “a hail of bullets and shells on its own territory.”

Via our friends at the Korean Central News Service, North Korea’s official journo-terrorism service.

In 2011, the Associated Press signed two memoranda of agreement with KCNA in which AP and KCNA agreed to cooperate in the reporting of “news” about North Korea. The AP refuses to disclose the contents of those memoranda.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

Discuss among yourselves.

FBI Director: Yes, I’m sure North Korea did it. (Update: So is NSA’s Director)

The other day, a reporter asked me whether the “considerable doubt” about Pyongyang’s responsibility for the Sony hacks and terror threats undermined the legitimacy of the President’s response. I suppose the answer depends on your perspective. I’m not privy to the FBI’s evidence against North Korea, but my greater doubt is whether the President’s response, so far, is meaningful.

A week ago, however, I decided that the FBI was losing the battle for public opinion. I recalled the CIA’s video about the North Korean-built reactor at Al-Kibar, Syria, and wondered if it would be possible to create something like this for Sony.

As a result of this video, there’s little room for serious doubt about North Korea’s responsibility for Al-Kibar. The irony of Al-Kibar is that while one part of the Bush Administration did a fine job of making its case — once forced to do so by Congress — Bush himself was just as determined to do nothing about it. After an equally slow start, the FBI Director is now making an effort to shore up public confidence in its case.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey on Wednesday said the U.S. is confident about North Korea’s involvement in the December threats against Sony Pictures because the people involved at times slipped up and didn’t properly use tactics designed to obscure the source of the messages.

When that happened, investigators were able to see clearly that they came from Internet addresses used solely by North Korea, Mr. Comey said. “There is not much in this life that I have high confidence about,” Mr. Comey said. “I have very high confidence about this attribution.”

Mr. Comey also highlighted other evidence, such as analysis by FBI personnel that matched patterns of writing and other signatures to those found in other attacks launched by North Korea. [….]

Mr. Comey said the U.S. has more evidence that North Korea was behind the attack that it can’t release publicly. He said those who have questioned the conclusion North Korea was involved “don’t have the facts that I have, they don’t see what I see.” [Wall Street Journal]

Comey delivered the remarks at a four-day cybersecurity conference in New York.

Though Mr. Comey did not offer more details about the government’s evidence in a speech in New York, senior government officials said that F.B.I.’s analysts discovered that the hackers made a critical error by logging into both their Facebook account and Sony’s servers from North Korean Internet addresses. It was clear, the officials said, that hackers quickly recognized their mistake. In several cases, after mistakenly logging in directly, they quickly backtracked and rerouted their attacks and messages through decoy computers abroad. [….]

Responding to critics who have questioned why the United States thinks North Korea was the source of the attacks, Mr. Comey said on Wednesday that the hackers became “sloppy” as they tried to cover their tracks. He acknowledged that the North Koreans had used decoys but did not elaborate about the specific mistakes the hackers made that gave him “high confidence” the country was behind the attack.

Mr. Comey urged the United States intelligence community to declassify all the information that showed that the hackers had used such servers, something that could take months. [N.Y. Times]

This is a good start, particularly the call to declassify as much of the evidence as can be declassified without compromising sources and methods the intelligence community will need again. The Director’s statement alone won’t be enough to marginalize the skeptics to the fringes and gain enough support for the President to take effective action, assuming (as I don’t) that the administration really wants to take effective action.

Different motives are driving different reactions to Sony, and not all of those motives necessarily yield to the evidence.

Some of the skepticism is based on IT forensic analysis, and seems conscientious, if inconclusive. After all, most of those criticisms began by arguing that IT forensics is an inexact science, and then proceed to offer their own alternative IT forensic theories. Not everyone agrees that the skepticism is even conscientious:

[T]he F.B.I. and other security experts say those critics have had access to only some of the evidence from the attack. They say the accumulation of the evidence collected by the F.B.I., Sony and Mandiant, a security firm hired by Sony, makes clear that North Korea was the culprit.

Just before Mr. Comey made his statements, a leading cybersecurity expert took those critics to task.

“One of the joys of the Internet is that anyone with a keyboard and a connection can be an expert,“ James A. Lewis, a director and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in an essay posted online on Wednesday. “Opinion substitutes for research. The uninformed debate over the Sony cyberincident is the most recent example of the Internet’s limitations.” [N.Y. Times]

Some of the skepticism, such as the analysis of the hackers’ English, reads like pseudoscience. Lewis’s comment reminds me of the two years after 9/11, when everyone with a GeoCities account was suddenly a structural engineer.

I’m no expert on computer forensics. I can only hope that the FBI was very confident about its conclusions before making such a serious charge. Those conclusions are obviously based on classified evidence, but it would be a mistake to assume that the FBI is basing its conclusions on computer forensics alone. I don’t know what the FBI knows. More importantly, neither do the inside-job theorists. Unfortunately, intelligence agencies that do have that information have to keep their sources and methods secret, or they won’t have those sources and methods for long.

Mr. Lewis said a close reading of classified documents leaked last year by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, made clear that American intelligence officials maintained deep access in North Korea’s networks.

The real debate, Mr. Lewis said, was one of government mistrust by the cybersecurity community, particularly after the revelations by Mr. Snowden. [N.Y. Times]

Of course, the FBI isn’t always right. In this case, however, the criticism doesn’t persuade me to deny the FBI a presumption of veracity.

First, I don’t see any motive for the FBI or the President to fabricate a case against North Korea. If you’ve been watching this administration’s North Korea policy, what’s remarkable is the extraordinary efforts it has made to ignore North Korea; hence the term “strategic patience.” In fact, this administration has been forced to turn to a whole series of foreign policy problems that it would have preferred to ignore — the Arab Spring, the Green Revolution in Iran, Libya, the South China Sea, Ukraine, Syria, the rise of ISIS, and now, North Korea. The last thing it wanted was yet another foreign policy crisis, or for North Korea to make it look incapable of protecting the United States from the tantrums of a porcine adolescent heir to a blighted kingdom.

Second, the ease with which some readers have seized on inside-job theories reminds me that a dubious political psychology often drives them. Among some quarters of the left, there is a capacity for introspection and self-criticism that makes our society more just and more fair when imbibed in moderation, but which quickly becomes witless masochism when drunk to excess. In recent years, both the far left and the far right have been seized by the temptation to deny, at any cost, the frightening thought that our freedom and our safety are threatened by thugs from beyond our borders. It makes them feel safer, somehow, to cling to inside-job explanations that would relieve us from the burdens of confronting hard questions that spring from unwelcome conclusions. But feeling safer isn’t the same as being safer.

None of which should really be reason to debate the legitimacy of blocking Kim Jong Un out of the financial system. There were many good reasons for tougher sanctions against North Korea long before the Sony hack. Michael Kirby called for them a year before Sony, and Congress introduced sanctions legislation nearly two years before. The administration could have taken action against North Korea for any number of reasons — North Korea’s crimes against humanity, proliferation, money laundering, support for terrorism, military provocations, or its refusal to give up its nuclear weapons programs. The administration didn’t necessarily have to blame Pyongyang for Sony, but if it was convinced of Pyongyang’s guilt, but a President who is unwilling to assign blame to those who attack and threaten us in our own country signals an unwillingness to deter the next attack.

I commend President Obama for putting the country’s interest before his political interest by doing so. Having come this far, his administration must make its case. I hope it makes a compelling one.

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Update, Jan. 10, 2015: The NSA’s Director weighs in:

Rogers, the NSA director, discussed the Sony hack at numerous points throughout his talk, prior to the question and answer period. “I have very high confidence—I remain very confident—that this was North Korea,” he said, echoing FBI Director James Comey the day before. He said this was the first time a nation-state has carried out an act to “stop the release of a film with a particular viewpoint and characterization of a leader.” [….]

Naming North Korea and announcing economic sanctions was critical for deterrence of future nation-state or other types of cyber attack, Rogers argued. “The entire world is watching how we as a nation are going to respond to this,” he said. [The Intercept]

So far, the administration’s response has been to designate ten low-level individuals and three mid-level entities that have been designated for years.

Ros-Lehtinen bill to call for N. Korea’s listing as a terrorism sponsor

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) — A U.S. congresswoman said Monday she will introduce a bill calling for re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in response to the communist nation’s alleged cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

“North Korea should have never been taken off the state sponsor of terrorism list and should be reinstated immediately,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in comments emailed to Yonhap News Agency. “I will soon be reintroducing legislation to redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and to ratchet up the sanctions pressure on the North Korean regime.”

The congresswoman welcomed the latest sanctions that the administration of President Barack Obama imposed on North Korea last week in response to the Sony hack, but she stressed that what’s more important is to enforce those sanctions.

“Simply talking tough on sanctions without enforcing them in order to manipulate public opinion, as this White House has done with regard to North Korea and other rogue regimes, will only diminish whatever credibility and influence the administration has left while putting the security of the United States at risk,” she said. [Yonhap]

Funny how the administration says an SSOT listing would be “symbolic,”yet so stubbornly refuses to do it. If it’s only symbolic, what are they afraid of?

North Korea and terrorism, a response to Micah Zenko

Zenko, who is a made member of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written an article for Foreign Policy with the headline, “Sorry, But North Korea Isn’t a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” I tried to post a comment, but because FP‘s user-unfriendly website prevents that, I’ll just post that comment here.

I wish Mr. Zenko knew enough about his subject matter to question the State Department’s assertion that North Korea hasn’t sponsored any acts of terrorism since 1987. In fact, it has done so repeatedly and recently.

Around the time Mr. Zenko published his article, North Korean agents attempted to murder a North Korean refugee in Denmark. A few months before that, regime agents attempted to kidnap a North Korean student in Paris.

In December, a federal appeals court allowed a suit by the family of a U.S. lawful permanent resident to proceed against the North Korean government for his alleged abduction and murder. This year, a federal district court judge ruled that North Korea has supported Hezbollah attacks against Israeli civilians.

Last July, “Western diplomats” told The Telegraph that North Korea had struck a deal to sell rockets to Hamas. Let’s also talk about the North Korean arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah that featured in these recent U.N. panel of experts reports.

Let’s also talk about the poison needle assassination campaign against emigres and human rights activists, resulting in convictions of North Korean agents in South Korean courts. Or Pyongyang’s repeated threats against civilian targets in South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

The State Department’s refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism is obtuse and mendacious. State denies these things to support policy decisions it has made for other reasons. That doesn’t make the assertion (and consequently, Zenko’s article) factually true.

Suspected regime thugs try to kill N. Korean refugee in Denmark

For those in the State Department, including its addlebrained spokeswoman, who say that putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism would be merely “symbolic,” here’s some food for thought:

Suspected North Korean government agents have assaulted a North Korean living in a refugee center in Denmark and warned him that they will cut his head off if he does not return home, according to a rights group.

“We are currently trembling in extreme fear and anxiety,” the refugee, who lives with his wife at the center in the small Danish town of Hanstholm in the northern part of Denmark, told the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

Bae Jun Sik was assaulted by the agents this week and has been hospitalized at Hillerod Hospital in Hanstholm in the latest of several attacks on him since Nov. 10.

“I have spoken with hospital staff, who confirmed that he has a broken nose, an injury to his head, and scars on his neck, most likely proof of an attempt to strangle him,” Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK’s executive director, told RFA’s Korean Service.

“He says he went out [of the center] for a cigarette, opened the door for people outside, and they tried to strangle him with a plastic string. His wife heard the noise, screamed, and they ran away,” Scarlatoiu said. [Radio Free Asia]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

Marcus Noland’s posting since then suggests that the Danish authorities have done approximately squat to investigate the crime or find those responsible. As if that’s in much doubt.

ICYMI, here’s my summary of the legal consequences of an SSOT re-listing, which are much more than symbolic. Of course, symbolic consequences can also be important. North Korea has targeted refugees, exiles, and activists for assassination since its de-listing, which means that a re-listing would signal that the U.S. government will defend the human rights of Pyongyang’s targets, who have much to contribute to our public policy debate, from terrorism.

Congress legislated the list of state sponsors of terrorism and its legal consequences to tell governments everywhere that terrorism will have legal consequences. Call that symbolic if you like, but Congress has spoken, North Korea meets the criteria, the executive’s job is to faithfully execute the laws. If the consequences of a listing (including the symbolic ones) are meaningless, it’s for Congress to raise them, or to repeal the entire listing mechanism.

China to Obama: Drop dead

The best news I’ve heard today is that Sony Pictures has either grown a pair or decided that it would rather wilt under domestic political pressure than wilt under foreign terrorist pressure. That means that some theaters will be showing The Interview on Christmas after all. I won’t stand in line to see it, but when it comes to my neighborhood, I’m taking my son (my daughter might not be old enough).

Fortunately, this sounds like exactly the kind of crappy movie that might just be fun to watch with a twelve year-old. At Epcot Center, we almost punctured our lungs laughing at Captain EO, clearly the worst film I’ve ever seen. How much worse could this possibly be? I expect The Interview to be stupid and distasteful, for the reasons we explained here, but I’m willing to compartmentalize that. There is an even more important principle involved now, and my son is old enough to understand that.

That also suggests one reason why China would harbor those responsible for these attacks, from Chinese soil, routed “through servers in Singapore, Thailand and Bolivia.” China also favors the remote-control censorship of American speech. The editors of The Global Times, for example, believe they have standing to define the acceptable limits of free speech here:

“No matter how U.S. society looks at North Korea and Kim Jong-un, Kim is still the leader of the country. The vicious mocking of Kim is only a result of senseless cultural arrogance,” the Chinese state-run paper said in an editorial.

“The biggest motive for Sony Pictures may be the box office, by putting out a sensational story. However, if the movie really was shown on a large scale, it would further upset the already troubled U.S.-North Korea ties,” it said. [Yonhap]

The editors of The Global Times can go fuck themselves. They’re the first ones to whine about “interference” in China’s “internal affairs” when civilized nations protest that China’s tyrants gun down students, jail dissidents, persecute Tibetans, or send North Korean kids to death camps. It takes some chutzpah for a gang of toadies for stultifying, culture-strangling despots to lecture a free society with a legitimate government about what kinds of speech it should allow.

Good thing whoever hacked North Korea’s internet didn’t also take down The Global Times. Why, that might cause problems for U.S.-China relations! Perish the thought that China should conclude that the U.S. was allowing people to attack its interests from U.S. soil.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, also strongly denied media reports that China was involved in the Internet outage in North Korea, slamming such reports as “not trustworthy” and “irresponsible.” [Yonhap]

Yesterday, there was some speculation that the outage of North Korea’s internet service might be the result of China shutting down North Korea’s access at the White House’s request.

“We have discussed this issue with the Chinese to share information, express our concerns about this attack, and to ask for their cooperation,” the official said. “In our cybersecurity discussions, both China and the United States have expressed the view that conducting destructive attacks in cyberspace is outside the norms of appropriate cyber behavior.”

North Korea’s Internet traffic goes through China. President Barack Obama said Friday, “We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.” [CNN]

But if there was any such “cooperation,” it didn’t last long. The evidence to the contrary is stronger. Not only is Xi Jinping knowingly harboring North Korean hackers who attack U.S. interests, he’s also telling President Obama to leave him out of it and work it out with Kim Jong Un himself:

“We have noted the relevant remarks made by the U.S. and the DPRK (North Korea) over recent days,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying replied during a regular press briefing, when asked whether China has responded to calls by the U.S. over the Sony hacking.

“We believe that the DPRK and the U.S. can have communication on that,” Hua said, without elaborating further. [Yonhap]

Again, the newspapers are filled with speculation that at last, China is done with North Korea and ready to cooperate with us to pressure Kim Jong Un — the same kind of speculation we see after every North Korean nuke test, missile test, purge, or attack. It makes for interesting reading. I can even believe that some people in China really are annoyed with Kim Jong Un. But I’ll believe that China is ready to cut Kim Jong Un off when I see it. I’d say it’s at least 60% likely that this is disinformation, designed to restrain gullible Americans from taking legal action against North Korea’s Chinese enablers. Which is the only way to change China’s behavior, and North Korea’s.

After 9/11, we didn’t ask the Taliban to “investigate” Osama Bin Laden. We’re obviously not going to invade China, but we should do to those who sponsored North Korea’s hackers and terrorists what we did to Kim Dotcom. In the Kim Dotcom case, the Chinese government saw that its interests favored cooperation, so it cooperated. If China continues to sponsor attacks against American interests in our own country, then it’s time to restrict China’s access to U.S. markets. If push comes to shove, China isn’t going to choose its relationship with North Korea over its relationship with the United States. Its business interests won’t allow that. We must force China to make that choice.

White House considers sanctions, psyops, and cyber responses to N. Korea

Because I’ve begun to develop a certain sense of when interesting events are about to get much more interesting, yesterday morning, I decided to check the web site of KCNA, North Korea’s official “news” service. The site did not load, but it has always been slow to load. Then, news sites began to report that North Korea’s internet access had gone down, and that the White House wasn’t denying that it had a hand in this.

This morning, kcna.kp loaded with its usual masikryeong speed. Let’s all hope that our government has the will and the means to respond more potently than this. Kicking North Korea out of the Internet is like kicking Alabama out of the World Cup, and North Korea without internet is like North Dakota without surfing, Ireland without sunshine, or a Kardashian without a job. Meanwhile, the Japanese mirror site of KCNA kept right on squawking its threats to attack the White House:

Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans. The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels.

Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the “symmetric counteraction” declared by Obama. This is the invariable toughest stand of the army and people of the DPRK.

Fighters for justice including “guardians of peace” who turned out in the sacred drive for cooperation in the fight against the U.S. to defend human justice and conscience and to dismember the U.S. imperialists, the root cause of all sorts of evils and kingpin of injustice, are sharpening bayonets not only in the U.S. mainland but in all other parts of the world. [KCNA.co.jp]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

I can only guess, but if this was an attack, I’d guess that the U.S. government wasn’t behind it, and that independent hackers were. That’s also what I’m hoping, because if this is the worst that the world’s most powerful nation can do to a blighted hell-hole like North Korea, it would be wholly inadequate to deter any other despots who would censor and control our discourse through cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism. A nine-hour DDOS attack wouldn’t do much to deter Kim Jong Un, or contribute to solving the greater problem — the fact that he rules a country to begin with. That level of response, together with the President’s description of North Korea’s attacks as “cybervandalism,” would imply a junior-varsity insouciance about the gravity of this threat:

Sen. John McCain rejected Obama’s characterization of the North Korean hack as “an act of cybervandelism,” instead calling it “a new form of warfare” on CNN’s State of the Union.

“The President does not understand that this is a manifestation of a new form of warfare when you destroy economies, when you are able to impose censorship,” McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said. “It’s more than vandalism. It’s a new form of warfare that we’re involved in and we need to react and we need to react vigorously.” [CNN]

McCain, the incoming Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, promised to call hearings on the issue when the new Congress convenes.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called it “an act of terrorism” and favored reimposing sanctions and adding North Korea to the terrorism list. The United States needs to “make is so hard on the North Koreans that they don’t want to do this in the future,” Graham said. [Joongang Ilbo]

Fortunately, a report from The New York Times claims the White House is considering better alternatives, starting with asking the Pentagon’s Cyber Command for a list of options:

“What we are looking for is a blocking action, something that would cripple their efforts to carry out attacks,” one official said. [….]

For now, the White House appears to have declined to consider what one Defense Department official termed “a demonstration strike” in cyberspace, which could have included targets such as North Korean military facilities, computer network servers and communications networks.

United States officials said that American efforts to block North Korea’s access to the Internet, which is available only to the military and the elite, would necessarily impinge on Chinese sovereignty.  N.Y. Times]

Sort of like China and North Korea just impinged on ours, then.

Tom Kellermann, a former member of the presidential commission on cybersecurity, said one option was what security experts refer to as a “hack back,” in which they use the attackers’ own computer footprints and back doors to deploy an attack that destroys North Korea’s attack infrastructure, or compromises the integrity of the machines that did the hacking. For example, the United States could deploy a malicious payload that encrypts the data on North Korea’s machines, or renders them unable to reboot — clearly “proportional,” in the president’s words, because that was what happened to Sony’s computers.

The White House is also considering financial sanctions, “mirroring those recently placed on Russian oligarchs and officials close to President Vladimir V. Putin,” to “cut off their access to cash … that allows the elite surrounding Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to live lifestyles their starving countrymen can barely imagine.” The Times even invokes the example of Banco Delta Asia, calling it “the one sanction in the past decade that caused the most pain to the North Korean leadership.”

They’re starting to sound like Ed Royce, who is starting to sound like a man ahead of his time.

Finally, they’re considering an offensive of information operations — or if you prefer, psyops, “in which the United States plays on North Korea’s worst fears by using its access to the North Korean domestic computer and radio systems to deploy propaganda inside North Korea’s closed media bubble.”

A combination of those three options could be a serious response, although I’ll reserve judgment until I see the administration actually enforce it.

~   ~   ~

Update: Reuters suggest some other alternatives:

U.S. cyber teams could also go after the hackers aligned with Pyongyang and make their lives miserable. It’s an effective tactic. Bullies are notoriously susceptible to bullying.

Since the FBI has declared that the attack came from North Korea, there’s a good chance the bureau’s experts know which computers and even which hackers it came from. Hackers generally have robust online lives. They use social networks, maintain a presence in online forums and chatrooms and transfer money using Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Washington could make their lives uncomfortably complicated.

It could break into the hackers’ email accounts and publish them – just as the hackers did to Sony Pictures executives. It could ban their Internet protocol addresses or infect their computers with destructive viruses and malware that could store every keystroke the hackers type. Every password, email, website visited would be recorded and stored in a U.S. database. It might only sideline the hackers, by making them spend time and energy fixing the problem or even force them to buy entirely new hardware — a hacker’s worst case scenario.

U.S. cyber teams could also pose online as commentators and ruin the hackers’ reputations among any communities they belong to. For example, they could upload faulty software to the black markets as the Guardians of Peace.

In the long run, those tactics might damage the North Korean hackers’ capabilities, but wouldn’t do much to deter North Korea or other copycat cyberterrorists.

~   ~   ~

This post was edited after publication.

~   ~   ~

Update 2: These hackers claim responsibility for taking down North Korea’s internet. HT: Steve Herman.

N. Korea: Stop accusing us of terrorism, or else!

There is something strangely unconvincing about North Korea’s denial that it hacked Sony Pictures or threatened “9/11 style” attacks on theaters:

North Korea rejected the notion that it would attack “innocent moviegoers.”

“We will not tolerate the people who are willing to insult our supreme leader, but even when we retaliate, we will not conduct terror against innocent moviegoers,” KCNA said.

“The retaliation will target the ones who are responsible and the originators of the insults. Our army has the intention and ability to do (so).” [CNN]

And this:

“As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The spokesman also threatened “grave consequences” if the US continued to discuss retaliation against North Korea on this matter. [….]

Despite denying the attack, the North’s top military body the National Defence Commission has slammed Sony for “abetting a terrorist act while hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership”, according to KCNA. [AFP]

In contrast to this hyperbolic characterization, President Obama offers an oddly hypobolic one, calling North Korea’s actions “cyber vandalism.” I suppose we should be thankful that he didn’t attribute it to the “junior varsity” of North Korea’s hack squad, Unit 121. But if North Korea is also responsible for the threat to attack American movie theaters that Nakoulad two of the world’s largest movie studios into submission — and that’s how I read the FBI’s statement — we’re talking about something far worse than “vandalism.”

North Korea is also threatening a nuke test, in response to the full General Assembly’s passage of a resolution condemning it for crimes against humanity, and recommending a prosecution of responsible North Korean officials by the international criminal court.

“We will step up our efforts to strengthen self-defensive capability, including nuclear capability,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, arguing that the resolution was a U.S-led political scheme to find an excuse for a military invasion against it. [Yonhap]

You can read the full text of that General Assembly resolution here, which you should, because we are all North Koreans now.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

What re-listing N. Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism would mean

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama is considering re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism:

As the United States moves closer to taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Obama said he would “review” whether to return North Korea to the list, part of a broader government response to a damaging cyberattack on Sony’s Hollywood studio.

“We have got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism, and we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day,” Mr. Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast Sunday. “We look systematically at what’s been done.” [N.Y. Times]

In fact, the standard isn’t clear, and neither is the Foreign Assistance Act’s definition of terrorism, but it wasn’t until I reviewed a post I wrote several years ago that I realized the full significance of a re-listing. I was reminded that Section 2332d of the Criminal Code prohibits financial transactions by U.S. persons with the governments of states designated as sponsors of terrorism, except in accordance with Treasury Department regulations published at 31 C.F.R. Part 596, which require that those transactions be licensed. Because almost everything in North Korea is controlled by the government, this would effectively force most U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries to divest from North Korea, closing one important loophole in our current sanctions. Compare Part 596 to our leaky existing sanctions at Part 510, and you can see the difference clearly.

(What Part 596 would not do, of course, is hit North Korea’s third-party enablers, or its very access to the financial system, as the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act would.)

Companies such as the Associated Press and DHL that do business in North Korea would have to scramble to obtain licenses or withdraw. Any U.S. subsidiaries operating in the Kaesong Industrial Park would also be affected. Although Treasury could grant licenses to those choosing to deal with this regime, a re-listing would nonetheless send a powerful signal to lenders and investors everywhere that providing Kim Jong Un with regime-sustaining cash is politically and financially risky.

A re-listing would also require U.S. diplomats to oppose foreign assistance grants and loans by international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Export-Import Bank. A state sponsor of terrorism also loses its sovereign immunity from civil lawsuits for personal injury caused by the acts of terror it sponsors. North Korea recently lost several such suits in U.S. federal district courts, relating to actions that took place prior to North Korea’s 2008 de-listing. The plaintiffs are now trying to collect nearly $500 million. As recently as July of this year, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth found North Korea liable for sponsoring rocket attacks by Hezbollah.

Other effects would be less significant, such as restricting the availability of non-immigrant visas to North Koreans. Theoretically, restrictions on the export of munitions and sensitive technology to North Korea would be further restricted, although the Commerce and Treasury Departments presumably aren’t granting licenses for those exports now.

The re-listing of North Korea is long overdue. President Bush’s decision to take North Korea off the list in October 2008 was an inducement for a disarmament deal on which North Korea had already begun to renege. It was a decision President Obama (while still a candidate) promised to reverse if North Korea didn’t keep its word, but it was President Obama who didn’t keep his when North Korea conducted two additional nuclear tests. North Korea’s de-listing did not follow any North Korean acknowledgement of its past support for terrorism. It actually marked the beginning of a period in which North Korea increased its terrorist threats against the U.S. and South Korea, its assassinations of (and assassination attempts against) exiles and human rights activists, and its shipment of weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.

A re-listing, if President Obama actually goes through with it, would effectively foreclose the possibility of another nuclear deal with North Korea during the remainder of President Obama’s term, particularly if Kim Jong Un’s reaction is as impulsive as I suspect it would be. It would belatedly challenge Pyongyang’s sense of impunity.

We are all North Koreans now

As far as I know, I didn’t liberate a single North Korean during my four-year tour with the Army in South Korea, although I’ve argued their distant and forgotten cause ever since I came home. The crimes of Kim Jong Un were still distant just five weeks ago, when Professor Lee and I, writing in The New York Times, sounded a lonely warning about Kim’s efforts to censor his critics in the South with terror and violence, writing that “[c]aving into blackmailers merely begets more blackmail.” To some, that probably seemed absolutist, even hyperbolic. It should seem more prophetic now.

One morning this week, I awoke to the realization that the rights I’m arguing for are my own—in my own home, and in my own neighborhood. Here, in America. In the suburbs of Washington, D.C.  Today, in a very small way, we are all North Koreans. Most of us have spent the last several decades ignoring the men who oppress North Koreans. Now, in a small but incalculably important way, the same men have oppressed us. Here is the FBI’s statement about the Sony hack, and the terrorist threats that followed it:

As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:

- Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

- The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

- Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt—whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise—to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens. [FBI Press Release]

The feds sound very confident about their conclusions:

Intelligence officials “know very specifically who the attackers are,” said one individual familiar with the investigation, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing. [Washington Post]

As with the Cheonan incident, it’s almost as if North Korea wants everyone to know it did it, while leaving just enough doubt to let its apologists do their work. That strategy worked well for them in South Korea, which never responded to the two deadly attacks on its territory in 2010. Why should Kim Jong Un believe that attacking us would lead to different results? That’s one reason why I’m so glad the President said something about the importance of protecting free speech:

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.

Obama said he wished Sony had “spoken to me first,” adding: “I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern where you get intimidated by these criminal attacks.’ ” [Washington Post]

Well, depending on who you believe, maybe they did. Still, that’s a welcome change, coming from the President who asked YouTube to take down “The Innocence of Muslims,” and whose Justice Department hustled Nakoula Nakoula off to jail to appease the whooping loonies who dominate the Middle East’s political culture today. But not to worry—the CEO of Sony Pictures says he’s “considering some sort of release on the Internet.”

I’ve never been much of a George Clooney fan, but he’s one of the few people in Hollywood with the spine to stand against North Korea’s terrorism:

“We’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have,” he told Deadline. “This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have.”

“What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. [CNN]

Our attention now turns toward what President Obama will do. Let’s hope it exceeds my low expectations, and Pyongyang’s:

Even in my myopic world view, these attacks raise far weightier questions than what our North Korea policy should be. The President’s response must be enough to restore U.S. deterrence of North Korea, and the confidence of our artists, media, journalists, and lowly bloggers that our government will protect them from the world’s petty despots:

“We will respond proportionally,” Obama said, “and we will respond at a place and time that we choose.”

U.S. officials have made clear for several years that they have a range of diplomatic, economic, legal and military options at their disposal in response to cyberattacks. Those steps might include indicting individuals believed to be behind the attack, asking like-minded states to join in condemning the intrusion, and if North Korea persists, undertaking a covert action to dismantle the computer systems used in the operation. [Washington Post]

I’ve already written here about what that response should include. One of those possible responses seems almost inevitable, now that Senator Bob Menendez has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It’s difficult to see how he could avoid doing that, given the destructive power of the attack, its chilling effect on free speech, and the extensive evidence that North Korea was already sponsoring terrorism even before this incident.

“The United States condemns North Korea for the cyber-attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment and the unacceptable threats against movie theaters and moviegoers,” he said in written statement.

“We encourage our allies and partners to stand with us as we defend the values of all of our people in the face of state-sponsored intimidation,” Kerry added.

Separately, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. and Chinese officials had met in Washington and Beijing to discuss the issue, adding that: “Both China and the United States agree that conducting destructive attacks in cyberspace is outside the norms of appropriate cyber behavior.” [Yonhap]

As is customary among journalists, The New York Times and Reuters printed the standard-issue, off-the-record-senior-State-Department-official talking point that North Korea sanctions are maxed out, without bothering to read the sanctions. This talking point sometimes comes without any citation of authority whatsoever, and sometimes cites “experts” who appear not to have ever read a sanctions regulation. When I pointed out to these Bloomberg reporters that they’d cited a cybersecurity expert‘s analysis of a legal question–and that the analysis was wrong–I received a polite and interested reply, suggesting that the reporters genuinely intend to research the question. In the case of Reuters, in particular, the propagation of this false narrative is disappointing, because most of the Reuters reporters I follow check their facts painstakingly before publishing them.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng and Jeyup Kwaak did a better job:

On the financial front, the U.S. has wide latitude to target the North’s financial capabilities and its links to the global banking system, says Joshua Stanton, a Washington, D.C. lawyer and blogger who has advised the U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee on North Korea sanctions legislation.

Mr. Stanton says the U.S. can designate the North’s banking system as a money-laundering concern, add the country back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism, and move toward blocking U.S. tourism to the North.

“Our North Korea sanctions are weaker than our Zimbabwe sanctions,” Mr. Stanton said in an interview. “All of the top officials in the government of Zimbabwe have their assets blocked, and none of the top officials in the government of North Korea do.” [….]

“The single biggest thing that we can do is to designate the country as a primary money-laundering concern,” Mr. Stanton says, which he says would block the regime from conducting dollar-denominated transactions through the U.S. financial system, as its institutions can now do.

“That would have a very big impact on North Korea—banks around the world are very reputation-conscious,” he says, and would shy away from conducting any transactions with institutions tied to Pyongyang.

Some defectors from North Korea say Pyongyang has learned from the Banco Delta Asia sanctions, and now keeps much of its money outside the traditional banking system, which could limit the impact of such a move.

Mr. Stanton also notes that U.S. sanctions list just 63 North Korean ships, companies and individuals, far fewer than those for Myanmar or Cuba. He also says that U.S. Congress could start moving legislation that would impose similar restrictions blocking U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea and spending money. [Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Cheng and Jeyup S. Kwaak]

Bruce Klingner of the Heritage foundation was also battling against this myth:

Oh, and for the record:

A North Korean U.N. diplomat said Pyongyang had nothing to do with the cyber attack. “DPRK (North Korea) is not part of this,” the diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. [Reuters]

I think I speak for all of humanity when I sincerely hope this isn’t all Barack Obama’s pretext to advance Joe Biden’s cryptic plot to dominate North Korea’s vast riches of coal, meth, and refugees.

One thing that seems far more likely today is that the House and Senate will make North Korea sanctions legislation a higher priority. Even before the FBI fingered North Korea for this attack, and before President Obama announced his outreach to Cuba, Senator Menendez introduced a sotto voce version of the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, S. 3012. That bill is too weak to be worth passing in its current form, but it’s structurally similar enough to what the House passed last year that it should be viewed as a serious opening bid and a welcome step toward a good compromise.

A friend on the Hill told me yesterday that in terms of seizing Congress’s attention, the events of this week are the equivalent of “two or three nuke tests.” A Chinese Security Council veto of U.N. human rights sanctions–sanctions that were just recommended by the full General Assembly–should be the equivalent of another. At an exceptionally formative moment, Congress’s attention has been focused on North Korea. The administration is distinguishing North Korea from Cuba, is almost certainly considering new sanctions, and has probably just scrapped its plans for Agreed Framework 3.0. If a bipartisan, centrist consensus concludes that the agony of North Koreans is no longer a problem we can treat as remote and irrelevant, and that it’s time to discard the failed solution of appeasement, we will have reached an inflection point in our North Korea policy.

One avenue of response I hope the President won’t overlook is that information warfare works both ways. Certainly, carefully targeted sanctions can play an important part in defunding and disrupting the regime’s capacity to censor and oppress its people. Symbolically and practically, however, no response–not even sanctions–would do more to alter North Korea than to wage a quiet, non-violent war against its information blockade. It is difficult to imagine that despite all of America’s innovative potential, it still lacks the means to bring free speech to the people of North Korea, and to help them find their own way to rid themselves of the accursed men who tread them–and us–down.

If N. Korea hacked Sony and threatened us, here’s how we should respond

The New York Times, quoting “[s]enior administration officials,” is reporting that “American officials have concluded that North Korea ordered the attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers.”

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism attack. Sony capitulated after the hackers threatened additional attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie, “The Interview,” was released. [N.Y. Times]

The Times report doesn’t say whether the feds also think North Korea was behind the threats that caused Sony to pull The Interview from theaters, but North Korea certainly is profiting from the perception that it was responsible for them. Today, another studio made the cowardly decision to kill a Steve Carell film that would have been set in North Korea.

Nor would this be the first time North Korea has used terrorism to censor The Interview. It has already used its kidnappings of Japanese citizens to censor the film’s closing scene:

Japan, where Sony is an iconic corporate name, has argued that a public accusation could interfere with delicate diplomatic negotiations for the return of Japanese citizens kidnapped years ago.

The administration’s sudden urgency came after a new threat delivered this week to desktop computers at Sony’s offices warned that if “The Interview” was released on Dec. 25, “the world will be full of fear.”

“Remember the 11th of September 2001,” it said. “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.” [N.Y. Times]

That’s one example of how negotiations with North Korea can be worse than no negotiations with North Korea. Separately, the Times reports on Sony’s internal debates about censoring The Interview, in a simpering kowtow to North Korea’s threats.

Disturbed by North Korean threats at a time when his company was already struggling, Sony’s Japanese chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, broke with what Sony executives say was a 25-year tradition. He intervened in the decision making of his company’s usually autonomous Hollywood studio, Sony Pictures Entertainment.

According to hacked emails published by other media and interviews with people briefed on the matter, he insisted over the summer that a scene in which Mr. Kim’s head explodes when hit by a tank shell be toned down to remove images of flaming hair and chunks of skull. [….]

At one point in the tug of war over the script, Mr. Rogen weighed in with an angry email to Ms. Pascal. “This is now a story of Americans changing their movie to make North Koreans happy,” he wrote. “That is a very damning story.” [N.Y. Times]

I’m not sure what would leave me more speechless–a direct, brazen attack on our freedom of expression in our own country; the cowardice of Hollywood, Sony, Japan, and the theater chains; or the idea that the U.S. State Department agreed to review scenes from The Interview, thus putting a stamp of government censorship (or endorsement) on the film.

Or, maybe it’s the argument of an irredeemable imbecile named Justin Moyer, who defends North Korea’s reaction in a blog post at The Washington Post, without condemning its hacking, threats, violence, or use of its Japanese hostages. Moyer even writes, “If a future North Korean missile test, naval exercise, trip across the DMZ or future act of terror is blamed on ‘The Interview,’ Rogen can’t say he didn’t have fair warning.” Say what? I look forward to Moyer’s explanation of why Hitler had every right to be upset about “The Great Dictator,” or why Charlie Chaplin had “fair warning” about the Sudeten Crisis and Kristallnacht.

Whether the evidence ultimately proves North Korea responsible for this or not, petty despots everywhere have learned how to censor what the rest of us are allowed to read and see, and not only in America. I can’t help wondering whether Pyongyang, in turn, learned it from the Innocence of Muslims affair. These events have vast implications for our freedom of expression. Arguments about the film’s artistic merit have no place in this discussion. Parody, including tasteless parody, is at the core of how we express our views on matters of global public interest.

The breach is expected to cost Sony Pictures tens of millions of dollars as the company rebuilds its computer network, conducts a forensic investigation of the attack and deals with the legal fallout, including potential lawsuits from employees. It could also have an effect on the film industry’s creative choices.

“I’ve got to believe that this will spook anybody from considering making the North Koreans bad guys in a film,” movie producer Bill Gerber said. “Unless you were dealing with something that was fact-based and very compelling, it might not be worth it.” [L.A. Times]

This time, will our President stand up for our freedom of expression unambiguously? That would require him to act swiftly and firmly against those found to be responsible. Unfortunately, the Times‘s reporters end an otherwise excellent report with the tired, cliche falsehood that the President has no options because “[t]he North is already under some of the heaviest economic sanctions ever applied.” Pish-posh. I don’t know how many times I have to say it–people who write about sanctions should read them first. People who’ve read the sanctions know they’re weak.

Here, then, is a brief list of things the President could do in response, assuming the evidence shows that North Korea was responsible.

1. Put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. One of George W. Bush’s great, unsung foreign policy failures was his failed nuclear deal with Kim Jong Il, under which he relaxed sanctions and removed North Korea from the list. North Korea’s de-listing marked the beginning of a period during which North Korea escalated its sponsorship of terrorism, including threats, assassinations, and arms shipments to terrorists.

2. Ask the Senate to follow the House’s example and pass the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, to remedy the weaknesses in our North Korea sanctions.

3. Sign an executive order blocking the assets of North Korean state entities responsible for censorship inside North Korea itself. That executive order could be modeled on one that already applies to Iran.

4. Sign a new executive order blocking the assets of entities found to have knowingly perpetrated, attempted, or supported hacking, cyber-attacks, or cyber-espionage against U.S. targets. That order could be modeled on existing executive orders that target the perpetrators and sponsors of terrorism and WMD proliferation.

5. Ask the Director of National Intelligence to compile a report on China’s support for North Korean hackers, release the unclassified portions to the public, and consider either a criminal prosecution or a civil forfeiture action to attach and seize the assets of any Chinese entities hosting, harboring, or supporting North Korea’s hackers.

Sony, of course, should release and promote The Interview in its original, uncut form. Theaters should show it. Newspapers should stop printing Sony’s hacked e-mails, except as they pertain to North Korea’s attempts to suppress the film. Artists should expose and criticize the cowardly decisions of studios to censor criticism of North Korea, and any other government. Courts should exclude Sony’s hacked e-mails as evidence in litigation. And individual citizens who love freedom of speech should give to Thor Halvorssen’s Human Rights Foundation, which plans to send copies of The Interview into North Korea by balloon.

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Update:

N. Korea threatens to shell Blue House over U.N. vote (It’s not just about balloons)

At my comments section, also known as The Diplomat, two recent articles take opposing views on ideas I’ve written about at length here. The first piece, by Zach Przystup, entitled “Pyongyang’s Poverty Politics,” argues that the regime in Pyongyang deliberately keeps large segments of its population hungry. It’s a question I’ve struggled with for years, but the more I know, the more difficult it becomes to avoid that conclusion.

Then, Steven Denney posts a “respectful riposte” to my criticism of the South Korean left for its illiberal authoritarianism, particularly when it comes to ideas that challenge the totalitarians in Pyongyang. Denney agrees with my post in part, conceding the existence of censorship during previous left-wing governments. His principal criticism is that my argument wasn’t nuanced enough to catch the vibrancy of the NPAD’s intra-partisan debates.

Please note, however, that in the post that is the subject of Denney’s riposte, I linked (but chose not to rehash) a previous OFK post that described the battle for the NPAD’s ideological soul in depth, even expressing my hope that moderate views might finally prevail in the NPAD. I don’t believe I’ve ever characterized the entire Korean left as authoritarian, but it’s fair to say that I generalized. It’s also evident which faction has won the argument, at least for now. When the leaders of the “mainstream” left-opposition NPAD introduce legislation to censor leafleting — without any apparent opposition — I think it’s fair to generalize the views of the NPAD as favoring censorship of anti-North Korean speech.

(As for the other “left” party, the fringe UPP, goes, I’m not sure Mr. Denney really wants to go there, although the UPP is also riven into opposed factions.)

I would agree (or at least hope) that Lim Su Kyung doesn’t represent the NPAD’s future. Now, would Denney deny that Chung Dong Young or Moon Jae In might? The latter came within a few percentage points of winning the presidency in 2012, and both men represent continuity with the Roh Moo Hyun years, which were marked by troubling censorship, among other forms of appeasement.

Like my old friend Assemblyman Ha Tae Kyung, who I would describe as a classical liberal, I have my own tactical disagreements with the leafleters, even as I insist that a civil democracy must defend their right to speak freely. In the New York Times op-ed that Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee and I recently co-wrote, we suggested that the launches should be moved away from populated areas as a precaution to protect the safety of local residents. Of course, if the South Korean government gave financial support for radio broadcasting, allowed activists to broadcast on the medium wave spectrum, or (imagine this!) did its own broadcasting, crude (if telegenic) methods like balloon launches wouldn’t be necessary. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Not that any such change in medium would satisfy North Korea, which, not so long ago, threatened to shell the offices of South Korean newspapers for printing criticism of its regime. Pyongyang’s latest threat is timely for purposes of this discussion. It has threatened war over South Korea’s vote for a U.N. General Assembly resolution criticizing the North for its crimes against humanity:

We would like to question the Park Geun Hye group busy billing the adoption of the above-said “resolution” as a sort of a significant event. Does she think Chongwadae will be safe if guns roar for aggression and a nuclear war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula? Can she prolong her remaining days in America after leaving south Korea?

The article doesn’t portend well for the thaw in North Korea’s relationship with Japan, either.

Japan, political pigmy, would be well advised to behave itself properly, cogitating about what miserable end it will meet.

Once a sacred war is launched to protect the sovereignty of the DPRK, not only the U.S. but the Park Geun Hye group and Japan will have to be hit hard and sent to the bottom of the sea.

We probably aren’t far from the day when Pyongyang can make good on that threat.

The UN also can never evade the responsibility for the catastrophic consequences entailed by what happened there. All this is the DPRK’s response to the “human rights” racket of the U.S.-led hostile forces. [KCNA, Nov. 23, 2014]

I’ve posted KCNA’s  entire missive below the fold, along with grafs from two other KCNA rants that accuse the South of a “a declaration of an all-out war” and threaten to attack the South for supporting the General Assembly resolution condemning the North’s human rights record.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

~   ~   ~

Denney, I think, sanitizes the view of the Korean left a bit too much when he summarizes it this way: “Do not engage in acts that could unnecessarily provoke or offend the North Korean regime, because this will only make genuine engagement and possible rapprochement harder, if not impossible.”

Leaving aside the question of whether genuine engagement and rapprochement with Kim Jong Un are remotely plausible, isn’t the word “unnecessarily” an example of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy? One struggles to find examples of even mild criticism of Pyongyang that Uri and Minju-led governments weren’t willing to censor when they were in power. Under their leadership, South Korea repeatedly abstained from General Assembly resolutions on human rights in the North. We can be fairly certain that had Moon Jae-In won the last election, South Korea would not be supporting action in the U.N. today.

For years, the NPAD and its predecessors blocked a human rights law that would fund some of the civic groups that oppose Pyongyang’s abuses … maybe even civic groups that want to broadcast to North Korea, over the radio. The Saenuri Party, possibly shamed that the U.N. is showing South Korea to be a passive bystander to the brutality of its kindred in the North, is again trying to force the issue:

The National Assembly has been slow to handle bills addressing North Korea’s human rights situation due mainly to opposition parties’ concerns that they could anger Pyongyang and worsen the already strained cross-border ties.

In their deliberations, the rival parties are expected to clash over the issue of giving assistance to civic groups engaged in flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border. [Yonhap]

More recently, the NPAD has shifted strategy, supporting an alternative “human rights” bill that would amount to another aid giveaway for Pyongyang.

The point being this: this argument is about much more than leaflets or balloons. It’s about North Korea’s deliberate state policy of using the threat of violence to shut down any form of criticism in South Korea, and Pyongyang’s refusal to coexist with even nonviolent criticism, regardless of the medium, and without regard to whether the speaker is a fire-eating activist, the President of the Republic, the United States, or the United Nations General Assembly.

That is, it’s the message, not the medium. If the NPAD thinks that censoring free expression to shrink from those threats is appropriate at certain times, it should say where the censorship would end, and when it would finally stand firm and defend the rights of Koreans on either side of the DMZ to speak, print, read, and think freely. The question is whether South Korea chooses to remain a free society.

~   ~   ~

Correction: In my haste to promote Steven Denney to his rightful station in life, I assigned him the title “Professor,” prematurely, as it turns out. Mr. Denney writes in to note that he’s still working on his doctorate.

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North Korea is back in the international kidnapping business

It wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that North Korea was ever out of the international kidnapping business, but last week Yonhap and The Daily NK reported that North Korean agents in Paris had attempted, unsuccessfully, to kidnap the son of an aide to royal uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was purged last December, and to bundle him onto a flight to Pyongyang. The AP later corroborated the report through unnamed French sources and published it.

A North Korean student with family ties to the regime in his country escaped a kidnapping bid in Paris, where he was studying, and is now in hiding, a French source with knowledge of the case said Saturday.

The architecture student, identified only as Han, avoided the kidnapping attempt at a Paris airport where he was to be put on a plane for Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the sensitive matter.

The failed bid to capture Han occurred in the first week of November, and he has been in hiding since then, the source said. It wasn’t immediately clear if French authorities had played a role in the escape, how many kidnappers were involved, or where they are now. [AP]

The Independent provides an even more detailed account here, which says that the student, identified only as Han, escaped at Charles De Gaulle airport.

The report comes just in time for the U.N. Security Council to consider a General Assembly recommendation to sanction and indict North Korean officials for crimes against humanity, including international kidnapping. The incident is expected to create diplomatic tension between North Korea and France, which has does not have full diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. France is a member of the P-5 on the U.N. Security Council, which is further proof, if any is needed, that North Korea isn’t very good at this whole “diplomacy” thing. It’s just less bad at it than we are.

The report is a strong indication that Kim Jong Un’s purge of those associated with Jang is casting a wide net, and it isn’t over.

Whether you use the definition of international terrorism in the Foreign Assistance Act or the better written one in the Criminal Code, this attempt would clearly fit the definition. President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

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Update: This post was edited after publication.

I heard Obama told Putin that Kim Jong Un was too big a wuss to test a nuke to punish the U.N.

Before the committee voted Tuesday, North Korea warned that it might retaliate with further nuclear tests. Trying to punish it over human rights “is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests,” said Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean foreign-ministry adviser for U.N. and human rights issues, according to the Associated Press. [Washington Post, Anna Fifield]

Oh, dear God, please, please do this.

Rev. Kim Dong Shik’s family is appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit against N. Korea

… at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. You can read the appellants’ briefs at this link, and I previously posted the original pleadings here. The District Court dismissed the suit for lack of evidence of torture, despite the fact that at least one North Korean agent was convicted of the kidnapping in a South Korean court. For background information on Kim’s abduction from China and murder in North Korea, see this link.

Victims of terrorism and torture are allowed to sue foreign sponsors of terrorism, including foreign governments, in U.S. courts under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama signed a letter comparing Rev. Kim to Harriet Tubman and Raoul Wallenberg, and promised to oppose removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism unless it accounted for Rev. Kim, which it never has. In 2008, when President Bush announced his decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, presidential candidate Barack Obama supported the move, saying this:

Sanctions are a critical part of our leverage to pressure North Korea to act. They should only be lifted based on North Korean performance. If the North Koreans do not meet their obligations, we should move quickly to re-impose sanctions that have been waived, and consider new restrictions going forward.

Today, the Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

In 2007, President Obama said, “[O]ne of the enemies we have to fight — it’s not just terrorists, it’s not just Hezbollah, it’s not just Hamas — it’s also cynicism.” I don’t know about you, but President Obama’s cynicism about terrorism has certainly made me more cynical.