Category Archives: Terrorism (NK)

Friday news dump! State Dep’t releases terrorism report, and it’s the same old crap (updated)

The threats against “The Interview,” the sundry assassination and kidnapping plots against defectors and activists, the weapons shipments to Hezbollah, the U.S. and South Korean court decisions finding North Korea responsible for acts of terrorism, all go unmentioned once again. There’s not even a suggestion that North Korea is being considered for re-listing.

Overview: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987. In October 2008, the United States rescinded the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism in accordance with criteria set forth in U.S. law, including a certification that the DPRK had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period and the provision by the DPRK of assurances that it would not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

Four Japanese Red Army members who participated in a 1970 jet hijacking continued to live in the DPRK. The Japanese government continued to seek a full accounting of the fate of 12 Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by DPRK state entities in the 1970s and 1980s. In May 2014, the DPRK agreed to re-open its investigation into the abductions, but as of the end of 2014 had not yet provided the results of this investigation to Japan.

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“Arsenal of Terror,” 2d ed.: N. Korea paid dope dealers $40K to kill Hwang Jang Yop

South Korean prosecutors have indicted three South Korean nationals, identified only by the surnames “Bang,” “Kim,” and “Hwang,” for “bringing in methamphetamine from North Korea and attempting to assassinate” Hwang Jang-Yop, North Korea’s highest-ranking defector until his death in 2010. Let’s unpack these two criminal conspiracies one at a time, starting with the meth:

The 69-year-old, identified only by his family name Bang, and two others have been detained for producing 70 kilograms of methamphetamine at a North Korean factory in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, in June and July of 2000, a prosecutor at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office said.

They were suspected of being contacted through another South Korean, identified by his surname Lee who died in 2004, in 1996 by a North Korean agent in China who proposed Bang and the two colleagues bring the raw materials and equipment to North Korea to produce meth.

They allegedly traveled to North Korea several times with the aid of North Korean agents and made 70 kilograms of meth there.

“It is the first time North Korean agents were found to have been involved in the production of methamphetamine, although there have been rumors North Korea tried to get foreign currency by selling meth,” the prosecutor said, asking for anonymity.

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2016 Defense Authorization Act would define N. Korea as state sponsor of terrorism

On Sunday, I spotted this interesting Yonhap headline: “U.S. defense bill calls N. Korea terror sponsor.” Given my own recent work on this subject, I was curious about the effect of this provision, so I pulled up the text of the bill, H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. The versions on Thomas and Congress.gov don’t yet reflect the amendment, but clues from the Yonhap piece led me to the amendment in question, offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Cal.). The “almost identical” language of H.R. 1498 yields the amendment’s operative text.

No, the amendment would not re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, or invoke any of the sanctions that an SSOT listing would bring; only the Secretary of State can do that. Instead, the bill creates an “Interagency Hostage Coordinator” to lead a federal interagency task force, and “coordinate and direct all activities of the Federal Government” to “secure the release of United States citizens who are hostages of hostile groups or state sponsors of terrorism.” The legislation does not define the term “hostage,” but does define “state sponsor of terrorism.” Here’s what got Yonhap’s attention:

(3) STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM.—The term “state sponsor of terrorism”—

(A) means a country the government of which the Secretary of State has determined, for purposes of section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, or any other provision of law, to be a government that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism; and

(B) includes North Korea.

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Contradiction isn’t argument: A response to Doug Bandow on N. Korea and terrorism

In the years after my return from four years with the Army in Korea, I found much to agree with in Doug Bandow’s writing — up to a point. Bandow is best known — at least in the context of Korea — for arguing that South Korea can and should pay for its own defense, and that U.S. Forces Korea should withdraw. A supporter of the isolationist and semi-retired cult figure, Ron Paul, Bandow favors the withdrawal of all 28,500 U.S. military personnel from South Korea. But if we’ve learned anything in the last dozen years, it’s that ill-advised invasions and sudden disengagements can both create dangerous power vacuums. Yes, South Korea can and should pay for its own defense. U.S. ground forces could leave on a five-to-ten-year timetable and leave behind some pre-positioned equipment, and the U.S.-Korea alliance could evolve into something like our alliances with Jordan, Turkey, or Israel. That would serve the interests of both countries.

This is decidedly not Bandow’s direction. He views the total withdrawal of USFK as mood music for “initiating negotiations” with Pyongyang to improve relations. The premise of his unified theory of Korea policy, expressed in a November 2014 op-ed, is that economic engagement can still transform (rather than merely perpetuate) a state that has built its survival strategy on isolation and xenophobic hostility. In the 1990s, this idea was once the received conventional wisdom, before it failed so conclusively that it was abandoned and replaced by policy paralysis that prefers to be called “strategic patience.” At the cost of a mere $9 billion — also indirectly paid by U.S.

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N. Korea denounces my report on its sponsorship of terrorism: a “sinister,” “plot-breeding,” “unpardonable … provocation.”

For days, since the launch of the report I wrote for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, laying out the case for re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, I’d been watching KCNA, hoping I wouldn’t be snubbed. That’s why this 884-word May Day denunciation is a very special, emotional moment for me — the pinnacle of years of sinister plot-breeding, of careful research and delicately crafted Madonna analogies. I will go so far as to say that the prospect of this denunciation drove me onward, as I wrote the report.

Since its appearance, [HNRK] has insisted on linking the food shortage in the DPRK with “lack of elementary human rights” and compiled all nonsensical talks about its social system to meet the political interests of the U.S. conservative forces before floating wild rumors.

Such a plot-breeding body produced a conspiratorial document as part of its desperate campaign to label the DPRK a “sponsor of terrorism.” This is no more than the last-ditch effort of those hell-bent on the smear campaign against the DPRK.

Explicitly speaking, the above-said story about “the DPRK’s sponsoring of terrorism” is another unpardonable politically-motivated provocation against the DPRK. [KCNA]

Offhand, I can’t recall another case in which a report so likely caused an equal degree of upset within the North Korean government and the U.S.

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Why North Korea should be re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism

Read the full report, here.

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Many, many thanks to Greg Scarlatoiu, Suzanne Scholte, Nick Eberstadt, and Marcus Noland for their kind comments at yesterday’s launch event, and to everyone who showed up at 6:00 on a Monday night. Special thanks to the HRNK interns who made it all possible — especially to Rosa and to Raymond, who meticulously checked every last cite and footnote.

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Update, 1 May 2015: Here’s video of the launch event.

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RFA: North Korea tells overseas workers to attack journalists

Ever since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued its report last year, North Korea has been particularly sensitive to accusations of human rights violations. It shouldn’t surprise us that this sensitivity is especially keen when the scrutiny threatens to cut off a growing source of hard currency — its export of what amounts to slave labor to places like Russia, Malaysia, and Qatar. Press reports on the working conditions of these workers, and the regime’s spotty history of paying their (paltry) wages, have embarrassed the regime, embarrassed companies and governments that use North Korean labor, and sometimes, disrupted those arrangements.

Now, according to a new report from Radio Free Asia, Pyongyang is reacting to renewed media scrutiny of overseas North Korean laborers about like you’d expect Pyongyang to react to that:

“Particularly, when a foreign reporter or human rights activists tries to take a picture or film you, take the camera, camcorder or cell phone from them and smash it,” the document said, according to Do.

“They [North Korean workers] must physically smash them, but also they must pull out internal memory cards such as SD cards and then return the broken cameras or camcorders to their owners,” he said.

Workers are also directed to physically attack the journalists and investigators:

The action guide also instructs workers not to hesitate to respond with violence and to gang up on those trying to video or photograph them, he said.

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60 Minutes on the Sony attacks

Gone were the inside-job theories, except that one expert, when asked, allows the bare possibility that an insider might have made the North Koreans’ work easier. Like the heads of the FBI and the NSA, all the experts 60 Minutes interviewed are convinced that North Korea was behind the attack.

Worse, the attack itself was not all that sophisticated, when compared to what the U.S. and other governments are capable of today. An equally unsophisticated attack would have taken out 80% of corporate networks. All it takes is for one user in the network to click on the wrong attachment or fake update. Only then will most companies realize how dependent they are on their networks.

The IT security experts acknowledge that hacking North Korea is futility itself. The only real deterrent is to go after the leadership and its revenue streams. The Obama administration has only pretended to do that.

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Justice for Rev. Kim Dong Shik: Court orders N. Korea to pay $330M in damages

Asher Perlin, the lawyer who argued and won the case against North Korea at the Court of Appeals on behalf of Rev. Kim Dong Shik’s family, writes in to direct me to this news:

An Israeli NGO announced on Monday that a US federal court in Washington, DC has granted it a historic $330 million default award judgment against North Korea in a civil damages trial for wrongful death, torture and kidnapping.

The judgment, only announced Monday, but written on April 9, included $15 million dollars each to the son and brother of Reverend Dong Shik Kim, presumed dead, as well as $300 million in punitive damages. [Jerusalem Post]

In 2000, Rev. Kim was in China helping North Korean refugees who had escaped from their homeland. North Korean agents kidnapped Rev. Kim and dragged him across the border. He’s believed to have died of starvation at a North Korean military base near Pyongyang. In 2005, the South Koreans caught one of the kidnappers, charged him with Rev. Kim’s kidnapping, and convicted him of the crime.

In August 2013, a District Court found that the evidence was insufficient to prove that North Korea killed Rev. Kim after the North Koreans hustled him over the border (undoubtedly, under the noses of Chinese border guards) and dismissed the case.

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With Sony in mind, Obama signs new cyberwar E.O., but will he enforce it?

On Wednesday, the President signed a new executive order authorizing sanctions against anyone the State and Treasury Departments decide has engaged in conduct we’d colloquially call cyberespionage, cyberwarfare, or cyberterrorism. The new categories of sanctionable conduct include —

(A) harming, or otherwise significantly compromising the provision of services by, a computer or network of computers that support one or more entities in a critical infrastructure sector;

(B) significantly compromising the provision of services by one or more entities in a critical infrastructure sector;

(C) causing a significant disruption to the availability of a computer or network of computers; or

(D) causing a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain. [link]

The E.O. also targets the theft of trade secrets and intellectual property, and in a novel provision, also authorizes the blocking of property of those who profit from those crimes. Deep breath now:

(A) to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have engaged in, the receipt or use for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain, or by a commercial entity, outside the United States of trade secrets misappropriated through cyber-enabled means, knowing they have been misappropriated, where the misappropriation of such trade secrets is reasonably likely to result in, or has materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States; [link]

The order also contains standard (but crucial) clauses authorizing sanctions for assisting, sponsoring, facilitating, or attempting to commit those crimes.

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Kim Jong Un’s censorship knows no limits or borders. To submit to it is to forfeit freedom.

If Kim Jong Un is weighing whether to answer leaflets from South Korea with artillery, it won’t discourage him that many on South Korea’s illiberal left have already begun to excuse him for it. Within this confused, transpatriated constituency, there is much “anxiety” lately about “inter-Korean tensions.” Those tensions have risen since North Korea has begun threatening to shell the North Korean defectors who send leaflets critical of Kim’s misrule across the DMZ. But then, any rational mind can see who is at fault when the object of non-violent criticism answers his critic’s threats with violence. Right?

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[The Park Police should check those blankets for wet spots.]

I don’t suppose it occurred to these people to take their grievances and anxieties to the ones who are threatening war over non-violent expression. That would be the logical reaction if these people were really as concerned about “tension” as they were about acting as Kim Jong Un’s proxy censors. Their undisguised demand is that Seoul should censor — and that Washington should abstain from supporting — free expression, for the very reason that Pyongyang is threatening to shell civilian villages in response to it.

Dismiss this as the view of a lunatic fringe if you will, but not all of this lunacy is on the fringe.

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How Barack Obama let Kim Jong Un get away with censoring and terrorizing America (updated)

Last December, after the FBI and the National Security Agency  concluded that North Korea’s Unit 121 had hacked Sony Pictures and threatened the Americans who wanted to see “The Interview,” President Obama publicly accused North Korea of the cyberattack and threat, and promised a “proportional response” to it. On January 2nd, the President signed a new executive order whose potential was sweeping, but whose actual effect was “symbolic at best.” In practice, the designations under the new executive order amounted to whack-a-mole sanctions against ten small-time arms dealers, who were probably replaced by ten other small-time arms dealers within weeks.

Is that all? Maybe not. If you believe Rep. Michael McCaul, the President also directed the intelligence community to take down North Korea’s internet for a few days. The Director of the CIA, who seems rather desperately to want to deny the story, nevertheless stuck to the CIA’s customary neither-confirm-nor-deny line — sometimes called a “Glomar” response — which will be read in most places, including Pyongyang, as, “So they did it.”

Had this been the act of a band of angry nerds in Guy Fawkes masks (and by the way, about those masks), most people would have applauded it.

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Investigators: N. Korean hackers tried to cause reactor malfunction

Earlier this week, I posted on South Korean investigators’ conclusion that North Korea was behind the hacking of several South Korean nuclear power plants, but that the attacks caused no operational impact. Evidently, that wasn’t for lack of effort:

The team of South Koreans investigating the incident says the hackers tried to cause a malfunction at the reactors, which supply around 30% of the country’s electricity, but failed to break through the control systems. [Sky News]

See also this report from AFP.

The Unification Ministry called the attack “cyber-terror” and accused Pyongyang of “taking the life and safety of our people as a hostage.” And if what the investigators say is true, this would be the first serious attempt at nuclear terrorism that I’m aware of.

Honestly, I can’t believe this isn’t a much, much bigger story than it is. It should be as big a story as any of the attacks in 2010. Either someone at the Unification Ministry is hyping this (and I really don’t see the incentive for that) or someone else in the Korean government is downplaying the scope of the attack to avoid political responsibility for lax nuclear security (and if you still remember the Sewol Ferry, you can certainly see the incentive for that).

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South Korea blames North Korea for hacking nuke plants

Let the conspiracy theories commence at Naver, Minjok Tongshin, and MissyUSA, in 3, 2, 1 ….

South Korean prosecutors on Tuesday blamed North Korea for cyber attacks against the country’s nuclear reactor operator last December, based upon its investigation into Internet addresses used in the hacking.

The conclusion comes less than a week after a hacker believed to be behind the cyber attacks on Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co Ltd released more files on Twitter that are believed to have been taken in December. The investigation included last week’s leak of a blueprint and test data.

“The malicious codes used for the nuclear operator hacking were the same in composition and working methods as the so-called ‘kimsuky’ that North Korean hackers use,” a statement from Seoul central prosecutors’ office said. [Reuters]

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.

Ironically, this story has received little attention thus far because when it came out last December, the Sony hacks crowded it off page one.

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N. Korea calls for S. Koreans to join “patriotic struggle to check and foil the U.S. imperialists.”

Following North Korea’s post-hoc support for the slashing of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, my two main questions where (1) whether the North had a role in inciting the attack (for which I’ve seen no direct evidence thus far); and (2) whether the North is calling for more violent anti-American attacks.

KCNA’s latest helps us answer the latter question in the affirmative. It isn’t specific about its favored methods of “patriotic struggle,” although its recent approval of the slashing of diplomats should give you a fairly good idea.

Full text below the fold.

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Roh Moo Hyun’s ex-campaign manager just hates it when politicians exploit tragic isolated incidents

The good news is that Ambassador Mark Lippert has been released from the hospital, and is recovering well.

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[Joongang Ilbo]

Give the South Koreans credit for making lemonade from lemons — the news coverage here has been filled with images of well-wishers greeting Lippert, or expressing regret for the attack on him. The greetings look both staged and sincere,* but because of that reaction, most Americans will see Kim Ki-Jong as one small turd in a vast, sweet, fizzy bowl of gachi gapshida.

lippert 2

I’m not sure I quite agree with that image now, and I certainly wouldn’t have agreed with it nine years ago. In today’s environment, however, I’d guess that Kim’s actions, Lippert’s obvious gift for public diplomacy, and the imagery of the pro-American reaction will shift public opinion in a more anti-anti-American direction, at least until something shifts it back. But as we’ll also see in a moment, the reactions of other Koreans seem oddly conflicted.

Lippert’s assailant, Kim Ki-Jong, has been charged with attempted murder. The Men in Blue have established that Kim visited North Korea not six, not eight, but seven times between 1999 and 2007. Which does raise a rather obvious question:

“We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect’s visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S.

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N. Korea’s support for slashing of U.S. Amb’r might be state sponsorship of terrorism

Yonhap and The Washington Post are reporting that North Korea’s official “news” agency, the Korean Central News Agency or KCNA, has expressed its support for an extremist’s slashing of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert yesterday, calling it “a just punishment.” You won’t find those words in the English version of KCNA’s report, whose headline is a dry, “U.S. Ambassador Attacked by S. Korean,” although you will see that KCNA spelled the Ambassador’s name “Report.” The Korean-language headline of the same article, however, translates to something like, “Act of just punishment for war-crazy America.” Here’s a screenshot of the original Korean.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.19.25 AM

KCNA has as bad a reputation for malware infections as Tijuana has for infections of other kinds, but if you’re willing to risk it, here’s a link. You’ve been warned.

The linguistic disparity looks like another case of KCNA code-switching for Korean- and English-speaking readers, in the same way it chose not to translate its most racist attack on President Obama. KCNA must assume that English speakers won’t notice, and that Korean speakers won’t care (which says a lot about what kind of Korea KCNA believes in). I’ve pasted the full English-version KCNA article below the fold. Here are some excerpts:

Kim Ki Jong, representative of the Uri Madang, a civic organization demanding peace against war, suddenly stormed with a knife Mark, shouting the south and the north must be reunified and he is opposed to a war. [….]

He didn’t stop shouting slogans opposing war and the U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises, being walked away by police.

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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.

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