Why North Korea will go back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism this year

As I write, Yonhap is reporting that North Korea may be fueling up two ICBMs for a test. Meanwhile, in Washington, Texas Republican Ted Poe has already shaped one part of the likely response to that. Poe isn’t one to back down from a fight — not with leukemia, and not with North Korea. He’s back at the helm of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, where one of his first acts this year was to reintroduce a bill that would call for the State Department to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. (The text still isn’t published at post time, but here’s a previous version.)

Specifically, the bill puts a series of North Korean acts before the State Department and asks it whether (1) North Korea did that thing, and (2) whether that thing meets the legal definition of terrorism. Because federal courts have already said “yes” to both of those questions for several of those things, there’s really only one right answer to the question of whether North Korea has, as section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act puts it, “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”

For reasons I’ll explain in the rant that follows, North Korea’s exclusion from the list of state sponsors of terrorism has long irritated me. My guess is that I’ll soon have one less thing to rant about, because I’d assess the chances of North Korea going back on the list this year as above 90 percent — most likely, sometime between Groundhog Day and Memorial Day. I’m not revealing any insider knowledge, mind you, but you don’t need to be a weather man to know enough to bring your parka to Fargo in February. Kim Jong-un is going to do a lot of provocative things this year, and putting North Korea back on the list is not only an obvious response, it’s legally well-justified. Let’s start with the obvious.

1. North Korea sponsors terrorism.

Three years ago, I decided I’d had my fill of “experts” writing that North Korea doesn’t sponsor terrorism without having made any apparent inquiry into the evidence or the law, so I sacrificed my Christmas leave to write a hundred-page, peer-reviewed report laying that evidence out, analyzing the legal standards for listing a government as a state sponsor of terrorism, and applying North Korea’s recent conduct to that standard. I’m not going to repeat that entire report here, but I should probably at least give you a taste of it: in the last ten years alone, North Korea has armed terrorists, sent hit teams to murder defectors and dissidents, held the kidnapped citizens of other countries as prisoners, harbored hijackers, launched cyber attacks against newspapers and nuclear power plants, and threatened movie theaters across the United States with terrorist attacks if they showed a film parodying Kim Jong-un. For which, Barack Obama did approximately nothing.

Pause, for a moment, on that last point. Never in U.S. history has a foreign dictatorship so successfully chilled Americans’ freedom of expression in their own country, although Muslim supremacists also managed to get a public apology, an arrest, and de facto censorship of “blasphemous” speech that’s also at the very core of what the First Amendment protects. So, have you seen any good movies about North Korea lately? Neither have I, and it’s not for lack of suitable material. That should scare you, because as Obama himself said before doing approximately nothing:

“We cannot have a society in which some dictators someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States because if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.” [CNN]

That’s pretty typical Obama: a good, decent, and intelligent man articulating important principles eloquently and then failing completely in their defense and implementation.

Of course, no amount of evidence of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism will be enough to persuade people who oppose re-listing North Korea for policy reasons. Doug Bandow, for example, pretty obviously saw the report, and just as obviously didn’t read it. But then, Bandow’s policy views on North Korea — he favors immediate bilateral negotiations with Kim Jong-un, the lifting of sanctions, and a total U.S. withdrawal from South Korea — aren’t likely to have much support on Capitol Hill, or (from the looks of the confirmation hearings) in the new administration. As far as the strength of the evidence against North Korea goes, if it’s good enough for multiple federal district court judges and one federal court of appeals, it’s good enough for Doug Bandow, or would be if the evidence mattered to him at all.

2. North Korea never really renounced terrorism.

President George W. Bush announced the decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on June 26, 2008, in exchange for its promises to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs (by law, the decision became effective on October 11th of that year). The results of that bargain speak for themselves, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

By law, there are two conditions to remove a state from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, both of them ridiculously easy to beat. First, the Secretary of State has to certify that the state has not “provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period.” That’s six whole months of good behavior! Second, he has to certify that the government has “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Presumably, then, North Korea gave the State Department another one of its pro-forma statements that it opposes terrorism, a term it defines in an extraordinarily strange way.

What North Korea never actually did to get George W. Bush to rescind the designation, of course, was renounce terrorism in a minimally convincing way. It never sent the Japanese Red Army hijackers back to Japan to face trial. It never returned any foreign abductees, including the dozens of Japanese or South Koreans it kidnapped from the soil of their own home countries. It never accounted for its kidnapping of the late Rev. Kim Dong-shik, despite then-Senator Barack Obama’s written, signed promise that he’d oppose North Korea’s rescission from the list until it did. Which you can read for yourself right here.

Not only has North Korea never admitted, acknowledged, or apologized for its past acts of terrorism, within a year after being removed from the list, it was caught red-handed on at least three occasions shipping arms to Iran, probably for the use of Hezbollah, Hamas, and/or the Quds Force.

At this point, it’s tempting to get into a semantic discussion about what “sponsorship” and “terrorism” even mean, except that I’ve already done that in my long report. I’ve even suggested new definitions to clarify the law (which actually contains multiple definitions, all of them mutually inconsistent and imperfect for their own reasons).

Lawyers look to the text of the law first, and then to precedent to help them apply the law when it isn’t clear. As you’ll see in my report, some of North Korea’s conduct clearly fits the legal definitions and some of it doesn’t. When the law itself isn’t clear, we turn to examining what conduct the State Department used to justify the listing of other countries as sponsors of terrorism in previous annual reports. Merely building a nuclear weapons program probably doesn’t meet the legal standard, so logically, dismantling (or promising to dismantle) a nuclear program isn’t a renunciation of terrorism, either. In other words, removing North Korea from the list in 2008 wasn’t really about terrorism. That opened the list itself to charges that it was politicized.

3. North Korea should have gone back on the list when it broke its bargain.

Congress was never happy about President Bush’s rescission of North Korea’s listing in the first place. Legally, it can stop a rescission by passing a resolution within 45 days, but in 2008, the Bush administration announced the rescission just as Congress was leaving for summer recess, which as you’ve guessed by now, is longer than 45 days. Neat trick, right? Except that Congress never forgot that.

At the time President Bush announced that decision, both candidates for the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama and John McCain, said that if North Korea didn’t follow through on its promises to disarm, they would re-list North Korea (see page 51). Well, guess what? North Korea tested a nuke four months after Barack Obama took the oath of office, and Obama never did re-list North Korea.

In other words, North Korea was put on the list for things that clearly fit the legal definitions of terrorism (the 1983 Rangoon bombing and the 1987 Korean Air Lines bombing), but was taken off the list for promising not to do things that didn’t really fit those definitions. Admittedly, I’ll wince a little when the Trump administration re-lists North Korea for something that, in all probability, won’t exactly fit the definition, but at least I’ll take comfort from the fact that the evidence is otherwise overwhelming, and the error will be harmless. 

Of course, the usual suspects will rend their garments and wail: “No fair! A nuclear test isn’t terrorism!” To which I’ll say, “Where have you been hiding since 2008?” Every year since then, State Department reports have printed the flat-out lie that “North Korea is not known to have sponsored acts of terrorism since … 1987.” At least, I’d think they were lying if I really thought they even knew what the truth was.

4. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress want North Korea back on the list.

Did I mean to suggest that senior officials in the U.S. Department of State might have been clueless about the evidence of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism? Yes, I do. If you doubt me, just watch this hapless State Department official freeze like a deer staring into Judge Poe’s fog lamps at a hearing in 2015, as Poe waved one of those federal court decisions at her that found North Korea liable for sponsoring terrorism. It’s probably the single worst performance I’ve ever seen by a committee witness in all the years I’ve been watching Congress. Pretty clearly, Poe and Sherman weren’t appeased. They had plenty of follow-up questions, and introduced the first version of the current bill shortly thereafter.

Because this is a new Congress with plenty of time to pass legislation, and because North Korea is going to piss Congress off within the next few months — or hours — the new version of Poe’s bill will almost certainly pass on a voice vote. In recent years, calls to re-designate North Korea have become increasingly bipartisan. That’s been especially true since the 2014 Sony cyberterrorist attacks, when Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who then led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added his name to the list of those calling for North Korea to go back on the list. Traditionally, Senate Democrats have been the State Department’s best procedural backstop to prevent bills from becoming law, but on North Korea, today’s Senate Democrats are often just as hawkish as the Republicans. Just watch them in action. They aren’t about to sacrifice themselves for Kim Jong-un.

5. North Korea is about to piss Donald Trump off.

You don’t even have to read the headlines to know this. North Korea always provokes new U.S. or South Korean leaders as they’re forming their governments and policies. Whether their extortionate strategy works is less important as whether North Korea thinks it does. They provoked to Barack Obama, Lee Myung-bak, and Park Geun-hye, and all signs are pointing to them doing it to Trump, too. As Evans Revere paraphrases what they’re thinking in Pyongyang today, “We are willing to risk nuclear war to achieve our goals, are you?”

Personally, I think they’re about to make a grave miscalculation. I don’t give free advice people I despise, but if I’m right about Pyongyang right now, Kim Jong-un will act as much out of impulse as design, and none of the people in Pyongyang who are reading this will dare tell him not to. But if you are reading this from Pyongyang, feel free to try your luck.

6. It’s easy.

There’s no act of Congress required for this. All the Secretary of State would have to do is sign a one-page letter invoking section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act. If a pissed-off POTUS is looking for something nasty to do to Kim Jong-un the same day he has the red mist, this is the easiest thing to pull off the shelf.

7. There’s no diplomatic reason not to.

If you’ve watched any of the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, CIA, of U.N. Ambassador, these people don’t sound like they have Joel Wit’s number in their Rolodexes, and they don’t sound terribly interested in Agreed Framework 3.0. Ironically, that makes an agreement more likely, not less. I don’t know if that’s reason for woe or optimism until I see how hard Trump is willing to push Kim, how long we’re willing and how much we’re able to build up our leverage, and what deal we might eventually make. Whatever the answer to those questions, this isn’t the year for it, and neither is next year.

8. It will close some sanctions gaps.

For years, the State Department has told reporters that re-listing North Korea would be “symbolic,” and for years, reporters — the same reporters who uncritically repeated the twaddle about North Korea being under heavy sanctions — printed that without questioning it. A year ago, when our North Korea sanctions were much weaker than that are now, a re-listing of North Korea would have made a bigger difference than it would make now that Congress has passed a law strengthening sanctions.

But that doesn’t mean that a re-listing wouldn’t close some important gaps. First, it would trigger 31 C.F.R. Part 596, meaning that banks would have to apply for a Treasury Department license to process dollar transactions on North Korea’s behalf. That would be extremely powerful by itself. Just ask BNP Paribas, which paid a multi-billion-dollar settlement for violating similar requirements on behalf of Iran, Cuba, and other countries subject to that sort of licensing requirement. Second, it would trigger SEC rules requiring corporations to disclose their investments in North Korea in public filings. That, in turn, could trigger a North Korea divestment movement by NGOs (I know this sounds contradictory, but I expect to be surprised how many companies invest in North Korea and issue securities in the U.S.) Third, it would require U.S. diplomats to oppose benefits (like loans) for North Korea from international financial institutions. Fourth, it would mean that U.S. victims of North Korean terrorism could sue North Korea for its acts of terrorism. None of those sanctions are in effect now, and each would do significant financial damage to North Korea.

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Hacked again

For the last several weeks, North Korea-watchers in Washington have been warning each other about suspicious attachments and spoof messages. I was starting to feel ignored, envious, and unimportant until Friday, when a friend warned me that my site was blocked by his office’s anti-malware software.

I don’t have the sophisticated defenses that big institutions do, but fortunately, I have an excellent hosting service. The last time this happened, they recommended a subscription service that cleans up malware injects. Between the hosting service and the security service, they cleaned out the malware and helped me get everything back to normal with minimal inconvenience and impact on functionality.

I suppose this is an occupational hazard of blogging about North Korea. All of which is a roundabout way of saying, “Be careful out there.”

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N. Korea calls for murder of S. Korean President, State Dep’t still doesn’t think it sponsors terrorism

“When he eventually came to power, there was no book which deserved more careful study from the rulers, political and military, of the Allied powers. All was there….” – Winston Churchill, on Mein Kampf

History, which is diplomacy in the past tense, is littered with examples of despots who made their intentions clear, but whom journalists and diplomats in free nations have blindly refused to take at their word. So it was that in the late 1930s, the journalist and future U.S. Senator Alan Cranston published an unauthorized and unsanitized edition of “Mein Kampf,” leaving in the anti-Semitism and war threats that Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry had excised for its foreign readers. Hitler sued Cranston in a Connecticut court for a copyright infringement. The court enjoined the publication of Cranston’s translation and denied the American people a warning from history in the future tense. In our time, when North Korea’s hatred and war threats are accessible to any citizen with an Internet connection, we have no such excuse for our own denial of Pyongyang’s intentions.

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On October 11, 2008, just over a year after Pyongyang was revealed to have built a nuclear reactor in a part of Syria that is now controlled by ISIS, President Bush struck it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The rescission was a reward for Kim Jong-il’s commitment to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” dismantlement of its nuclear program. For which we are still waiting.

Since 2008, North Korea has sent hit teams to assassinate North Korean exiles and human rights activists. On several occasions, it was caught shipping arms to Iran for the use of its terrorist clients, including Hezbollah, and possibly the Quds Force and Hamas. Last month, Arab media published evidence that Pyongyang sold anti-aircraft missiles to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. In 2014, Pyongyang’s cyber army, which operates from the Chilbosan Hotel in downtown Shenyang, presumably with the full knowledge and assent of the Chinese government, threatened terrorist attacks against American movie theaters that blocked the release of a crappy movie called “The Interview,” and hacked into South Korean nuclear power plants. 

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

In recent years, Pyongyang has also used its state media as an instrument of terrorist threats, an endemic genre I sometimes call “journo-terrorism. In most cases, the threats have come from the Korean Central News Agency, an organ of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, whose assets have been blocked by the Treasury Department since March for its role in censoring freedom of information and freedom of the press. In 2012, KCNA threatened South Korean media which published criticism of its government with artillery attacks. It also published a series of banners with lurid calls for the murder of then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

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Since 2012, KCNA has also been a partner in journalism with the Associated Press, pursuant to a memorandum of agreement the AP refuses to release, despite multiple calls by other journalists to do so.

After a run of vehemently racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs that never quite ended, KCNA is back to making death threats against South Korea’s presidents. Today, its target is Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president. KCNA is unlinkable and very nearly unreadable, but I did so you don’t have to. I’ve pasted excerpts of the key language below the fold, along with some tweets by The Wall Street Journal‘s Jonathan Cheng.

For good measure, I’ve also added some of its more sexist language (just in case Gloria Steinem is reading), war threats (in case the “peace treaty” crowd is reading), and reaffirmations that it will never give up its nukes (in case the 38north crowd is reading). Click “continue reading” below and judge for yourself.

As you read this language, remember that words like these can have real consequences. In 2006, years before Park’s election to the presidency, a deranged assailant angered over a criminal investigation slashed her throat and came within less than an inch of inflicting a fatal wound. Last year, a pro-North Korean activist slashed the throat of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert with a razor, an act that a KCNA commentary subsequently applauded as “a just punishment.”

In that context, there’s little question what Pyongyang expects the more extreme elements of its substantial cadre of sympathizers in South Korea to do. The question now is whether the U.S. government will overlook Pyongyang’s threats and calls to murder the democratically elected head of an allied state that it is bound by treaty to defend from North Korean attacks.

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N. Korea’s biggest a**hole shoots Vice-Premier, sends second-biggest a**hole to weed the fields

Here at OFK, stories about kremlinology are usually page two material. Too often, we’ll read reports that some official or minor celebrity has been executed, only to read a year later that the target has risen like Lazarus from the KCNA crypt. As a general rule, the closer a story about North Korea is to the center of the power structure, the less I tend to believe it. Which is why I didn’t even tweet the report yesterday that His Porcine Majesty executed the former agriculture minister and a senior education ministry official with an antiaircraft gun. 

Still, I’m marginally more likely to believe reports from the semi-official news agency Yonhap about this particular type of story, where it’s marginally less likely than most sources to run with stories that turn out to be false. 

So, with those caveats dispensed with, Yonhap quotes an anonymous “Seoul official” as saying that His Porcine Majesty sent Vice-Premier Kim Yong-jin to the firing squad last month for being an “anti-party and anti-revolutionary element,” which, in reality, could mean about anything, but probably means he did something very bad. Kim Yong-jin does not make an appearance in the OFK archives, which may mean nothing more than the fact that he never attracted my attention.

But one person who makes many appearances in the OFK archives is Kim Yong-chol, who according to the same Yonhap story, was sent “to a rural farm for one month of reeducation starting in mid-July” for abuse of power and showing a “’heavy-handed’ attitude.”  Far be it for me to defend an a**hole like Kim Yong-chol, but isn’t that written into the job description?

Since January, Yong-chol’s job has been to head the United Front Department. Immediately before that, however, he headed the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s external spy agency. As such, Kim Yong-chol was responsible for the 2010 Cheonan and Yeonpyong Island attacks, the 2014 Sony cyberterrorist attack, the 2015 land mine attack, and a whole series of assassination attempts against South Korean human rights activists and North Korean dissidents in exile.

You can read all about it in my report, “Arsenal of Terror,” which is not available in bookstores.

Kim Yong-chol’s d**k moves also come in the more petty variety. A year and a half ago, when DNI Director James Clapper visited Pyongyang on a hostage-fetching mission, Yong-chol invited Clapper to dinner, only to present him with a bill for his meal. For reasons I’m sure are unrelated to this, Kim Yong-chol was designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control for a second time right about that time (he was first designated in 2010). Not reported is whether Clapper actually paid the bill, or whether the Treasury Department is investigating.

For more rumors about the latest purges in Pyongyang, The Joongang Ilbo has you covered.

All of which leaves me with two questions. First, do you suppose when a pezzonovante like Kim Yong-chol is weeding peas in the hot July sun, he’s thinking about how deeply sorry and humbled he is, and how much he loves and respects his morbidly obese thirtysomething boss who earned his chops in front of a Playstation? Neither do I.

Second, if Andrei Lankov is right, and the fear of purges is the main reason (or more probably, one important reason) why so many North Korean diplomats are rushing for the exits, will this push more diplomats, officials, bankers, and money launderers to reconsider their return travel plans?

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House Committee marks up bill calling for N. Korea’s re-listing as a terror sponsor

Last month, when it was introduced, I wrote about H.R. 5208, the House bill that would require the Secretary of State to acknowledge some of the extensive evidence — including final U.S. federal court judgments — of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to go on the record as to whether North Korea has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee took the next step on H.R. 5208, approving it in a committee markup. You can watch the whole markup on video:

At 35 minutes in, Rep. Ted Poe (R, Tex.), the bill’s author, speaks powerfully for the bill’s passage. Chairman Royce (R, Cal.), Ranking Member Engel (D, N.Y.), and subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Sherman (D, Cal.) also spoke in favor of the bill.

The bill that emerged from that markup, as an amendment in the nature of a substitute, is tighter than the original.* The committee staff’s challenge was that there is so much evidence of North Korea’s arms sales to terrorists, terrifying cyberattacks on civilian targets, and plots to kill or kidnap dissidents and activists abroad, that the bill could easily have been 20 pages long. As a rule, a bill’s speed through Congress is inversely proportional to its length. 

After some technical corrections, the bill will go to the Speaker’s office for placement on the congressional calendar. This being an election year, the odds against that would seem rather long, although I’m not quite as pessimistic as the Associated Press’s correspondent. If His Porcine Majesty acts up again, Congress might just reach for the first heavy object to throw at him, and this bill is now within easy reach. Given the bipartisan support for H.R. 5208 in yesterday’s markup, and the reversed polarity of Hillary Clinton espousing much tougher rhetoric on North Korea than His Orange Majesty, this one doesn’t seem so likely to cleave along partisan lines.  

Frankly, I’m pleasantly surprised that the markup went (1) forward and (2) smoothly despite this being an election year, with all the complications that brings (a truncated congressional calendar and the inevitable partisan divisions). Yet the full Committee’s Ranking Member, Elliot Engel, and the subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Brad Sherman, both spoke in favor of the bill. Engel also called Bush’s 2007 Agreed Framework II “a bad deal.” So even if H.R. 5208 doesn’t pass this Congress, much like H.R. 1771, we’re likely to see it again in the next Congress as bipartisan support for it builds.

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Another bill that was marked up yesterday also deserves attention — H.R. 5484, the State Sponsors of Terrorism Review Enhancement Act. The bill makes some necessary procedural reforms to the SSOT rescission (de-listing) process by (1) increasing Congress’s time to review a rescission from 45 to 90 days, and (2) requiring the President to certify that the state hasn’t supported terrorism for two years (currently, that period is a ridiculously short six months). You can read more about how the SSOT rescission process works at page 29 of my report

An additional provision, providing for a congressional resolution of disapproval of a SSOT rescission, could run into constitutional problems. I caught this issue immediately, and later saw that at the 38-minute mark in the markup, so did Rep. Alan Grayson (D, Fla.)). Chairman Royce correctly noted that there are similar provisions in existing laws, although Grayson responded that those provisions haven’t yet been challenged in court.

Grayson is something of an enigma. He has earned a well-deserved reputation for his bombastic rhetoric and personal conduct. Even Harry Reid loathes him openly. But Grayson has also earned my grudging respect for his intellectual rigor. He reads every word of every bill sent to him, and sometimes, he catches serious legal defects in them. (If Grayson would raise those issues privately instead of in full committee hearings, he might be more effective.) Also, despite Grayson’s own abrasive personality, his staffers are some of the nicest people on the Hill.

Despite the problem with one of its provisions, H.R. 5484 makes necessary reforms. Back in 2008, I wrote about my frustration with the ridiculously short congressional review process for SSOT rescission, when the Bush administration and the State Department cynically announced North Korea’s rescission from the terror list just before the summer recess in a presidential election year, which effectively nullified the 45-day review.

The biggest surprise about this bill is its author — Republican Ted Yoho of Florida. Yoho has a reputation as an isolationist and is a made member of the Ron Paul-inspired Republican Liberty Caucus. He was one of the few GOP members of the Foreign Affairs Committee who wasn’t among the 147 co-sponsors of H.R. 1771, the predecessor to H.R. 757. Two Liberty Caucus members, Tom Massie (R, Ky.) and Justin Amash (R, Mich.), were the only votes against H.R. 757. Clearly, then, not even all Liberty Caucus members agree with Doug Bandow‘s policy objections to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

H.R. 5484 stands almost no chance of passing in the current Congress. Ranking Member Elliot Engel didn’t oppose it, but he expressed discomfort that it could tie the administration’s hands in the future, and noted that the administration was opposed to it. Even so, the pressure for reforms to the terror listing process will continue to build as long as Congress thinks the State Department is abusing its discretion.

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* The legislative counsel will make a technical correction of the repeated language about one of the attempted hits on Hwang Jang-yop.

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Meet the “Libertarians” who would surrender our liberty & our security to Kim Jong-un’s censors

I doubt that America has fully come to terms with the damage done to its freedom of expression by the Sony cyberterrorist attack of 2014, or by the increasing willingness of Muslim supremacists to extinguish our civil liberties through violence. It is an easy thing to be a civil libertarian when the subject is, say, the limits of a proposed law allowing the FBI or NSA to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists’ communications or monitor their social media posts. Even if we acknowledge the legitimacy of these debates, it is a modern marvel of hypocrisy to watch ardent, self-described civil libertarians quietly slink away from the defense of our civil liberties from greater and less restrained threats, particularly when doing so requires actual courage, whether physical, political, or professional.

Some would cede to the censorship of “Islamophobia” or “hate speech” or blame the targets and victims of terrorism for inciting attacks against themselves. Others still deny North Korea’s responsibility for cyberattacks that the FBI and the NSA watched unfoldNext time you meet one, ask a Sony conspiracy theorist (among whom we may count David Duke) what incentive President Obama had to blame North Korea for an attack on the United States. So that he would have an excuse to do nothing about it, and to face criticism from both political parties for the inadequacy of his response? To corner the market in North Korea’s vast riches of coal, meth, and refugees? In which case, why not secure an endless supply of two of those things by invading Wyoming?

To see a free society yield to its most cowardly impulses is to realize that our liberty will never be taken from us without the help of collaborators among us. Sadly, North Korea’s injury to our freedom to express ourselves in our own country has healed slowly. It may last as long as North Korea does.

The Museum of Modern Art has acknowledged it wrongly canceled the New York debut of “Under the Sun,” a documentary about North Korea that has been criticized by that country and Russia.

A slyly subversive look at the reclusive state by the Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, the film had been scheduled to be shown at the museum’s 2016 Doc Fortnight festival on Feb. 19-29. But an email exchange provided by the film’s German producer to The New York Times shows that a festival organizer, Sally Berger, an assistant curator at MoMA, expressed concern in late January about screening the film after reading an article suggesting that any organization that did so risked retribution from North Korea.

In the emails, Ms. Berger referred to a major hacking attack on Sony Pictures that the United States has described as retaliation by North Korea for a 2014 film satire of the country, “The Interview.”

She followed up a few days later to tell the documentary’s distributor that it would not be included in the festival. “It just simply came in too late to review all the possible ramifications of showing it here at MoMA,” she wrote.

Asked about the decision to withdraw the film, Rajendra Roy, the chief curator of MoMA’s film department, said Thursday in a written statement: “‘Under the Sun’ is a remarkable documentary that was wrongly disinvited.” He added that the decision was “made by the festival’s curator without my knowledge or input.”

The museum said on Friday that Ms. Berger was no longer working there. Margaret Doyle, a spokeswoman for the museum, declined to elaborate, and Ms. Berger, reached by telephone, said she would not comment. [Robert Boynton, New York Times]

Kudos to the MoMA for firing this quisling, although it gives me little comfort to wonder how many other galleries, publishers, and film studios have quietly and vicariously surrendered our freedom. If our choices are to live in a society where North Korea controls what we are allowed to see and read, or to live in a world without North Korea, please record my vote for the latter option. North Korea acknowledges no such concept as freedom of political expression. It does not respect our borders as inviolable. Its censorship knows no limits or boundaries, and to surrender to it is to forfeit our freedom. Judging by the frequency of North Korea’s cyberattacks since then, nothing President Obama has done since 2014 has persuaded Kim Jong-un otherwise.

Which brings us to some of America’s most ostentatious and uncompromising civil libertarians, who are also among the first to slink away from the greatest threats to our security, our liberty, and our rights to speak, live, and love as we choose. Take the case of some fellow called Jacob Hornberger, a lawyer, Fox News contributor, and collaborator of Ron Paul’s racist muse Lew Rockwell:

There are all sorts of suggestions as to how to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but all of them involve one form of interventionism or another. A popular idea of late is for the U.S. government to pressure China to induce North Korea to comply with U.S. wishes. How can the U.S. pressure China? Well, maybe by threatening to impose sanctions on China or maybe by threatening a trade war.

I’ve got a different idea: How about just leaving North Korea alone for the first time in more than 50 years? How about immediately lifting all sanctions against the North Korean people and immediately bringing home all U.S. troops stationed in Korea?

No negotiations.  Just unilateral withdrawal. Just unilaterally lifting all sanctions? How about establishing normal diplomatic relations with North Korea and leaving Americans and the rest of the world to trade with and visit that country?

In other words, how about treating North Korea in much the same way that the U.S. government is now treating the communist regime of Vietnam? . [Jacob G. Hornberger]

Hornberger then proceeds to explain that the tongue bath he would thus give Kim Jong is not a literal one:

No, I’m not suggesting that U.S. officials have to kiss, hug, and make nice with the North Korean communist officials, as they are currently doing with Vietnamese communist officials. And no, I’m not suggesting that the Pentagon plead with the North Korean communist regime to establish U.S. military bases there, as Pentagon officials are doing with the Vietnamese communist regime.

I’m just suggesting that the U.S. government leave North Korea alone. No more U.S. troops in South Korea. No more sanctions. No more B-52 flyovers. No more joint military exercise with South Korea. No more U.S. warships in the area. No more insults. No more provocations. Just come home and leave them alone. [Jacob G. Hornberger]

How Hornberger proposes to get North Korea to leave us alone, he does not specify. Specifically, I want to call your attention to where Hornberger calls for “[n]o more insults.” He manages to get through his entire argument without using the words “cyber” or “Sony,” neatly avoiding denialism and conspiracy theories by conceding that even if one accepts North Korea’s responsibility for the attacks, he’d still shake the hand at the end of the long arm of Kim Jong-un’s censors. I wonder what “insults” he might possibly mean if he doesn’t mean films and books that offend His Porcine Majesty. Would he censor the statements of our leaders and allies that Kim Jong-un should feed North Korea’s children? Votes in the U.N. General Assembly condemning his crimes against humanity, or investigations of those crimes by U.N. field offices? Academic conferences about government policy toward North Korea? Or what if, as a private citizen, I were to simply ask you to picture Kim Jong-un trying to put his own socks on? 

Which of these things does Hornberger suppose to be inviolable rights of citizens in free societies, and why does he suppose that Kim Jong-un would recognize the same fine distinctions? Why does Hornberger suppose that His Corpulency would be more respectful of our rights and boundaries after we cede him an effective nuclear arsenal?

Thankfully, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson does not appear to share Hornberger’s view of North Korea policy, although I can’t say much for his coherence on the subject, either. Still, it’s concerning that most of the diverse viewpoints that fit inside the “Libertarian” circus tent advocate some form of surrender to Kim Jong-un. Take, for example, noted sanctions not-at-all-expert Doug Bandow, who is ready to pronounce sanctions a failure in the very same month that U.N. member states and banks around world have finally begun to implement them in earnest — something that never happened in the case of Cuba. 

Washington could intervene by maximizing unilateral sanctions. However, such penalties have yet to force political change in any nation. For a half century, Cuba resisted U.S. pressure, even after the U.S. imposed secondary controls. Sudan survived decades of financial isolation. North Korea almost certainly would do the same, especially if the China continued to support its frenemy. [Doug Bandow, The National Interest]

Why, it’s almost as if Bandow enters the discussion with a preconceived conclusion before the evidence comes in! So how, then, does Bandow propose to secure our vital domestic and international interests, such as our freedom of expression and the global nuclear nonproliferation framework? Spoiler: he doesn’t:

One is to initiate both bilateral and multilateral talks, and determine if there is any kind of deal to strike. Forget convincing North Korea to give up its existing arsenal. Instead, consider limits on future production, proliferation activities and conventional threats. At the same time the U.S. and its allies should emphasize steps which would reduce any perceived threat to North Korea. [Bandow]

Bandow never explains how he’d defend our civil liberties from North Korean censorship from afar, although he has previously written that we should do so by — wait for it — canceling annual military exercises in South Korea, and withdrawing from Korea. That would create a sudden power vacuum in a region that has long been stabilized by our alliances and which has, consequently, become an engine of economic growth that employs millions of Americans.

Not that I would deny that the force structure of U.S. Forces Korea should change, by withdrawing more ground forces while raising our stand-off air and naval power in the region, our capacity to supply our allies logistically, and by building a Pacific analog of NATO. Not that it would be a bad thing for South Korea and Japan to spend a greater share of their GDPs on their own defense. Not that it’s a bad thing for South Korea, in particular, so see that America feels taken for granted, or that the anti-American rhetoric of some of its own demagogues has costs. That is a far different thing from abandoning allies that have recently started acting like allies again.

Look — I can see why big-“L” Libertarians and Paulies get the idea that Americans want isolationist foreign policies in the post-Iraq era. Ask Americans a sufficiently simplistic, reductive, and loaded question, and most of them will agree that “we should mind our own business.” From this, some academics and politicians conclude that isolationism is politically profitable, but such abstract agreements almost never survive contact with specific crises.

Jacksonians who want us to mind our own business in the abstract are the first ones to demand that we bomb something when they feel provoked by something concrete. Liberals who take quasi-pacifist positions in the abstract will (if only briefly) support interventions in response to specific humanitarian crises, such as in Bosnia, Libya, Rwanda, or even Mount Sinjar in Iraq. And in the case of North Korea, while almost no one wants war, the strongly negative sentiment Americans harbor toward its government suggests that they don’t favor the Hornberger or Bandow “solutions,” which would effectively recognize it as a nuclear power. 

Americans don’t like paying for alliances, but they like the alliances themselves, and they’re capable of calculating the consequences of letting totalitarianism go unchecked. We’ve just finished eight years of the most non-interventionist foreign policy the American electorate would tolerate. It currently burdens President Obama with an approval rating of minus eight points, although it has usually been between minus ten and minus twenty points. If Obama’s foreign policy has done us a service, however inadvertently, it has been to temporarily dispel the idea that you can solve great and complex international problems by ignoring them (much less by just letting in everyone who arrives at your doorstep, including the terrorists among them). Syria is gone. Maybe Iraq and Jordan can be saved, and maybe they can’t. Now, the question is whether Europe will survive. Who thinks that a similar crisis couldn’t happen in Japan and South Korea five or ten years from now if America withdraws from Asia and leaves Kim Jong-un with an effective nuclear arsenal? Or that the consequent crisis wouldn’t come to our shores, too?

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Congress asked for a real report on North Korean terrorism. The State Department hit CTRL-V and called it good.

As regular readers of this site have heard a few times by now, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, and despite overwhelming evidence, 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.” A few years ago, a less inquisitive Congress might actually have bought that, but in recent years, as North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism has become increasingly brazen and undeniable, Congress has made its views plain — members of both parties want North Korea back on the list.

Last year, Chairman Ted Poe (R, Tex.) and Ranking Member Brad Sherman (D, Cal.) of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade called in the State Department to ask about (among other things) one of the several federal court decisions finding North Korea responsible for sponsoring terrorist acts against U.S. persons. State’s performance at that hearing was an embarrassment for the ages, with the key witness appearing to know nothing about the subject matter and essentially repeating, “We’ll have to look into that,” on an endless loop.

Understandably dissatisfied with that, Poe and Sherman introduced H.R. 5208, which listed two dozen or so things North Korea has done since 1987 that sure as hell sound like terrorism to me, to Chairman Poe, and to Ranking Member Sherman. I mean … kidnapping human rights activists? Sending hit-men to kill dissidents? Shipping arms to Hezbollah by the boat-load? Threatening terrorist attacks against movie theaters all across America? For each of these acts, H.R. 5208 asks the State Department to say (1) whether North Korea did it, and (2) whether it counts as the sponsorship of terrorism. Then, the bill asks the Secretary of State to go on the record as saying whether North Korea has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” After all, similar or lesser conduct counted as terrorism in the State Department’s view when Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hafez Assad, and Moammar Qaddafy did it. Does North Korea enjoy some sort of undisclosed transactional immunity from the consequences of its actions? Its dictator could be forgiven for believing it did.

Today was the day by which the State Department really should have “looked into that,” when it released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism covering the events of 2015. And here is the entire North Korea section:

DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

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 2015 had not yet provided the results of this investigation to Japan.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the United States recertified North Korea as a country “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended. In making this annual determination, the Department of State reviewed the DPRK’s overall level of cooperation with U.S. efforts to counter terrorism, taking into account U.S. counterterrorism objectives with the DPRK and a realistic assessment of DPRK capabilities.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The DPRK is not a member of any FATF-style regional body. In July 2014, it was admitted as an observer, but not a full member, of the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. Nevertheless, the DPRK failed to demonstrate meaningful progress in strengthening its anti-money laundering/ combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) infrastructure. While encouraging the DPRK’s continued engagement with FATF and APG, the FATF highlighted continuing concerns about North Korea’s “failure to address the significant deficiencies in its [AML/CFT] regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system.” For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:  http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

So, nothing about the murder of Pastor Han Chung-ryeol, even if only to say they’re looking into that, too? Or the hit the North Koreans reportedly ordered on defector-activist Ko Young-hwan? Or the promotion of terror master Kim Yong-chol, the hacking of the Seoul subway, or continued kidnappings of refugees from China? What about those drug dealers the North Koreans paid $40,000 to kill Hwang Jang-yop, or any of the various threats to nuke Washington or Seoul? Or Pyongyang’s directive to its overseas workers to assault journalists investigating their working conditions? Or its threat to shell defectors for floating harmless leaflets to its isolated and half-starved citizens? Or its expression of support for the slashing attack on Mark Lippert, the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, an honorable man and a highly effective diplomat whom the bureaucrats who wrote this report have so casually dishonored?

Do none of those things merit a passing mention? The brave young North Korean refugee-activist Hyeonseo Lee says, “I am human also. I am scared.” Does anyone in Foggy Bottom give a fig? Do we stand with North Korea’s refugees, and its brave dissidents in exile, or with their persecutors?

Hyeonseo Lee

[“We’ll have to look into that and get back to you.”]

But there’s something else about the report that looked drearily familiar to me. That’s because it’s an almost verbatim copy of the 2014 report. See for yourself. I’ve underlined the very small differences in language.

DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

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.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the United States recertified North Korea as a country “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended. In making this annual determination, the Department of State reviewed the DPRK’s overall level of cooperation with U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, taking into account U.S. counterterrorism objectives with the DPRK and a realistic assessment of DPRK capabilities.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The DPRK is not a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In July 2014, it was admitted as an observer, but not a full member, of the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. Nevertheless, the DPRK failed to demonstrate meaningful progress in strengthening its anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) infrastructure. While encouraging the DPRK’s continued engagement with FATF and APG, FATF highlighted continuing concerns about North Korea’s “failure to address the significant deficiencies in its [AML/CFT] regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system.” At each of its plenary meetings throughout the year, the FATF renewed its call on members to “protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism risks emanating from the DPRK.” For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Notice anything missing? That report didn’t so much as mention the threats that drove “The Interview” from cineplexes in towns and neighorhoods across America, and which President Obama personally attributed to North Korea, saying, “We cannot have a society in which some dictators someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.” After all, “if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.” But censor they did, and “The Interview” wasn’t the only movie affected. Also unworthy of a mention by our State Department was North Korea’s 2014 hacking of South Korean nuclear power plants, with the intention of causing reactor malfunctions.

Go back another year to the 2013 report and it’s the same story. That report is an almost verbatim recitation of the same mendacious pabulum. In fact, much of the slight variation in language between the 2014 and 2015 reports is language that State copied from the 2013 text and pasted it into the 2015 text.

If I were a member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade right now, I’d be livid. I’d have the strong impression that I’d been dismissed, played, and insulted. The word “contempt” is difficult to put down. I’d demand a real report. And if I didn’t get it fast, I’d call a hearing. Mostly, I’d want someone to dignify my intelligence by telling me the truth. (This happens to be the very thing I also want, as a common citizen.)

As the Treasury Department begins to impose serious sanctions on North Korea, perhaps the financial importance of sanctions for North Korea’s state sponsorship of terrorism has receded some. Perhaps that means that the legal consequences of sponsoring terrorism are too slight. Whatever your views of that question, we deserve better than a government that lies to us. We deserve a government that values and defends our freedom to speak, and our freedom from fear.

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How much have sanctions affected PUST? Not enough, apparently.

Chan-Mo Park, the Chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, or PUST, and a U.S. citizen, is blaming South Korean bilateral sanctions for his difficulties recruiting new academic talent.

He told VOA on Wednesday, “We want to recruit South Korean professors, but the May 24 measure blocks it.”

He was referring to trade and exchange sanctions South Korea made against North Korea on May 24, 2010. The sanctions came after South Korea accused the North of sinking one of its naval boats and claiming the lives of 46 sailors. [VOA]

But just as another North Korean ballistic missile test has failed, Park’s plea may not draw much sympathy  in Seoul.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests earlier this year have further isolated the country. In March, a United Nations Security Council resolution placed further restrictions on North Korea’s financial activity.

The school chancellor says that despite international tensions, the university is growing. It is largely supported by Western-based Evangelical Christians. It currently hosts about 500 enrolled students and 100 professors. Some are U.S. citizens. [VOA]

This isn’t the only recent report that PUST has been having difficulties, although other reports have attributed those difficulties to other reasons. In April, South Korea’s No-Cut News reported that donations to PUST from American and South Korean donors had fallen, reducing its monthly budget from $100,000 to $50,000. The same report also claimed that North Korean authorities were trying to force founder and U.S. citizen Kim Chin-kyung out of the PUST leadership, for unexplained reasons. The North Korean government has also failed to follow through with previous commitments for a loan to PUST, and to build an electrical transformer for the campus.

By contrast, U.N. and U.S. sanctions have largely spared PUST thus far. The newest U.N. sanctions resolution bans the provision of “technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use” of nuclear, missile, and other WMD-related technology to North Korea, but not technology that could be used for cyberattacks.

PUST continues to export potentially sensitive technology from the U.S. to North Korea under licenses previously granted by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But if sanctions have largely spared PUST’s computer and cyber-related training programs, it’s worth asking whether they should have. Last December, two North Korean defectors, including one from North Korea’s electronic warfare command, claimed that Pyongyang was recruiting PUST graduates for cyber warfare, and was sending elite recruits for its military and internal security forces to PUST for scientific and technological training. The claim certainly sounds plausible. Topics taught at PUST include “computer hardware systems, wireless communications, data communications and networks, digital communications, pattern recognition (linked to robotics and industrial automation courses), artificial intelligence, data structures, algorithm design, web programming and object-oriented programming.” 

This isn’t the only occasion on which North Korea has been accused of misusing “engagement” programs that transfer technology to North Korea. In January, I raised the question — still unanswered — about whether Syracuse University’s program (unrelated to PUST) to teach North Korea digital watermarking had been used to trace and identify readers of censored content. Last year, this post at 38 North accused North Korea of using a Swiss-funded bioinsecticide program to build an anthrax factory.

Lately, it seems that each week brings a new story of North Korea being blamed for hacking something. This week, it’s a South Korean cybersecurity firm. Last week, it was accused of hacking SWIFT, the postal system for the entire international financial system, to steal $100 million. The week before that, it was a South Korean defense contractor. And so on. North Korea has been implicated in some of these attacks because of the similarity of the malware to that used to hack Sony Pictures in 2014, an attack that effectively terrorized Hollywood out of making any new films about North Korea and made our own freedom of expression significantly less free. And let’s not forget about Pyongyang’s alleged hackings of the Seoul subway system or a string of nuclear power plants in South Korea, either.

PUST, naturally, denies that it is training North Korean hackers, but does not explain how it could possibly know this. Does PUST keep records of which students go on to join Unit 121, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the Ministry of People’s Security, or the North Korean military? If PUST’s denials are difficult to credit, then the next-best question may be whether the skills PUST teaches young North Koreans could be used by hackers. NK News asked a technical expert, and this was his answer:

But while none of the courses were “hacking” courses per se, a Seoul-based computer engineering professor said that learning how to hack was an essential part of learning computer engineering. The professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that students needed to learn hacking for defensive purposes, but indicated this information could be put to use for other purposes.

“Yes they do, not only for North Korea but in U.S. and in (my university) we teach theory on hacking as a required subject,” he said. “One must learn the theory of hacking to excel in defending data from the attacks of hackers. So to make that possible, any computer engineering would teach the theory of hacking.” [NK News]

Whatever role PUST plays in training North Korean hackers, it’s probably not exclusive. A 2014 report by Hewlett Packard names Kim Il-sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, and the Command Automation University (or Mirim University), as places where Pyongyang trains its hackers. HP’s report does not name PUST. (In this regard, HP’s report is more directly damning for the Syracuse University exchange program; Kim Chaek University of Technology is its partner.)

But unless one assumes that HP knows everything about where Pyongyang trains its hackers, it’s likely that it trains them different skills at different schools. Foundational training and more advanced training probably take place in different facilities. Given what PUST is known to teach its students, the defectors’ allegations that PUST is at least one of those facilities makes sense. That means that some Americans may well be teaching North Koreans to hack other Americans (and South Koreans, and Europeans, and everyone else). And if they are, they’re doing it all with a license from our own Commerce Department.

It’s fair to point out that PUST also provides medical training to North Korean students. Although some medical technology is also sensitive for purposes of export controls, training doctors, dentists, and nurses does not carry the obvious risks that IT training does. Commerce need not summarily revoke all of PUST’s licenses to mitigate the risk that it’s training hackers. Instead, it should review those licenses individually. When North Korea’s increasingly brazen hacking poses a rising threat to our freedom, our security, and our economy, PUST’s IT-related training poses an unacceptable risk of misuse.

Of course, weighed against these risks, PUST says it’s advancing U.S. national interests by teaching its students about hip-hop music. So maybe in 40 years, some AP reporter can hail the arrival of the beat box in North Korea’s capital. Which, hopefully, won’t be Seoul.

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New bipartisan bill raises pressure on State Dep’t to list N. Korea as a terror sponsor

As readers of this site know, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.” That position is spurious. The evidence of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism is overwhelming. It includes shipments of arms to Hezbollah and Hamas, multiple attempts to kidnap or assassinate human rights activists and dissidents in exile, and a terrorist threat against movie theaters across the United States. It was good enough for three federal district courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and multiple South Korean courts. The State Department’s refusal to yield to it looks obtuse and politically motivated.

Enter Ted Poe and Brad Sherman. Poe, a Texas Republican and a former judge, is the Republican Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. Poe cuts an imposing figure in the halls of the Rayburn Building, his tall frame lifted by his trademark monogrammed boots. (If the script writer for “My Cousin Vinny” didn’t base his judge character on Ted Poe, he should have.) Sherman, a hawkish Democrat from California, is the subcommittee’s Ranking Member and one of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s longest-serving members. He is best known for his razor wit, and at times, for his ruthless questioning of witnesses, although I’ve always found him very affable in person.

Last October, before North Korea’s latest nuclear test, Poe and Sherman held a hearing on North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism, where they questioned two State Department witnesses about why North Korea had not been put back on the list. The witnesses were poorly prepared to address the evidence. They struggled to explain away just one of the district court rulings finding the North Korean government responsible for a terrorist act. Their answers were canned and non-responsive. The hearing ended with a clear sense of, “This isn’t over.” It wasn’t.

Last Thursday, Poe introduced the North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act of 2016. Sherman co-sponsored. The well-researched bill of particulars lays out 23 acts and requires the State Department to tell Congress, for each act, (1) whether North Korea did it, and (2) whether it counts as the state sponsorship of terrorism. Given the strength of the evidence of North Korea’s involvement in those acts, it’s going to be difficult for State to avoid denying it. My worry is that State will obfuscate while applying the definitions, but Poe and Sherman were wise enough to set the deadline at 90 days from enactment of the legislation. If the bill passes — a nuclear test, for which we’re overdue, would likely have that result — that would put the President in the position of reporting back to Congress shortly before Election Day.

Full text of the bill below the jump, or here.

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Who killed Pastor Han Chung-ryeol?

Since 1993, Pastor Han Chung-ryeol, an ethnic Korean citizen of China, had operated a church with 300 members at the foot of Mount Changbai, which the Koreans call Mount Paektu, on the Chinese side of the border. NK News reports that Pastor Han was last seen leaving his church at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon. He was found on the side of the Mountain at 8:00 that evening, “with knife and axe wounds in his neck.” Someone murdered Pastor Han, and not without reason, “[a]ctivists and local journalists suspect he was assassinated by North Korean agents.” Several media reports and this memorial, by his friend the Rev. Eric Foley, report that Han had helped North Korean refugees.

Changbai borders North Korea. And in 1993, North Korea was gripped by famine. North Koreans flooded across the border, looking for food, clothing, money, anything. It was rumored along the border in North Korea that if you went to a building with a cross on top, they would help you there.

In Changbai, there was one building with a cross on top. That was Pastor Han’s church.

Pastor Han never sought to start a North Korea ministry any more than he sought to start a church in Changbai. He simply responded faithfully to whatever God gave him to do. So as North Koreans knocked on the door of his church, he gave them food, and clothing, and Christ. When North Koreans began to knock on the doors of the homes of people all over Changbai, Pastor Han trained ordinary people how to help North Koreans also.

There was a time when it was possible for Korean Chinese people to visit North Korea to see their relatives. Pastor Han’s wife did. She even went to jail in North Korea for evangelizing North Koreans. But providentially in the same jail cell with her was a fellow prisoner, a kotjebi, or North Korean orphan, whom she and Pastor Han had once helped in China. The kotjebi was wearing layers and layers and layers of clothing, because every time the kotjebi needed to buy something, off would come a layer of clothing as payment. So the kotjebi provided Pastor Han’s wife with enough clothing to stay warm in the cold prison cell, as a way of saying thanks.

What North Koreans always said about Pastor Han was that they could see his heart. That is far rarer in ministry than you might imagine, and it is especially rare in North Korea ministry. You can share food with North Korean people. You can share clothing. You can share the Gospel. You can give them lots of money and rice cookers. And you can throw big parties for them. But unless North Koreans can see your heart, unless the gospel is embodied in your life and not only your words or your business cards, they will never cross over the scary, shaky rope bridge over which we each of us must cross in order to move from the ideologies that enslave us, to enter the Kingdom of God.

Pastor Han must have known the risks he was taking. As early as 2000, North Korea kidnapped and murdered the Rev. Kim Dong-shik, a U.S. resident, for helping refugees. In 2009, the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau sent hit teams to murder human rights activists in both China and South Korea. He was a brave man, and a good man. He gave everything, perhaps including his life, to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

So far, there is no direct evidence that North Korea was responsible for killing Pastor Han, although the suspicions of North Korea’s involvement go beyond mere speculation.

Han is believed to have been murdered by three North Korean agents who were dispatched to the Chinese northeastern province of Jilin right before the incident, Choi Sung-yong, the head of the group of families for South Koreans abducted by North Korea, said, quoting what he heard from North Korean defectors.

“The agents are known to have returned to their country,” Choi said. “The priest has long supported North Korean defectors. North Korea seems to judge that his church is being used as a hideout for such North Koreans.” [Yonhap]

An axe murder would be a departure from the RGB’s preferred method in recent years, which is to sneak up behind its targets and inject them with poison, specifically, neostigmine bromide. But of course, North Korea has murdered people with axes, too, notably Captain Arthur Bonifas and First Lieutenant Mark Barrett.

NK News quotes a fellow activist, who says Pastor Han also supported underground churches inside North Korea.

“Since last year, U.S. organizations have started funding him to establish underground churches in North Korea,” Pastor Kim Hee-tae, president of the missionary organization North Korea Human Rights Mission, told NK News.

The church started dispatching deacons into North Korea last year, Kim said.

“Some of them were arrested by North Korean authorities and some were missing. The North Korean State Political Security Department is likely to have learned Han’s role,” Kim added.

A similar incident happened three years ago, in which South Korean citizen pastor Kim Chang-hwan was killed by a poison needle in Dandong, China.

“He was about to infiltrate to North Korea with a fake Chinese passport to build underground churches,” Kim said. [NK News, Ha Young-Choi]

Unlike Kim Dong-shik or Kim Chang-hwan, Han was a Chinese citizen without ties of nationality to the U.S. or South Korea. Washington and Seoul could take the view that they have no basis to demand that China investigate Han’s murder and share its findings, but the murder of a humanitarian is reason for people of conscience all over the world to be concerned. After all, the U.S. often speaks out when China abducts or unjustly imprisons Chinese dissidents, and neither Seoul nor Washington owes North Korea any special deference.

If North Korea ordered the murder of Pastor Han, it would fit the legal definition of “international terrorism” in the U.S. criminal code. This has important policy implications here in the United States. The United States has repeatedly cited governments’ use of clandestine agents to murder their exiled citizens in third countries to support the designation of the responsible governments as state sponsors of terrorism. In the past, North Korea has targeted a U.S. resident and South Korean citizens for similar terrorist attacks. Finally, the South Korean government considers North Koreans, including the refugees Pastor Han had assisted, to be citizens of the Republic of Korea. That’s why U.S. and South Korean governments should ask China to share any evidence that North Korea was responsible for the murder of Pastor Han Chung-ryeol.

It’s also why they probably won’t.

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

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North Korea threatens to nuke everyone

North Korea on Tuesday strongly denounced the upcoming joint military exercise between Seoul and Washington, warning a “pre-emptive strike” against any attempt to collapse the Kim Jong-un regime.

South Korea and the United States plan to conduct their largest-ever military drill next month at a time of heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test and long-range missile launch.

In response, the North Korean military said it will use all possible measures to counter any attempts to decapitate its leader and collapse its regime, calling the planned joint drill “the height of hostile acts.”

We “are ready to immediately and mercilessly punish without slightest leniency, tolerance and patience anyone provoking the dignified supreme headquarters even a bit,” the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army said in an English statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. [Yonhap]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.”

Yes, I realize that a threat to attack with conventional forces (if that’s what the threat is) doesn’t meet the strict definition of “international terrorism,” but since when do these things matter to our State Department? After all, Bush took North Korea off the list for promising to give up its nuclear weapons programs, and that doesn’t have anything to do with the legal standards for listing a state as a sponsor of terrorism, either.

Discuss among yourselves.

 

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Arsenal of Terror, 2d Ed.: N. Korea reportedly orders assassination of prominent defector

I wondered what evidence the South Koreans had to back this up.

Police have strengthened security for a North Korean defector who serves as a ranking official at a South Korean state-run think tank after the North ordered his assassination, a source said Friday.

Since mid-January, police have beefed up the guard over Ko Young-hwan, vice president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, as North Korea is believed to have issued an order to kill him according to a source familiar with North Korean affairs.

Ko defected to South Korea in 1991 after serving as a North Korean diplomat at the North’s embassy in the Congo. [Yonhap]

The hit would have been ordered by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, right around the time its head was promoted to lead the United Front Department, which is in charge of the North’s relations with (and influence operations within) South Korea.

North Korea has ordered a series of assassination attempts against human rights activists and defectors since shortly after President Bush removed it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.

If anyone needs a fresh reason to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, this could be it.

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Meet the assassin/killer/hacker/terrorist Kim Jong-un just put in charge of relations with S. Korea

With all recent movement on sanctions legislation in the House and Senate, I’ve skimmed over the developments in North Korean Kremlinology, reports about which often read like the dossiers in a lost, bad-acid fueled manuscript for a “High Castle” sequel.

If you believe that personnel is policy, however, Kim Jong-un’s choice of a replacement for Kim Yang-gon, who ran Pyongyang’s so-called United Front Department until he died in a car-maybe-not-accident recently, is a dark omen about Kim Jong-un’s policy instincts. The UFD not only handles diplomatic relations with Seoul, but also Pyongyang’s propaganda and influence operations in South Korea, and its substantial cadre of sympathizers and spies there. 

Despite his job description, some scholars attributed pragmatic views to tScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.05.03 PMhe late Kim Yang-gon. By contrast, the choice of General Kim Yong-chol as his replacement set off alarm bells among Korea watchers, who describe him as a “hard-liner” or a “hawk.”

If you believe that inter-Korean relations are a real thing, that’s bad enough:

“We could interpret Kim’s appointment [to head the UFD] as Pyongyang’s declaration that its business with the Park government is now over,” Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“In the short run, Kim’s appointment, if true, is a very negative sign for inter-Korean ties,” he said. “The General Bureau of Reconnaissance is mainly tasked with plotting and carrying out espionage against the South while the UFD is responsible for seeking communication and cooperation with the South.”

Another North Korea expert agreed on the negative implications of Kim’s appointment. “If Kim Yong-chol is really named to the UFD, it is an indication of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s decision to strain ties with Seoul,” said Kim Young-soo, a professor of political science at Sogang University. [Joongang Ilbo]

The blunt truth is much worse. Kim Yong-chol is the prime suspect in North Korea’s 2014 cyberattack on Sony pictures, its cyberterrorist threats against American movie theaters, its 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the 2015 land mine attack against South Korean soldiers, and a whole series of attempted and perfected assassinations in South Korea and China. 

The blunt truth is, Kim Yong-chol is a straight-up terrorist. That’s why he featured so prominently in “Arsenal of Terror,” my report last year documenting North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism. There’s even a picture of him on page 62. Here’s one reason why:

In April 2010, South Korean authorities announced that they had arrested two North Korean agents who posed as defectors while plotting to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop. Following his 1997 defection, Hwang had become a fierce critic of the North Korean regime, and received multiple death threats.325

In June of 2010, Major Kim Myong-ho and Major Dong Myong-gwan326 of the RGB pled guilty to the assassination plot in a South Korean court.327 The court sentenced each of the defendants to ten years in prison. The defendants told prosecutors that Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, the head of the RGB, personally assigned them to the assassination mission in November of 2009.

On October 10, 2010, just six months after the failure of the assassination plot, Hwang Jang-yop died, apparently of natural causes, at the age of 87. Ten days later, South Korea announced that it had arrested another North Korean agent, Ri Dong-sam, who was also plotting to murder Hwang. Police denied the existence of any connection between that arrest and Hwang’s death.329 [Arsenal of Terror, pp. 61-62]

Kim Yong-chol now becomes the most important North Korean official to have his assets blocked by the U.S. Treasury Department, which could get interesting if he travels abroad or attempts to make dollar payments to hotels or airlines. You can argue whether O Kuk-Ryol (also blocked) is a semi-retired elder statesman or a guy with real control over North Korea’s nukes and counterfeiting, but Kim Yong-chol has clearly reached the top ranks.

To further complicate matters, Michael Madden’s profile adds the ominous details that Kim Yong-chol used to report to O Kuk-ryol, but that “[A]ccording to several sources, Gen. Kim has been difficult for his superiors to manage.”

Consider not only who has risen under Kim Jong-un’s reign, but also who has fallen. Until his 2013 purge, Jang Song-Thaek was often seen as Kim’s regent and adult supervision. Scholars tended to emphasize his relative pragmatism, and his control over Pyongyang’s trade networks inside China, perhaps in the implicit hope (of which I’m a skeptic) that associates trade with reform and moderation. Less often mentioned was that Jang was also in charge of the North Korea’s most feared internal security service and its gulags.

Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol, who was reportedly stood before a battery of anti-aircraft guns and vaporized — I use the term in the literal, rather than the Orwellian sense — may not have qualified as a “moderate” in North Korean terms, but he was at least presentable enough to send to Russia to meet with Putin. 

In the process, moderates have totally lost out in factional struggles inside North Korea. The latest victim was Kim Yang-gon, in charge of dealings with South Korea. His death last month in a motor vehicle “accident” was the latest in a series of similar misfortunes that have befallen those whose views did not conform with the hardliners. He had visited Beijing several times and had joined North Korea’s second-ranking leader, Hwang Pyong-so, in talks with the South Koreans in Panmunjom for resolving the August mini-crisis on the DMZ.  [Don Kirk, Korea Times]

Of course, moderates in North Korea are like beachfront property in North Dakota — a category that requires a relativistic and expansive definition. Still, the promotion of a stone-cold terrorist to the top ranks of Kim Jong-un’s inner circle says much about how Kim Jong-un sees the world around him, and whether he’s the Swiss-educated reformer we’ve been waiting for.

~   ~   ~

Photo credit: KCNA, via North Korea Leadership Watch

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North Korea and Sony, one year later: An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

Just over a year ago, President Obama publicly blamed North Korea for a cyberattack on Sony, and for cyberterrorist threats against American moviegoers. Last January 2nd, he signed an executive order authorizing new sanctions against North Korea, part of a promised “proportional response.”

A year later, we’re still waiting to see what President Obama will do to defend freedom of expression here in America. Professor Lee and I have an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, making the case for a stronger response.

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Defectors: PUST is training North Korean hackers

Not for the first time, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a showpiece for academic engagement between North Korea and the Outer Earth, stands accused of teaching its elite students to work as hackers in Kim Jong-Un’s notorious cyberwarfare units. 

North Korea is reportedly recruiting graduates from Pyongyang University of Science and Technology for cyber warfare.

North Korean defector Jang Se-yul, who worked in the North’s electronic warfare command, and another defector Yi Chol claimed on Wednesday in a news conference in Seoul that graduates from the university are assigned to the military for cyber terrorism.

The defectors also said that training institutions affiliated with the Ministries of People’s Armed Forces and People’s Security send trainees to the university to learn advanced science and technology.

The defectors urged South Korean religious and civic groups to reconsider their aid to the North Korean university, which was jointly established by the two Koreas in 2009 and produced its first graduates last year. [KBS]

It takes some searching to find out just what PUST teaches its students, and that search is ultimately unsatisfying. PUST’s home page leads to a Korean-language page that says it’s being upgraded. A site maintained by the foundation that funds PUST provides only the most general information about PUST’s curriculum. But Martyn Williams publishes more detailed information:

The university hasn’t published a detailed syllabus for its courses, but said the computer science includes elements on computer hardware systems, wireless communications, data communications and networks, digital communications, pattern recognition (linked to robotics and industrial automation courses), artificial intelligence, data structures, algorithm design, web programming and object-oriented programming.

These certainly sound like skills that could, at the very least, be useful foundations for an education as a hacker.

It’s not the first time an engagement program was accused of teaching North Koreans to be hackers. A year ago, The Telegraph claimed that a British university’s exchange program, which brought “two offspring of the regime’s elite,” then studying at PUST, to Westminster University to learn such topics as “understanding cyber attacks and assessing whether networks are vulnerable to malicious hackers.”

The course is designed for would-be IT engineers in large firms, and teaches students how to build large internet and mobile phone networks.

One optional module covers “techniques to secure computer networks, and critically evaluates them in the light of a variety of types of attacks,” according to course literature.

“The topics you will cover include network security concepts, computer and network system attacks, cryptography, web security, wireless security, network security tools, and systems. During the practical sessions, you will use an isolated computer laboratory to explore a range of software tools available to audit vulnerabilities in networks and to configure security.” [The Telegraph]

The report claims no knowledge of how the North Korean students used this training.

Like PUST, North Korea’s principal hacking unit, known as Unit 121, is also populated with young, high-songbun elites. According to The Inquisitr, “the candidates who pass a rigorous series of tests and trials are sent to study at top universities — and then sent to Russia and China for an additional year of specialized training in computer hacking and cyberwar techniques.” According to this detailed report on Unit 121 by Hewlett-Packard, candidates for Unit 121 “are then sent to Kim Il-sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology.” The report does not mention PUST specifically.

From the beginning, however, there have been concerns that PUST would provide the North Korean regime with sensitive technology useful for its weapons programs, in potential violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. This has required careful interaction with the U.S. Commerce Department, to obtain export licenses. One PUST supporter claims that “PUST’s curricula have been vetted by government and academic nonproliferation experts,” but concedes that “[t]he School of Biotechnology was renamed the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences because U.S. officials were concerned that biotech studies might be equated to bioweapons studies.”

Concerns about North Korea’s misuse of biotechnology were subsequently validated, when experts claimed that a Swiss-funded engagement program to teach North Korea to make bio-insecticides was likely capable of producing biological weapons. (As early as 1998, your correspondent, while serving with U.S. Forces Korea, was vaccinated for anthrax.)

PUST’s claims that it would become a portal of free thought and the free exchange of ideas have not panned out, and the campus atmosphere sounds like just what you’d expect from any place where North Koreans interact with foreigners — the secrecy of Sea Org, the militancy of the Peoples’ Temple, and the dress code of a Mormon mission school.

For example, “PUST has been promised academic freedom, the likes of which has been virtually unknown in North Korea, including campus-wide internet access.” Suki Kim’s memoir of her time teaching at PUST refutes this. Indeed, Kim claims that she was “under strict orders not to reveal anything about the Internet,” a claim that is somewhat at odds with the more troubling claims that PUST and foreign exchange programs taught PUST students how to exploit its vulnerabilities as hackers. According to PUST’s Wikipedia page, “[g]raduate students and professors have internet access, but it is filtered and monitored.”

The very reaction by PUST’s founders to Kim’s book also helps answer our litmus question for engagement projects with North Korea: “Who changed who?” Despite its promises of academic freedom, PUST makes its faculty agree not to discuss what they saw at PUST. Then, after Suki Kim’s departure and the publication of her book, co-founder James Kim criticized her bitterly for telling a global audience about the smothering censorship she saw there. In other words, instead of opening minds, PUST ends up acting as Pyongyang’s extraterritorial censor.

Amid the secrecy of North Korea’s political system, it’s probably impossible for anyone but the North Korean government — and a lucky few who escape from its grip — to know which PUST students, if any, eventually join Unit 121. All that we can say for now is that the reports call for further investigation, and for more transparency by PUST about exactly what it’s teaching North Korea’s young elites, and where its students go after they graduate.

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House Subcommittee Chair calls for re-listing North Korea as a terror sponsor

poeLast month, I posted video of a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade, where Chairman Ted Poe of Texas and Ranking Member Brad Sherman of California grilled a hapless State Department official about North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism, and why North Korea wasn’t listed. State’s performance at the hearing wasn’t just bad, but exceptionally so. Poe and Sherman were both visibly exasperated with State’s stonewalling, and seemed convinced that State was ignoring the law. Now, Poe has put his views in writing, listing the justifications for a re-listing at length:

Pyongyang has known links to the tyrannical regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and there have been several instances in the past decade in which North Korea’s two Middle Eastern clients transferred North Korean arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2009 alone, three North Korean arms shipments were seized by UAE, Israeli, and Thai authorities.

In all three cases, press reports indicated that the arms were bound for terrorist groups. In July 2014, Western security sources told media outlets that Hamas brokered an agreement to purchase communications equipment and artillery rockets from the Kim regime. Sure enough, North Korean anti-tank guided missiles surfaced in Gaza that same year.

But weapons sales are not the whole picture of North Korea’s ties to terrorist groups – there is growing evidence of Pyongyang’s advisory role to these violent organizations. Press reports in 2014 suggested that North Koreans advised Hezbollah in the construction of tunnels in Southern Lebanon in 2003-2004. Israeli military commanders believe that North Korea also provided logistical advice on Hamas’ tunnel network which it infamously used to attack Israeli civilian populations.

North Korea is also still a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. Its ongoing collaboration on ballistic missiles with Iran, the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, is well known. According to reports the two countries are presently working on the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could allow North Korea to deliver a nuclear warhead far beyond its shores. [Fox News]

If I have one regret, it’s that Poe didn’t raise North Korea’s kidnapping and assassination plots against human rights activists and exiled dissidents in China and South Korea. But when the evidence for a state’s sponsorship of terrorism is extensive enough to fill a 100-page report, you can’t fault a man for not being able to squeeze it all into one op-ed.

Poe’s call adds to other prominent members of Congress of both parties who want North Korea re-listed, including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Robert Menendez.

Meanwhile, we’re approaching the first anniversary of North Korea’s cyberterrorist threats that forced a stupid movie called “The Interview” out of theaters all over America. It was the first time in U.S. history that a foreign government successfully used terrorism against the American people, in their own country, to censor our freedom of expression. The Obama Administration’s response so far has been to sanction ten low-level arms dealers and three other entities that the Treasury Department had already sanctioned previously. A year later, I still wonder when our President will keep his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the most important freedom guaranteed to us under our Constitution.

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Congress wants answers on N. Korea and terrorism. The State Dep’t doesn’t have any.

As you may have heard somewhere, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.” Since I collected and published that overwhelming evidence last year, I was looking forward to the day when the State Department would be called to Congress to confront it. Today was that day, and it did not go well for the State Department.

It’s only Thursday, but I don’t think it’s too early to nominate Ms. Hilary Batjer Johnson, the State Department’s Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations, for “worst week in Washington.” At today’s hearing, before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, an increasingly exasperated Rep. Ted Poe (R, Tex.) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D, Cal.) tried to get straight answers out of Johnson about the rationale behind State’s position, its reaction to the evidence — including this federal court decision — and an explanation of how State applies the law.

I’m sure Ms. Johnson is a nice person, but I’ve been watching these hearings for about a decade now, and I’ve never seen an agency witness so ill-prepared to answer member questions. Watch it all if you can bear it. Or just watch Poe’s questions at 30 to 34 minutes in. Or Sherman’s at 46 to 50 minutes in, until he just gives up.

Perhaps it wasn’t Ms. Johnson’s fault that things went this way. She seemed to have no authority to dignify the members’ questions with straight answers, falling back on stock statements that State would have to “review the intelligence.” But then, she didn’t seem to understand either the designation or rescission processes, either. She was unfamiliar with the court decisions finding North Korea liable for acts of terrorism, so she wasn’t prepared to discuss them. She didn’t understand the consequences of an SSOT listing, including the transaction licensing requirements that would apply under 31 C.F.R. Part 596, the probability that securities issuers would have to disclose their North Korean investments in their SEC filings, or the loss of loans from international financial institutions.

It got so ugly that Sung Kim, State’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy, even stepped in to save her a couple of times. The hearing ended with frustrated members having more questions than answers. Rep. Sherman wanted State to send a written explanation of how it applies Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act. Both Sherman and Poe openly contemplated whether the statute needs to be amended for clarification (it does). There will be another (classified) hearing, and without the cameras present, it could be even uglier.

The key outcome of today’s hearing, however, is that the evidence forced State to retreat from its refusal to designate Pyongyang:

The United States continues to review intelligence to determine whether to put North Korea back on the list of states that sponsor terrorism, Washington’s top envoy on the communist nation said Thursday.

Amb. Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea policy, made the remark in a written statement submitted for a terrorism subcommittee hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as he outlined U.S. policy on the communist nation.

“We also continually review the available intelligence to determine whether North Korea is subject to additional measures. Naturally, this includes reviewing available information to determine whether the facts indicate the DPRK should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Kim said. [Yonhap]

This was the second time Kim has been called before Congress this week. On Tuesday, Special Coordinator for North Korea Policy was at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making the case that the Obama Administration has a North Korea policy:

“Holding North Korea responsible for its own choices does not mean just waiting and hoping the regime will one day come to its senses,” Kim said. “We are committed to using the full range of tools — deterrence, diplomacy, and pressure — to make clear that North Korea will not achieve security or prosperity while it pursues nuclear weapons, abuses its own people, and flouts its longstanding obligations and commitments.”

The envoy also said that the North’s bad behavior has earned no benefits from the U.S.

“Instead, we have tightened sanctions and consistently underscored to the DPRK that the path to a brighter future for North Korea begins with authentic and credible negotiations that produce concrete denuclearization steps,” Kim said. [Yonhap]

For a detailed legal analysis of why that’s complete twaddle, see this. For those interested, here’s a link to the video of the full Senate committee hearing. (House hearings make better television.)

Kim said the U.S. has also sustained pressure on the North to “increase the costs” of its destructive policy choices. He cited an executive order that Obama issued in January to impose fresh sanctions on Pyongyang in the wake of the regime’s hacking of Sony Pictures.

Yes, and so far, the Obama Administration has used that sweeping new Executive Order to sanction a grand total of 13 entities — ten low-level arms dealers (no doubt, ten other low-level arms dealers have since taken their places) and three entities that had been sanctioned years ago.

He stressed that sanctions enforcement has improved over the past two to three years, causing some pain in the North.

 

[Can you believe it? This was the biggest yacht he could afford!]

He added that revenues from North Korea’s illicit activities overseas have gone down as a result.

“Our financial sanctions are always more effective when supported by our partners, and so we’ve also focused on strengthening multilateral sanctions against North Korea,” he said. “We will continue to press for robust implementation of U.N. sanctions and enhanced vigilance against the DPRK’s proliferation activities worldwide.” [Yonhap]

But not to worry, says South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador. Doing approximately nothing should work just fine. Eventually.

U.N. sanctions and human rights resolutions will eventually cause pain to North Korea, even though such effects are slow in coming, South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday.

“The way I see it, sanctions work, but they work only in an accumulated form. So, you continue sanctions year after year and eventually it takes a toll,” Amb. Oh Joon said during a security seminar, pointing out doubts about the efficacy of sanctions on the North. [Yonhap]

Or so says the representative of a government that’s piping real dollars into the DPRK Central Bank’s vault through the Kaesong Industrial Park, for God-knows-what budget priorities. I don’t see how you make a coherent policy by sanctioning and subsidizing the same target at the same time. You can do one or the other, but not both. That isn’t a policy; it’s a diagnosis.

To further fuel your skepticism, recall last July’s Wall Street Journal report that the Obama Administration was “working on increasing pressure on Pyongyang through a range of measures designed to stem money flows to the regime, such as cracking down on illegal shipping and seeking to tighten controls on North Korea’s exports of laborers that work in near slave-like conditions around the world.” Which hasn’t happened.

It’s not just that they seem congenitally incapable of making decisions. It’s the sinking feeling that they just don’t know what they’re doing.

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Congress to hold hearings on N. Korea & terrorism, human rights, nukes this week

The first hearing, entitled, “The Persistent North Korea Denuclearization and Human Rights Challenge,” will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m., before the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The witnesses will be Sung Kim, the State Department’s Special Representative For North Korea Policy And Deputy Assistant Secretary For Korea and Japan, and Robert King, State’s Special Envoy For North Korean Human Rights Issues.

The second hearing will be before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, on October 22nd at 2 p.m. It will be entitled, “North Korea: Back on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List?” 

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 10.00.44 AM

(Coughs, clears throat, looks down at shoes.)

The witnesses will be Sung Kim and Ms. Hilary Batjer Johnson, State’s Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations. 

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