Archive for Terrorism (NK)

Only terrorists make hostage videos, and North Korea just made a hostage video

… of three Americans it is holding for “crimes” that wouldn’t be cognizable as such anywhere else on earth. 

All three men said they hope the U.S. government will send an envoy to North Korea to help get them out of their situations, similar to how former President Bill Clinton helped secure the release of two journalists in 2009. [CNN]

At which point, Pyongyang will present its demands. Former President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Since then, President Obama has seen no reason to reverse that misjudgment.

It’s time to ban tourist travel to North Korea.

How terrorism works: N. Korea uses Japanese hostages to censor “The Interview”

Last week, I wrote that the North Koreans who had unwittingly lavished free publicity on “The Interview” by threatening its makers still had a thing or two to learn from the mobs of angry Muslim extremists who extorted President Obama into asking YouTube to “consider” removing “The Innocence of Muslims.”

My judgment may have been premature. Film industry trade journals are now reporting that Sony Pictures Japan has demanded changes to the script of “The Interview” to minimize the offense against His Porcine Majesty. If true, the report suggests that North Korea has successfully used its kidnapping of Japanese civilians from their own country to demand — and get — the censorship of a mass-marketed film parodying its dictator:

The film, about a pair of TV journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean despot, has become a hot potato for the studio, which is owned by Japan’s Sony Corp. (the country recently has taken steps to ease tensions with its enemy to the West after decades of icy relations). Sources say the studio is considering cutting a scene in which the face of Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park) is melted off graphically in slow motion. Although studio sources insist that Sony Japan isn’t exerting pressure, the move comes in the wake of provocative comments from Pyongyang that the film’s concept “shows the desperation of the U.S. government and American society.” (Directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg are in fact Canadians.) An unofficial spokesperson for the rogue nation took issue with the satirical depiction of the assassination of a sitting world leader and on July 17 asked President Barack Obama to halt the film’s release.

It is unlikely that North Korea is just now catching wind of the film’s hot-button storyline given that THR first wrote about The Interview and its plot in March 2013 (Dan Sterling wrote the screenplay). What’s more likely irking Kim Jong Un — a noted film buff, like his father — is the use of the military hardware, which can be seen in the film’s first trailer released in June.

A source close to Sony’s decision-making says the move to alter the hardware was precipitated by “clearance issues,” particularly because it involves a living person, Kim Jong Un. [The Hollywood Reporter]

The website Firstshowing.net is denying that these changes are due to pressure from Sony Japan, but why else would Sony make this change other than because of North Korean objections?

Some of the changes reportedly come at the behest of Sony Japan, in the interest of improving and maintaining relations with its nearby neighbor. The face-melting scene is reportedly being judged for comic value, but who actually believes that it might be cut at this point for any reason other than keeping North Korea happy? [Slashfilm]

The next question is why Sony Pictures Japan even cares what Kim Jong Un thinks. The answer is almost certainly ransom. If not for a recent ransom deal between Pyongyang and Tokyo, in which Tokyo agreed to relax sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang’s agreement to “investigate” the whereabouts of the Japanese abductees, there would be no reason for anyone pay attention to North Korea’s bluster.

In the years preceding October 11, 2008, it had been the U.S. government’s view that North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens (including a 13 year-old girl) from their own country was terrorism, and that its continuing captivity of these hostages (not all of them Japanese) was one of several reasons to list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. In April of 2006, President Bush met with the mother of that girl, calling it “one of the most moving meetings since I’ve been the President here in the Oval Office.”

But North Korea is an accomplished exceptionalist to the rules that the rest of humanity lives by, and just two years after that meeting and Bush’s implied promise to the mother, Sakie Yokota, Kim Jong Il cajoled Bush into removing it from the list and lifting some powerful financial sanctions that may have brought his regime to the brink of extinction, and that might well have forced North Korea to let the abductees go.

Suddenly, and with a brazen mendacity not seen since Moscow in the 1930’s (except, of course, in Pyongyang), it became the official position of the U.S. Department of State that North Korea was “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” (The statement would become more difficult to defend with the passage of time, as North Korea was caught selling arms to Hamas and Hezbollah, and launched a campaign of poison-needle assassinations of human rights activists and North Korean exiles.)

The unintended consequences of Bush’s reversal have continued right up to this year, and include a decision by an impatient Japanese government to unilaterally lift sanctions against North Korea as an initial ransom payment for the return of its people. The Obama Administration, which paid little mind to Japan’s pleas for U.S. support on the abduction issue, has reacted to this with justifiable alarm. Japan’s relaxation of sanctions not only rewards terrorism, it weakens a regional security alliance against Pyongyang, and relaxes the economic pressure that is its last slender hope to disarm Pyongyang of its nuclear arsenal.

Although Pyongyang has delivered little so far in admitting to the whereabouts of the missing Japanese, there have been rumors in the Japanese press that its demands were not all financial. It has demanded, for example, the return of the headquarters of Chongryeon, the North Korean front organization in Japan that had a hand in the kidnappings of Japanese, and which had been seized for non-payment of taxes. It is also rumored to have used its business relationships with Japanese media companies to suppress the views of critics of North Korea’s human rights atrocities.

So it always goes when governments and businesses are tempted into intercourse with Pyongyang. The patron is expected to pay exorbitantly for a brief and unsatisfying rut, and in the end, it is never Pyongyang that is seduced — or infected — by the exchange.

The fact that “The Interview” is likely of dubious artistic merit is beside the point. If North Korean censorship has arrived at a multiplex near you, that’s pernicious, and may be the best reason yet to boycott the film.

~   ~   ~

Update: This post was edited after publication.

Report: North Korea is selling rockets to Hamas

“Western security sources” have told The Telegraph that Hamas has struck a deal with North Korea to purchase communications equipment, and to replenish its stock of rockets to fire at civilian targets in Israel.

Security officials say the deal between Hamas and North Korea is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and is being handled by a Lebanese-based trading company with close ties to the militant Palestinian organisation based in east Beirut.

Hamas officials are believed to have already made an initial cash down payment to secure the deal, and are now hoping that North Korea will soon begin shipping extra supplies of weapons to Gaza.

If “Western security sources” know this much, then they must also know the name of the bank that processed the transaction. If the bank did so knowingly, and if the United States has personal and subject matter jurisdiction over its officers, they may have violated Executive Order 13551. Even if the bank simply overlooked its “know-your-customer” due diligence, it could get Alderaaned.

“Hamas is looking for ways to replenish its stocks of missiles because of the large numbers it has fired at Israel in recent weeks,” explained a security official. “North Korea is an obvious place to seek supplies because Pyongyang already has close ties with a number of militant Islamist groups in the Middle East.”

Using intermediaries based in Lebanon, Hamas officials are said to be intensifying their efforts to sign a new agreement with Pyongyang to provide hundreds of missiles together with communications equipment that will improve the ability of Hamas fighters to coordinate operations against Israeli forces.

North Korea has long been suspected of helping Hezbollah dig a network of tunnels throughout its territory in southern Lebanon (Page 22). Apparently, it has done the same for Hamas.

Israeli military commanders supervising operations against Gaza believe North Korean experts have given Hamas advice on building the extensive network of tunnels in Gaza that has enabled fighters to move weapons without detection by Israeli drones, which maintain a constant monitoring operation over Gaza.

The North Koreans have one of the world’s most sophisticated network of tunnels running beneath the demilitarised zone with South Korea, and Israeli commanders believe Hamas has used this expertise to improve their own tunnel network.

The Telegraph report also bolsters suspicions, raised in this recent U.N. Panel of Experts report, that Hamas’s 333-millimeter rockets might have North Korean fuzes.

More on North Korea’s support for terrorism at this post, where I noted earlier this week that federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth had found North Korea liable for supporting Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel.

All in all, it’s been a rough week for the State Department’s official position that North Korea “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, to reward it for promising to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.

During the Obama Administration, North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests, multiple missile tests, two attacks on South Korea, and a spate of attempted and effected assassinations against critics of its regime, yet President Obama has seen no cause to reverse President Bush’s decision.

Discuss among yourselves.

 

Update: Benjamin Young has more on North Korea’s arms sales to Palestinian terrorists, here.

Federal judge finds N. Korea liable for terror sponsorship

Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has found North Korea liable in the case of Kaplan v. Central Bank of Iran for supporting Hezbollah rocket attacks that injured Israeli civilians like Michael Fuchs. According to the Complaint:

34. On July 13, 2006, at approximately 14:30, plaintiff Michael Fuchs was driving his car in Safed when a rocket filed by Hezbollah at Safed struck nearby. Massive amounts of shrapnel penetrated Fuchs’ car and caused him severe injuries. Fuchs lost large quantities of blood, lost consciousness and was rushed to the intensive care unit of Rebecca Ziv Hospital. Fuchs’ throat was slashed as a result of the explosion and his right hand remains completely paralyzed. Fuchs has been permanently disabled. He is unable to work and relies on intensive and expensive medical treatments on an on-going basis. 

The court’s decision finds North Korea responsible for supporting Hezbollah’s attacks:

The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Hezbollah carried out the rocket attacks that caused plaintiffs’ injuries and that North Korea provided material support. Prior to July 12, 2006, North Korea provided Hezbollah with a wide variety of material support and resources, within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. This material support included professional military and intelligence training and assistance in building a massive network of underground military installations, tunnels, bunkers, depots and storage facilities in southern Lebanon. Moreover, North Korea worked in concert with Iran and the Syria to provide rocket and missile components to Hezbollah. North Korea sent these rocket and missile components to Iran where they were assembled and shipped to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. These rocket and missile components were intended by North Korea and Hezbollah to be used and were in fact used by Hezbollah to carry out rocket and missile attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Between July 12, 2006 and August 14, 2006, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets and missiles at civilians in northern Israel. As a result of North Korea’s provision of material support and resources, Hezbollah was able to implement and further goals shared by Hezbollah and North Korea. [Memorandum Opinion, July 23, 2014]

More on this story at The Miami Herald, and Yonhap, which makes the silly observation that, “Even if damages are awarded, however, there is no chance that North Korea will agree to pay.” Hey, I’m no lawyer — oh, wait, I am a lawyer; I’ve been handling criminal or civil litigation in the federal courts for almost 20 years — but isn’t “judgment” that thing where someone gets to take your money away from you even if you don’t want them to? Assuming they can find your money, anyway? It is, as I sometimes tell my children, mandatory, not optional.

As in other civil litigation against North Korea in U.S. courts, North Korea did not appear to defend itself.

The decision’s detailed findings of fact about North Korea’s recent and extensive sponsorship of terrorism will be another humiliation for the State Department, which takes the obtuse and factually risible position that North Korea is not known to have sponsored any acts of terrorism since 1987.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

The fact that Royce Lamberth made these findings will make them harder to ignore. Lamberth is one of the most experienced, respected, and feared judges on the federal bench. I’ve seen some of the Justice Department’s best litigators stricken with panic upon hearing of the assignment of a weak (for us) case to Judge Lamberth. And for good reason.

The Kaplan Complaint contains detailed allegations about North Korea’s long history of material support for Hezbollah (start at para. 22). The Congressional Research Service has documented North Korea’s support for Hezbollah both before and after the 2006 attacks (page 17, page 22). The degree of that support accelerated substantially after that. On December 15, 2009 – three days after the Kaplan Complaint was filed – a chartered Il-76 transport aircraft was intercepted at Bangkok and found to be filled with weapons on their way from North Korea to Iran, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles (see figure XVIII). It was the year’s third seizure of North Korean weapons believed to be on their way to Middle Eastern terrorists, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Previous incidents included the seizure of a container from the ANL Australia, and the Israeli Navy’s interception of the M/V Francop, which was carrying weapons (including 122-millimeter rockets) to Syria (see para. 108).

Obviously, none of the weapons in those latter shipments were used in any of the 2006 attacks that injured the Kaplan plaintiffs, but they are part of a long-standing pattern of North Korean support for terrorism. Given Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the Syrian Civil War, North Korea’s weapons are probably killing Syrian civilians now, rather than their intended Israeli targets.

The decision is the second decision by a federal judge finding North Korea liable for the sponsorship of terrorism. In 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico found North Korea liable for sponsoring the Japanese Red Army’s 1970 attack against Puerto Rican religious pilgrims at Lod Airport, Israel. Since then, the plaintiffs have been in litigation, trying to collect their $370 million judgment from U.S.-based accounts that may contain North Korean assets.

Ordinarily, foreign governments are immune from suit, but after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress created an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for states that were, at the time of the acts complained of, listed as sponsors of terrorism (or that were later listed for the same acts complained of in the suit). Prior to October 11, 2008, both Iran and North Korea were listed.

The next step in this case will be the appointment of a special master to apportion damages to the various plaintiffs.

 

Update: This post was edited after publication, for extra sarcasm.

Update 2: Some background on Judge Lamberth, explaining his reputation for having a “low tolerance for incompetence.”

POE Part 2: Terrorist rockets that landed in Israel may have had N. Korean fuses

When the Syria collapsed into civil war in 2011, Hamas and other Sunni Palestinians broke with their sponsors in Damascus for sectarian reasons, while Hezbollah sent troops to defend the Assad regime. But in 2009, before the civil war, Assad and his own backers in Iran armed both Hamas and Hezbollah.

The year 2009 was a big one for interceptions of North Korean weapons bound for Iran and its terrorist clients. The UAE found rocket propelled grenades and explosives inside a container aboard the ANL Australia, and authorities in Bangkok seized a massive shipment of arms, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles, from the hold of a chartered Il-76 cargo plane in Bangkok.

Now, we learn from last week’s POE report that the Israelis also intercepted a third shipment on its way to Syria that year:

108. The Panel recently obtained information indicating that some items found in a large arms consignment (500 tons) shipped by the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Syrian Arab Republic in November 2009 may have originated from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This consignment was found by the Israeli Navy inside containers onboard the vessel Francop when en route from Damietta, Egypt, to Lattakia, Syrian Arab Republic.62 It was considered to be a violation by the Islamic Republic of Iran of resolution 1747 (2007) prohibiting it from exporting any arms or related materiel.

The rockets and their markings bore strong similarities to the weapons seized at Bangkok and Abu Dhabi, leading the POE to conclude that it was “highly likely” that the weapons found aboard the Francop were produced in North Korea, too.

Israel’s Foreign Minister had previously said that the arms in the Bangkok and Abu Dhabi shipments were bound for Hamas or Hezbollah. The Francop shipment fits the same M.O. and looks like a glimpse of the same pipeline, further down the line. It’s curious that the Israelis didn’t report their interception at the time, given that both Thailand and the UAE were transparent about the shipments they seized. That’s particularly true in light of this newly revealed evidence that some North Korean weapons made it into the hands of Hamas, and were actually fired into Israel.

111. The Panel recently also obtained a photograph of remnants of a 333 mm FAJAR rocket launched at Israel in November 2012. It notes that the remnants of the rocket’s fuse present some similarities with fuses produced in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea previously seized.65 Here again, because the date of its transfer and the chain of custody are unknown, the Panel cannot determine whether there could be a violation of the arms embargo.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

You can find a photo of a Fajar (a/k/a Fajr) at this Flickr page, and as you’ll see, it’s a big rocket. Among the many things I’ve never understood about the pro-Israel groups that exercise substantial political influence on the Hill is why they’ve never backed North Korea sanctions as a core security interest of Israel. There’s little question that North Korea tried to give Syria a nuclear bomb, or that it has contributed to Syria’s development and use of chemical weapons. It gave both Iran and Syria the capability to hit Israel with ballistic missiles. There are growing suspicions that it has given assistance to Iran’s nuclear program.

In a way, the revelation that North Korea has assisted terrorists with the relatively primitive Fajr-5 is less shocking than what we already know. But the fact that this technology has been used to strike Israeli territory certainly highlights both the threat to Israel and North Korea’s recklessness about the end uses of the weapons it proliferates.

N. Korea threatens S. Korean media over Ri Sol Ju sex tape report

As Kim Jong Un’s reign approaches its second anniversary, it’s becoming more difficult to draw the line between truth and parody. Radio Australia offers some tantalizing details about that dubious-sounding, thinly sourced report that a North Korea executed a group of entertainers for making sex tapes:

Asahi said the rare execution of state performers, including a singer rumoured to be Kim’s ex-girlfriend, had been ordered to squash rumours of Ri’s decadent lifestyle while she was an entertainer.

It said police had secretly recorded conversations between the entertainers, who said “Ri Sol-Ju used to play around in the same manner as we did”. The source for the Asahi report was a “high-ranking North Korean government official who recently defected”.

[....]

The North’s state news agency KCNA said the reports were the work of “psychopaths” and “confrontation maniacs” in the South Korean government and media.

“This is an unpardonable, hideous provocation hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership,” KCNA said in a commentary. “Those who commit such a hideous crime…will have to pay a very high price,” it warned.

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

But the good news is that South Korea is politely telling the North to shut it:

“Recent attacks by the North on South Korean news reports, though not new, is not a desirable development and must be stopped if inter-Korean relations are to move forward,” said South Korea’s unification ministry spokesman, Kim Eyi-do. [Yonhap]

The only way Kim Jong Un’s reign could become even more of a tragic self-parody would be if a Ri Sol Ju sex tape found its way to the internet. (Just imagine the North’s reaction to that!) Highly respected scholars and intelligence analysts from Farragut West to Chong-ro would lock themselves in their offices and emerge 30 minutes later, after clearing their browser histories.

Someone needs to track down that tape to prove or disprove this story once and for all. You know, for peace or something.

A hero, buried in the State Department’s memory hole

In case you were wondering, no, I’m still not over that whole North Korea / state-sponsor-of-terrorism thing.  The Weekly Standard has helped me nurse this old grudge by printing my fisking of the State Department’s latest annual country reports on terrorism.  I’ll give you the first paragraph and let you read the rest on your own:

Even after a year of North Korean nuclear and missile tests, this year’s State Department “Country Reports on Terrorism” makes the risible claim that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” It would appear that State’s definition of “acts of terrorism” no longer includes international assassinations, threats against foreign media, or arms sales to terrorists—all of which North Korea has done during Barack Obama’s presidency.  Indeed, no one has refuted State’s assertion more convincingly than Obama himself.

Kim Dong Shik 2Regular OFK readers will remember that President Obama preemptively refuted State’s obtuse assertion–one so ignorant of the facts that it must be willfully so–when he signed this letter in 2005 protesting North Korea’s disappearance of the Rev. Kim Dong Shik.  The shelf life of Senator Obama’s promise was just three years, but let’s be fair about this–Obama’s predecessor didn’t perform any better at keeping his promise to another abductee’s family; he was just more careful to make his promise less explicit.

Sadly, the Kim family’s pursuit of justice suffered another setback recently.  A District Court judge has dismissed a suit by his family against the government of North Korea for his abduction and disappearance (hat tip).

The result is disappointing but understandable.  Courts must impose rigorous standards of evidence to render judgments, particularly when other nations will be expected to honor those judgments.  Ordinarily, the courts lack jurisdiction to hear tort claims against foreign countries, but after 9/11, Congress created an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for acts of terrorism and torture.  In Rev. Kim’s case, there would have been sufficient evidence of North Korea’s responsibility for the abduction; after all, two North Korean agents were convicted for it in South Korean courts (opens in pdf).  After that, however, the evidence that Rev. Kim was actually tortured fades behind North Korea’s walls of night, fog, and fear, and we must rely on hearsay accounts from defectors.  I can understand why a court might demand more. One hopes that if more reliable evidence ever arises, the action can be revived.

Of course, none of this gets State off the hook, because the evidence of North Korea’s involvement in Rev. Kim’s kidnapping is more than sufficient for State’s purposes, and transnational kidnapping of a political opponent is about as clear an example of terrorism as you could think of for purposes of this definition.  Yet the finest minds in your State Department would have you believe that North Korea hasn’t sponsored any acts of terrorism since 1987.

Rev. Kim, Hwang Jang YopPark Sang-Hak, and Patrick Kim were not available for comment.

Recent history has made me deeply uncomfortable with the very idea of martyrdom–and particularly religious martyrdom–but Rev. Kim’s quiet, selfless, peaceful, and principled self-sacrifice was heroic.  It deserves to be remembered by Koreans and Americans alike.  It deserves better than the burial in a shallow, unmarked memory hole it got from our State Department and our last two presidents.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

So the news today is that North Korea–which President Bush removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 for agreeing to give up its nuclear weapons programs–has warned the civilian populations of Baengnyeong-do, Yeonpyeong-do, and other islands in the Yellow Sea to evacuate now. The instrument this time is the quasi-official Uriminzokkiri, which is hosted in China, a nation that embraces the sacred principle that all speech, no matter how threatening or objectionable, has a protected place in the marketplace of ideas.

Yes, children, there is a word for this sort of thing.

Some sources are also alleging that during a visit to some of the artillery units with their guns trained on the islands, Kim Jong Un threatened to “wipe out” Baengnyeong-do, population 5,000, although the curious thing about that is I can’t find a KCNA report quoting His Porcine Majesty as saying quite what Sky News and Al Jazeera say he said.

kim_jong_un_boat_west_sea_yellow_sea

(KNS/AFP/Getty Images)

You can see more pictures of the budding Western-oriented reformer here, posing with one of North Korea’s 170 millimeter koksan guns, which, from forward placements, can range parts of Seoul.  I can hardly wait to hear how he reacts to this statement, by Rep. Mike Rogers:

“You have a 28-year-old leader who is trying to prove himself to the military, and the military is eager to have a saber-rattling for their own self-interest,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “And the combination of that is proving to be very, very deadly.”  [....] “This is very, very concerning, as we just don’t know the stability of their leader — again, 28 years old,” Rogers said. “We’re just not confident that we know he wouldn’t take those steps.” [CNN]

Keep the good people of the Yellow Sea islands in your thoughts.  These must be pretty scary times for them.

North Korea’s cash-for-summit demands put 2010 attacks in a new light

WERE THE 2010 ATTACKS North Korea’s way of making good on extortion?  Stephan Haggard, not widely know for his hard-line views, cites an article in the Chosun Ilbo revealing that Kim Jong Il wanted a summit with Lee Myung Bak, but at a price.

The sticking point was money. How much? According to the Chosun Ilbo, $500-600 million in rice and fertilizer aid, which had effectively been cut from the first of the year, and perhaps some cash too; that was about the price that Kim Dae Jung paid for the first summit. Negotiations continued through November at Kaesong, when the North Korean delegation even presented a draft summit declaration including a resumption of aid.  [Stephan Haggard, Witness to Transformation]

The Chosun Ilbo story adds this important piece of evidence:

In January 2010, after the secret contacts ended and North Korea realized that it was impossible to extract any aid from Seoul, it vowed to launch a “holy retaliatory war” against the South and fired multiple artillery rounds at the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border on the West Sea.  [Chosun Ilbo]

Haggard makes a compelling (if circumstantial) argument that the attacks were meant to demonstrate that North Korea’s extortion should be taken seriously. We now know that two months after Lee refused to pay up, North Korea sank the Cheonan.

Wondering if I could make this case a bit less circumstantial, I decided to consult my archives and see what else North Korea said and did in the months between Lee’s refusal to pay and the Cheonan attack. I didn’t find what I expected.  Although there were certainly some menacing acts and words by North Korea, the threats were nowhere near as extravagant or as frequent as those issued in early 2009, after President Lee cut off aid, and as President Obama warmed up his chair.  What’s interesting, however, is that in early 2010, North Korea was facing a severe popular backlash against The Great Confiscation.

In November, of course, North Korea followed up with the Yeonpyeong attack.

Let me take Haggard’s point a step further:  if he’s correct in his inference, this course of conduct would be a good fit for the legal definition of “international terrorism.”  Some commenters have suggested that the 2010 attacks — particularly the Cheonan attack — are not a basis (not that another is needed) to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, but fresh evidence of a motive to extort merits reconsideration. The key element is that the violent act must have been intended to influence South Korean government policy, and some of North Korea’s statements from 2009 provide additional evidence of North Korea’s intent.  The evidence is circumstantial, but somewhere in North Korea are people with direct evidence, and one of them is probably thinking about defecting.

Done Your Christmas Shopping Yet?

Here’s the perfect gift for that hard-to-please someone who needs to assassinate a few meddlesome dissidents, defectors, and human rights activists. Made in North Korea, and probably not available on Amazon:

Background on North Korea’s poison needle attacks here and here. (But really, they just want to be loved.)

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

Journo-Terrorism Gives Us a Reason to Take KCNA Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should take a final choice by itself.

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

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

We are fully ready for everything.

Time is running out. -0-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticks and Stones

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

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

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

So is it terrorism this time?

North Korea threatens to destroy Seoul and reduce its elected government “‘to ashes’ in three or four minutes,” apparently for “defaming” its menacing Kim Il Sung birthday parade:

North Korea’s military Monday threatened “special actions” soon to turn parts of the South Korean capital to ashes, accusing Seoul’s conservative government of defaming its leadership.

The North has for months been criticising the South’s President Lee Myung-Bak in extreme terms and threatening “sacred war” over perceived insults. There have been no incidents but the language has become increasingly vitriolic. Some analysts said they believe a military provocation is likely.

“The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors,” said a statement on the official news agency. The North said its targets are “the Lee Myung-Bak group of traitors, the arch criminals, and the group of rat-like elements including conservative media destroying the mainstay of the fair public opinion”. [AFP]

Note well that none of the AP’s Pyongyang-based staff are listed on the byline for this story, about a threat that originates from Pyongyang. Is there really nothing newsworthy going on there?

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

Bad assassin! Bad, bad, bad!

The man at the center of a Cold War-style plot to kill a prominent defector with a poisoned needle was jailed for four years by a South Korean court today.

The man, a defector named Ahn, was found guilty of plotting to murder a second defector, Park Sang Hak, in September last year. Park, who heads Fighters for Free North Korea, is one of the leading lights in the floating of anti-Kim regime leaflets across the DMZ by balloon.

“Severe punishment is needed for crimes that can threaten the safety and very existence of the Republic of Korea,” the judge from Seoul Central District Court commented in the ruling.

Does anyone know what the maximum punishment is for breaking out in uncontrollable laughter in a South Korean courtroom? Because if I ever do that for any reason, I want to be sentenced by this guy.

Ahn was also ordered to pay in fines approximately the amount he received from North Korea, $10,400.

Ahn, who originally defected to South Korea in 1995, allegedly came into contact with a North Korean agent in 2010 while working on inter-Korean economic projects in Mongolia, and it was then that he was ordered to carry out the killing of Park. [Daily NK]

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

Anju, February 16, 2012

AP Watch: Today would have been Kim Jong Il’s birthday, and Jean H. Lee marks that occasion with another report from Pyongyang that is significant only for its complete lack of skepticism about the regime’s propaganda. Why is it that “engagement” with North Korea never changes North Korea, and always corrupts the institution that engages North Korea? Or perhaps the engagement is just an indication that those institutions were already corrupt.

________________________________

Say, mister, that’s one creepy picture you’ve got there.

________________________________

“North Korea’s capital faces its worst electricity shortages in years just as a new leadership takes power in the impoverished state and pushes ahead with lavish building projects to celebrate the centenary of its founder’s birth.”  [link]

For more on that, see my masthead. No doubt, some U.N. bureaucrat will soon arrive to take a guided tour and compliment North Korea for having an energy conservation program that is the envy of other third-world nations.

________________________________

Speaking of creepy, how much do you really want to know about preserving Kim Jong Il’s body?  This is more than that.

________________________________

In March 2010, North Korea’s conduit to the South, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation handed a statement to the DailyNK warning “˜in the name of the Republic and the Korean people’ that Daily NK “stands at the front of the queue to receive the stern judgment and punishment of the people.   [link]

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

________________________________

Umm, say what?

Kaesong Industrial District Foundation plans to issue cumulative demerits to more than 700 South Korean workers for such offenses as traffic accidents, fires, violence and murder, as well as sexual crimes in the complex, the official said.  The foundation can impose penalty points for the South Korean workers ranging from 2 to 10, the maximum demerit, depending on the offense.

If the total cumulative points exceeds 10, the offender will be permanently banned from visiting the complex while those who earn nine demerits will be suspended from visiting the complex for three months.

________________________________

I keep meaning to read more about the White Tigers.  Here’s a report on an Army officer who was one of their advisors inside North Korea during the war.

N. Korea Threatens to Destroy S. Korean President’s House

So, if I’d been asleep for the last six months, would I awake to find that the whole world had changed? Or would I roll over to see that the whole world was still snoring right there beside me? Via the AP:

North Korea has threatened to turn South Korea’s presidential palace into a “sea of fire” in response to any provocation, a day after Seoul’s military held a big exercise near the border.

The land, sea and air drill was staged on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of a deadly North Korean attack on the South’s border island of Yeonpyeong, which sparked outrage among South Koreans and prompted international alarm. Pyongyang has always justified its bombardment on November 23, 2010 as a response to a South Korean artillery drill on Yeonpyeong, which it said dropped shells into the North’s territorial waters.

The North’s military Supreme Command said on Thursday the South should not forget the lesson of the Yeonpyeong attack. It described Wednesday’s anniversary drill as “little short of a new political and military provocation”. If the South dared in future to “fire one bullet or shell” towards the North’s territorial waters, air space and land, a “sea of fire” would engulf Seoul’s presidential palace. The North’s armed forces “are in full readiness to go into a decisive battle to counter any military provocation”, said the Supreme Command statement on Pyongyang’s official news agency.

Also announced by North Korea this week:

North Korea said Wednesday it is making rapid progress on work to enrich uranium and build a light-water nuclear power plant, increasing worries that the country is developing another way to make atomic weapons.

Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said construction of an experimental light-water reactor and low enriched uranium are “progressing apace.” The statement added that North Korea has a sovereign right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and that “neither concession nor compromise should be allowed.”

More here.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, to reward it for its progress toward complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament. Hey, it was “worth a try.” Discuss among yourselves.

Update: So if you wonder why I question the judgment and competence of a large segment of our foreign policy brain trust, as well as the objectivity of some of the reporters covering this story, let me offer the example of Bruce Bennett of the Rand Corporation, who worries about Lee Myung Bak’s diplomatic “mistake” in stating that North Korea is “one of the world’s most well-armed and most belligerent countries.” Steve Herman of the Voice of America, for God’s sake, offers us Bennett’s perspective — and no others — to support a dubious narrative that Lee is engaging in “harsh rhetoric,” but without bothering to mention that the North Koreans had just threatened to flatten Lee’s residence. Maybe Bennett has adopted the Washingtonian custom of discounting North Korea’s rhetoric and detaching it from any consequence to diplomatic “relations” between North Korea and the world, but then again, it’s not his nation, personal residence, and family we’re talking about here. Nor does it seem wise to me, anyway, to discount the threats of a regime that killed 50 South Koreans last year, and which has recently engaged in a campaign of assassinations against activists in China and on South Korean territory.

Does anyone today really believe that the nuances of a South Korean President’s language, no matter how factual or how mild in their greater context, really have a material effect on Kim Jong Il’s behavior toward the rest of the world? Inexplicable as it may be to some of us uncredentialed observers, the answer is “yes.”

North Korea’s New Terror Wave

You probably heard somewhere that President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, to reward it for promising to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly give up its nuclear weapons. You probably also know that I did not favor this decision, to put it mildly. First, North Korea never acknowledged or apologized for its past and continuing acts of state-directed terrorism, such as the abduction and murder of Rev. Kim Dong Shik, its support for Hezbollah, or its failure to fully account for foreign abductees. Second, the latter concern meant that de-listing North Korea would cause grave damage to our relations with our Japanese ally. Third, by the summer of 2008, North Korea’s compliance with Agreed Framework II was on a clear track toward repudiating the very commitments that the de-listing was meant to reward: North Korea had already been caught building the Syrians a nuclear reactor, had failed to deliver a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, was stalling on verification, and was turning over samples that were smeared with highly enriched uranium, even as it continued to repeat the lie that it had no HEU program. And given all of that has happened since 2008, President Obama’s failure to reverse President Bush’s decision was legally wrong, bad diplomacy, and irreconcilable with a credible counter-terrorism policy. There is also the matter of its inconsistency with then-Senator Obama’s promises to oppose de-listing if North Korea failed to account for Rev. Kim and keep its Agreed Framework II obligations.

Even so, proponents of de-listing could still say in the summer of 2008 that North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism was at historically low levels, at least compared to its own past history, at least as long as they could overlook North Korea’s use of its state media to terrorize the governments and populations of other states. After all, North Korea’s threats of nuclear force were so frequent before and after the listing that it’s hard to say that its removal from the terror list coincided with a measurable increase in that trend.

In other important ways, however, the de-listing of North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism has coincided with an alarming increase in the North’s willingness to arm terrorists, terrorize its neighbors, and send its agents abroad to murder its critics. Certainly before President Bush de-listed North Korea, we had not seen anything like North Korea’s sale of weapons, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles, to terrorists, at least in open sources. Before 2008, the idea that the North would torpedo a South Korean warship or shell a South Korean fishing village to punish it for cutting off aid would have been unthinkable. Those attacks transformed the military stalemate on the Korean peninsula from one of mutual deterrence and stalemate to one of limited war and failing deterrence.

In 2008, North Korea was not known to have attempted to assassinate any of its critics abroad since its assassination of Lee Han-Young in Seoul in 1997. But last July, two agents of the North Korean ruling party’s Reconnaissance Bureau were arrested and pled guilty to attempting to assassinate high-level defector Hwang Jang-Yop, a needless and reckless act given that Hwang was 87 at the time. (He died of natural causes a few months later). It wasn’t the first attempt. Before her October 2008 conviction, North Korean spy Won Jeong-Hwa unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate “a South Korean military officer in Hong Kong using an aphrodisiac laced with poison,” and “tried to but failed to meet and assassinate Hwang.” Won was also carrying poisoned needles, which she was ready to jab into “South Korean intelligence agents” when ordered to do so. In other words, the North was probably planning the first of its recent wave of assassinations in the South at the very time it was demanding that the Bush Administration de-list it as a sponsor of terrorism.

It is useful to remind ourselves that “international terrorism” is a word that means something. The U.S. Criminal Code defines it this way:

As used in this chapter -

(1) the term “international terrorism” means activities that -
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum; [18 U.S.C. sec. 2331]

Since 2008, poisoned needles seem to have become the North Korean terrorist’s weapon of choice. We’ve seen a wave of actual and abortive needle attacks in recent weeks:

A South Korean missionary died in the Chinese border city of Dandong last month after suddenly collapsing, a South Korean official said Friday. The 46-year-old missionary, identified by his family name Han, fell to the ground while foaming at the mouth as he waited for a taxi in the city’s downtown area on Aug. 21, according to the official of the South Korean Consulate in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. [Yonhap]

The death follows a separate attack in which a South Korean activist — also working in northeast China — says he was stabbed with a poison-tipped needle, the Korea JoongAng Daily reported. The unidentified man said he had been stabbed in the waist with a poisoned needle after leaving a sauna in the province of Jilin, before collapsing in the street and being rushed to the hospital, the paper said. He had reportedly been openly protesting against the North’s regime.

The [South Korean] foreign ministry said it did not know whether there was any North Korean involvement in the two incidents, but its diplomats had asked Chinese authorities to ensure the safety of South Koreans near the North’s border. It said Chinese police conducted an initial autopsy but found no traces of poison. They proposed a second one but Kim’s family wanted to go ahead with cremation. The consulate “has strongly requested the related organization in the Chinese government to ensure the safety of South Koreans in border regions, and plans to take necessary measures to prevent further incidents from happening,” its statement said. [AFP]

Given the obvious suspicions about China’s candor, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know precisely what happened to these two men, but South Korean investigators aren’t the only ones who suspect the obvious suspect:

Tim Peters, a Seoul-based Christian activist, said he had a “very strong suspicion” but no evidence that the missionary who died had been poisoned by the North’s agents. He told AFP the victim had been involved in evangelical work among North Korean refugees, an activity that was taken extremely seriously by the regime.

Peters founded Helping Hands Korea, an organisation involved in evangelising and giving general assistance to refugees from the North who cross into northeast China. Asked if missionaries were in fear of such attacks, he said: “There’s a kind of sobering awareness that this is always lurking in the shadows. It’s part of the price one pays for doing missionary work in this area.”

South Korean pastor Kim Dong-Shik was kidnapped in Yanji in January 2000 and taken to North Korea, according to Seoul authorities. [AAP]

And now, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service says it has foiled a poison-needle plot against Park Sang-Hak, the leader of Fighters for a Free North Korea, a/k/a The Balloon People:

South Korea has arrested a North Korean agent who plotted to assassinate an outspoken anti-Pyongyang activist with a poison-tipped needle, the intended victim and a news report said Friday. The agent, identified only as An, was in possession of the needle and other weapons at the time of his arrest, Yonhap news agency said. The target of the apparent plot, the latest of several blamed on Pyongyang, was activist Park Sang-Hak, who is involved in launching cross-border propaganda leaflets fiercely critical of the North’s regime. [....]

An, a former North Korean special forces commando aged in his 40s, came to the South in the late 1990s as a defector but disappeared several years ago, according to Yonhap. After resurfacing in the South in February, An sought to meet Park. But Park, alerted by the anti-espionage agency, said he did not show up for a meeting with An at a subway station in southern Seoul on September 3. “An told me by phone that he was to be accompanied by a visitor from Japan who wants to help our efforts. But then I was told by the NIS not to go to the meeting due to the risk of assassination,” Park told AFP. “Following advice from intelligence authorities and police, I don’t see any strangers these days.” [AFP]

The anniversary of 9/11 is a fitting occasion to ask the extent to which we’re prepared to overlook the use of terrorism by foreign governments. North Korea was originally de-listed to induce it into nuclear disarmament, something that almost no one now believes North Korea will ever do. If de-listing was really about diplomatic and political calculations, no one really believed that counter-terrorism was one of its major policy goals. But shouldn’t it matter that since North Korea’s de-listing, it has increasingly relied on terrorism as an instrument of national policy to serve its political objectives?

As ordinary citizens, of course, we have little influence over such arcane questions of foreign policy. But one way to register your opinion effectively would be to contribute to Park Sang-Han’s Fighters for a Free North Korea through the North Korean Freedom Coalition.

Chosun Ilbo: Laura Ling and Euna Lee Were Lured into N. Korea

Let’s start with the claim, that North Korean spymaster Ryu Kyong recruited the mysterious guide who led Laura Ling and Euna Lee to that remote place along the Tumen River, then across to North Korea where guards were waiting. Subsequent reports fill in the rest — that Ling and Lee heard a commotion, ran back across the river into Chinese territory, and that the North Koreans pursued them across the river and dragged them back across and into captivity in North Korea:

Ryu, who served as the deputy director of North Korea’s State Security Department, obtained intelligence that Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for Current TV, were planning to visit the North Korean border as part of their report on defectors.

He then used his overseas operatives to bribe an ethnic Korean guide in China to lead the two women into the hands of their abductors. The guide took Ling and Lee to a point on the banks of the Duman (or Tumen) River, where they were dragged across the border into North Korea.

The abduction, which occurred just after U.S. President Barack Obama took office, prompted the White House to dispatch former U.S. President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang in August of that year. It also served as a propaganda coup for Pyongyang, which boasted that a former U.S. leader had to “bow before General Kim Jong-il and beg for forgiveness.” [Chosun Ilbo]

A big hat tip here to Paul Song, a long-time advocate for human rights in North Korea and the husband of Laura Ling’s sister, Lisa.

I’m tempted to gloat and savor the sweet vindication of my own pet conspiracy theory, one that I’ve inclined to from the very beginning, and which other media reports have since supported. But even if the theory is plausible — it fits well within the range of North Korea’s past behavior — the Chosun Ilbo doesn’t offer one scintilla of detail on its source for the story or why we should consider it credible. It’s interesting, however, to turn our wayback machine to what Laura Ling said about crossing the border:

When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.

Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.

We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained. [L.A. Times]

In retrospect, you can still stand on your criticism that Laura and Euna shouldn’t have followed, although you can begin to understand their decision if you imagine yourself alone in a remote spot between two hostile states. All I can say is, it’s plausible that this was a lure/ambush. It always was. What I can’t say is that this report goes far to prove it. The fact that Paul forwards the story suggests that Ling believes it (doesn’t it?).

In the days before our capture, our guide had seemed cautious and responsible; he was as concerned as we were about protecting our interview subjects and not taking unnecessary risks. That is in part why we made the decision to follow him across the river.

We didn’t spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret. To this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap. In retrospect, the guide behaved oddly, changing our starting point on the river at the last moment and donning a Chinese police overcoat for the crossing, measures we assumed were security precautions. But it was ultimately our decision to follow him, and we continue to pay for that decision today with dark memories of our captivity.

It would be nice to get at least that much eyewitness confirmation, and there are a lot of questions I’d like to be able to ask about that. The one person who isn’t ever going to sort all of this out for us is Ryu, who was later sent to the firing squad, possibly for unrelated reasons.

Incidentally — and stop me if you’ve heard this somewhere — North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 for its tremendous strides toward complete, verifiable, irreversible nuclear disarmament, and quite possibly also some promises to never engage in the state sponsorship of terrorism again. Discuss among yourselves.

In somewhat related news, North Koreans continue to stream out of their homeland by any means necessary. ITN provides this video report on the rising flow of North Korean refugees into Thailand, and as you’ve no doubt heard by now, nine more North Koreans made it to the South by sea last week. When groups of North Koreans cross over to the South by boat, we often tend to hear later that some of them want to return, but not this time.