Archive for Terrorism (NK)

Park Sang Hak is a very brave man.

Park and the Fighters for a Free North Korea, most of whom are North Korean refugees, ignored a letter from Pyongyang to the office of South Korea’s President that, according to Yonhap, “alluded to retaliation” against their next leaflet balloon launch:

Defying the warning, 10 activists from Fighters for Free North Korea launched 10 big balloons carrying 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets into the sky in Paju, north of Seoul.

The waterproof leaflets contain messages denouncing the three-generation power transfer in the North as well as the dire economic situation, while praising South Korea’s economic prosperity. [Yonhap]

They also ignored a warning from the South Korean government about the safety risks, and a request from the Unification Ministry not to go through with the launch. Park’s reaction was defiant.

“In spite of any threat or warning from the North, we will continue sending letters of truth until the North Korean people achieve liberalization,” the activist group’s chief, Park Sang-hak, said during the leaflet campaign.

As much as I admire Park’s uncompromising courage, I also worry about him enough to think he should compromise it just slightly, by being more cagey about launch times and places. The North Koreans have already made one attempt on his life, and I wouldn’t put it past them to shell a launch site. Nor would I put it past South Korean “progressives” to blame Park for the attack and its consequences. They want the government to censor Park:

“Sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets constitutes a dangerous act that devastates peace on the peninsula,” said an activist from the Korea Alliance of Progressive Movements.

You can call the Korean left many things, but “liberal” isn’t one of them.

At times, I’ve wondered what effect Park’s leaflets could possibly have, especially when most of them probably aren’t even found, much less read. One thing that Pyongyang’s reaction to Park tells me is that he must be having some effect. It wouldn’t issue threats like these and send assassins to kill Park if it wasn’t afraid of his message.

Travel in N. Korea “feels incredibly safe,” says tour company whose customer just got 6 years hard labor.

In a proceeding that took just 90 minutes — about as long as most arraignments I’ve done — North Korea’s “Supreme Court” has sentenced American tourist Matthew Todd Miller to six years of hard labor for “entering the country illegally and trying to commit espionage.” The AP omits the State Department’s easily accessible finding that North Korea’s “judiciary was not independent and did not provide fair trials,” but adds the amusing detail that Miller waived his right to a North Korean lawyer.

It also adds the interesting and new (to me) details that Miller “admitted to having the ‘wild ambition’ of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation,” and “claimed, falsely, that his iPad and iPod contained secret information about the U.S. military in South Korea.” Or so say the North Korean “prosecutors.”

It isn’t clear what gave Miller the notion that he would be housed in the same conditions as North Korean political prisoners, but it’s a safe bet that he won’t be gassed to test a chemical weapon, forced to dig his own grave and beaten to death with a hammer, killed for trying to eat a guard’s whip or eating chestnuts off the ground, or drowned in a waste pond. Or raped and murdered. Or made to race next to a modern-day “parachutist’s wall” for the amusement of his guards.

Also, I wonder who’ll break it to Miller that someone else has already written a book about conditions in North Korea’s Gulag Lite, the North Korean analogue to a “country club” prison.

In prison, Miller will join fellow American Kenneth Bae. A third American tourist, Jeffrey Fowle, has not yet been formally tried and sentenced. The Rev. Kim Dong Shik, a lawful permanent resident whom North Koreans abducted from China and brought to North Korea in 2000, is unavailable for comment.

The consensus view of North Korea’s motive for sentencing Miller to hard labor, rather than giving him a good smack on the side of his head and putting him on the next flight out, is that it is political. That is, Pyongyang is using its American hostages to force the U.S. government into talks about aid, diplomatic recognition, sanctions relief, and de facto recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state. As even the AP concedes, “North Korea has a long history of attempting to use American detainees to win attention and concessions from Washington, which insists Pyongyang must give up its nuclear ambitions before relations can be normalized.”

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

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This morning, out of curiosity, I went to the web site of Uri Tours,* the company that sold Miller his overpriced tour of North Korea, and found this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 9.51.15 AM

[Plaintiff's Exhibit A, accessed September 14, 2014.]

The U.S. State Department takes a very different view of whether travel in North Korea is safe:

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 9.53.54 AM

[Plaintiff's Exhibit B]

Imagine a company in America selling asbestos pajamas with “feels incredibly safe!” printed on the packaging. Gleeful personal injury lawyers would line up outside the store with clipboards to sign the purchasers’ families up for contingency-fee retainer agreements.

Perhaps an equally lucrative strategy would be to do the same at the Capital Airport in Beijing, at the gate where the Air Koryo flights leave for Pyongyang. Off-hand, I can’t think of a case of a company as negligently — even fraudulently — inducing a customer into buying an unsafe product without adequate safety warnings. The American Bar Association has written about the potential liability of travel agents** to their customers for placing them in dangerous situations:

The travel agent is considered the legal agent of the travel service provider for the product that is sold. That is, the travel agent is employed by or acts on behalf of the transportation companies. However, the recent growing trend is for courts to find that agents owe a fiduciary duty to the customer, that is, the travel agent is the legal agent of the customer, as well as being the legal agent of the provider of travel. This dual agency status of being an agent for both the traveler and the provider of travel has continued to grow as travel agencies have relied less and less on the business customer and more on the leisure market.

Generally, in the United States, a travel agent is liable for injuries caused to the traveler if the agent did not act with due diligence in investigating the safety of the provider of travel that is acting as its principal. Potential travelers in the leisure market (as opposed to business travelers) rely on the travel agent’s expertise and special knowledge of the cruise ship or hotel or resort that they are booking. In this situation there is a higher standard of care owed by the travel agent to the customer.

Of course, Miller’s alleged acts would be appear to be those of an unstable person. Could Uri be held liable for under such circumstances? If Uri owed Miller a fiduciary duty, it might have had a duty to make reasonable inquiries about his mental stability and his intentions on arriving in North Korea, and to refuse to sell tours to a person likely to endanger himself. Uri Tours, which seems to betray its own concerns about liability, is saying that it made those inquiries:

Uri Tours, the New Jersey-based company that organized Miller’s trip, said they assisted him in designing a custom tour. [L.A. Times, Steven Borowiec]

Well …. You can’t deny that Miller is now experiencing an aspect of life in North Korea that few tourists will ever see. Miller is, or so the usual cliches go, getting “a rare glimpse” and “exclusive access” to an places that few Westerners will be allowed to see. Indeed, ever since the AP gained exclusive access to Pyongyang, it has been relatively rare for them to write about that aspect of life in North Korea.

I could go on: Miller’s visit has opened new doors for foreigners in North Korea! (… and then locked them securely behind him). His visit has resulted in new diplomatic contacts! (… through the Swedish protecting power.) He has made new people-to-people contacts! (… through the food tray slot in his cell door.) He has given North Koreans new insight into life in America! (His interrogators report that we’re decadent, unpatriotic, and mentally unbalanced.)

Uri Tours chief executive Andrea Lee said that as a result of Miller’s arrest and detention, the company has instituted new measures to more thoroughly screen passengers before their tour. She said Uri Tours now routinely requests secondary contacts from prospective travelers and reserves the right to contact those references to confirm facts that are in question.

I can hardly wait to see what “new measures” Uri Tours will take to protect the safety of its customers. Not sending them to North Korea comes to mind. Meanwhile, the deceptive assurance that travel in North Korea is safe remains on Uri’s site, months after Miller’s arrest.

“Although we ask a series of tailored questions on our application form designed to get to know a traveler and his/her interests, it’s not always possible for us to foresee how a tourist may behave during a DPRK tour,” Lee said via email, using the initials for the nation’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Or, a court could find that tours of North Korea are, in light of past history, so inherently dangerous as to impose even greater legal duties on Uri and other tour companies.

No doubt, Uri had its customers sign liability waivers. Having reviewed dozens of such waivers and researched how state law treats them, I have a dim view of the legal protection they provide. While a signed waiver might be helpful to Uri’s defense, it would not provide a complete defense, especially if a court found that Uri’s warnings were negligent or knowingly deceptive.

I can already see the TV commercials: Have you been sentenced to hard labor in North Korea? Call the law firm ….

But of course, when Americans book tours of North Korea, Americans are the least likely to be the ones who suffer for it. You really have to be a soulless imbecile to do something as morally negligent as putting dollars into Kim Jong Un’s pocket.

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Update: This post was edited after publication.

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Update 2: Welcome, Washington Post readers.

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* In Korean, “Uri” means “our,” and in contemporary Korean society, has a strong ethno-nationalist connotation. For example, “Uri” was also the name of the left-wing nationalist political party of former President Roh Moo Hyun, who held office from 2003 to 2008, and who increased aid to North Korea dramatically. In his memoir, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described Roh as “anti-American” and “a little crazy.” In 2009, Roh committed suicide by leaping to his death from a cliff.

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** Because North Korea is no longer listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, it is immune from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, even for acts that are transparently meant to use Americans as hostages to win diplomatic concessions. It would lose this immunity and become subject to suit, if it is re-listed as an SSOT because of its detentions of American citizens.

Tonight, on The John Batchelor Show, Bruce Bechtol will discuss North Korea’s …

terrorism, proliferation, and policy responses to both.

Bechtol, as you recall, testified as an expert in the Kaplan v. DPRK case that found North Korea liable for sponsoring the Hezbollah rocket attacks that injured the civilian plaintiffs. Judge Lamberth cited both Bechtol’s testimony and his book, The Last Days of Kim Jong Il, in his Memorandum Opinion.

The interview will air at 11:15 p.m. Eastern Time in Washington, and at other times in other areas, on this station. You can also listen to recorded broadcasts of the show here, which you should, for another good reason — Gordon Chang often co-hosts the show.

I don’t care for most talk radio, frankly, but Batchelor’s show is always intelligent, always has insightful guests, and never harangues. You may or may not agree with its perspective, in the same way that I don’t agree with NPR’s perspective, but still find its content redeeming. Batchelor’s show is NPR for conservatives, only without the government funding.

Victor Cha and Gabriel Scheinmann on North Korea’s links to Hamas

“While there is, as of yet, no smoking-gun evidence that North Korea assisted Hamas directly in constructing its tunnels, the evidence is very suggestive.” [link]

It’s almost as if the Bush Administration’s decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism encouraged it to sponsor more terrorism.

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Update: Related thoughts from Don Kirk.

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

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

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

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

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

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Update: Speculation about what those demands might be focuses, naturally, on North Korea’s demand to be recognized as a nuclear state:

“Their negotiating ploy with the U.S. is to try to get us to agree to nuclear arms control, to sort of accept them as a nuclear weapons state — which we can’t do,” Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said on CNN of Pyongyang’s motivations.

[....]

“First of all, their motivation always behind these interviews has been to gather U.S. attention and then try to pave a way for high-level dialogue with Washington,” Ellen Kim of the Center for Strategic and International Studies also told CNN.

Victor Cha, chief analyst on Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) who had served as a director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, also said that the North appears to want a package deal with the U.S.

“My guess is the fact that all three of them were put on tape for an American audience on Labor Day as a signal from the North Koreans that they’re looking for some sort of package deal to try to get them all out,” Cha said. “Whether they’re trying to connect this to the long-stalled nuclear negotiations is anybody’s guess.” [Yonhap]

But for now, despite rumors of a secret visit by a U.S. envoy to Pyongyang, the White House says “that Pyongyang must demonstrate its denuclearization commitment through action if it wants to reopen negotiations with the U.S.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Update: This post was edited after publication.

Report: North Korea is selling rockets to Hamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discuss among yourselves.

 

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

Federal judge finds N. Korea liable for terror sponsorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[....]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

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

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

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

kim_jong_un_boat_west_sea_yellow_sea

(KNS/AFP/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chosun Ilbo story adds this important piece of evidence:

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

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

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

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

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

Done Your Christmas Shopping Yet?

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

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

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

Journo-Terrorism Gives Us a Reason to Take KCNA Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should take a final choice by itself.

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

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

We are fully ready for everything.

Time is running out. -0-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticks and Stones

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

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

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

So is it terrorism this time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad assassin! Bad, bad, bad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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