Someone else notices Margaret Chan’s incompetence

If I were a more competent Twitter user, I would have tweeted this article without tweeting a title that called the U.N. “more dangerous than Ebola.” The article itself is interesting and adds to the case for Chan’s dismissal, but the headline is needlessly hyperbolic.

N. Korea: U.S. invented Ebola

Once again, KCNA’s source is an American crackpot — this time, a conspiracy theorist named Paul Craig Roberts. Even more incredibly, Roberts cites two professors, including one law professor, as his sources. Seriously — WTF is wrong with a higher education system that employs such whooping lunatics and stands them up in front of impressionable students?

Putin is already censoring your news.

Granted, Buzzfeed has never been known as a paragon of journalistic integrity, but it should have to register as a foreign agent for giving in to this.

Separately, Anne Applebaum writes about state-sponsored comment trolls, who I’ve often suspected of having an outsized presence at the Post’s own comments section, and of commenting at this humble site on occasion.

Most of the best comments and corrections I get come by e-mail, which is why I often wonder whether enabling comments is worth the hassle.

Help Change North Korean Society From the Ground Up By Breaking the Information Blockade

graphic: Beyond the Border: Moving Information into North Korea

Kang Chol Hwan is best known for the Aquariums in Pyongyang, in which he tells how he was raised in a political prison camp for an unknown “crime” “committed” by his grandfather.

Perhaps less well known is that Kang started the North Korea Strategy Center in Seoul several years ago, and for years they have been sending in DVDs, USBs, etc. loaded with movies, TV shows, and information about the outside world (eg, a copy of Wikipedia).

The ways in which North Korea attempts to block access to news and information about the outside world have been well documented on this blog and elsewhere, as has the gradual erosion of those controls. NKSC and other groups seek to accelerate that trend by sending in media that informs and that gets North Koreans thinking. Some examples of what they send in:

We send over media such as Hollywood movies, dramas, and documentaries – content that shows the outside world to the North Korean people. Recent examples include The Book Thief (to show freedom of information),The Pursuit of Happyness (free markets), Human Planet foreign culture), 50/50 (welfare), Midnight in Paris (foreign culture), and Tyrant (authoritarianism). [NKSC Indiegogo campaign]

That’s right, NKSC is in the middle of its first Indiegogo fundraising campaign, and they need our financial support and our help to spread the word. I am friends with several present and past staff members at NKSC and can attest to their dedication and tireless hard work. And though they perhaps wouldn’t want me to mention it, I can attest to their self-sacrifice in working at a non-profit organization in Korea such as theirs (put it this way: the wages and, to a lesser extent, the social status accrued by those in the NKHR field in South Korea is not something that most of their fellow countrymen, or many others for that matter, aspire to).

Here’s a short video about NKSC’s media dissemination work.

For more on the topic of how exposure to outside information affects North Koreans, be sure to read A Quiet Opening (PDF), the report that Nat Kretchun and Jane Kim wrote for InterMedia in 2012 (which included research by NKnet).

Visit NKSC’s Indiegogo campaign page and learn more by clicking one of the graphics at the top or bottom of this post.

Whether you’re able to donate to the campaign or not at this time, please share it widely with your friends and relations!

-Thanks, Dan Bielefeld

USBs, DVDs, radios sent into NK to date by NKSC

N. Korea: We didn’t hack Sony, but we’re glad someone did

As suspicions grow that North Korea was indeed responsible for the Sony hack, North Korea offers that oddly unconvincing denial. If the North Koreans really did do it, some commenters think the U.S. will have to respond:

Aitel says the hacks are potentially “a ‘near red-line moment'” because they represent the kind of incident that would almost require a US policy response assuming a rival state was behind it. As Aitel says, “This is the first demonstration of what the military would call Destructive Computer Network Attack (CNA) against a US Corporation on US soil … a broad escalation in cyberwarfare tactics” that would demand some kind of American response. [Business Insider]

Personally, I’d have thought that the 2009 incident when North Korea (or its sympathizers) was suspected of hacking “27 American and South Korean government agencies and commercial Web sites” would have crossed a red line. I’d be interested in knowing what evidence linked those attacks to North Korea, but targets of cyberattacks often avoid publicizing the fact that they were attacked.

Mandiant’s extensive report on China’s state-sponsored hacking was an exception to that rule. Maybe Mandiant should write a second report on North Korea, and especially about what support the North Korean hackers receive from China.

PUST’s un-Christian attacks on Suki Kim

Ms. Kim’s recollections about PUST and North Korea have obvious public interest value for citizens and policymakers, but it’s hard to believe she told us much that an astute observer wouldn’t have guessed anyway. I think the most valuable thing Suki Kim may have taught us is how invested those who “engage” Pyongyang become in imposing a code of omerta to conceal the truth from us, regardless of the ethical cost.

But the author, Suki Kim, may have provoked even more anger among the university’s Christian educators. They have denounced Ms. Kim for breaking a promise not to write anything about her experiences and said her memoir contains inaccuracies, notably her portrayal of them as missionaries, which could cause them trouble with the North Korean authorities. [….]

Dr. Kim sent her what she described as a series of angry and distressed emails when he found out about her plans to publish the book. At least two of her former fellow teachers also wrote, imploring her to scrap the idea.

In a telephone interview from China, Dr. Kim sought to rebut the entire book.

“I am really upset about the attitude, her writings, her telling lies, her cheating us,” he said.

He was especially critical of what he called the erroneous assertion that the other teachers were missionaries. “We are educators,” he said.

If the North Korean authorities thought that the school was seeking to convert the students to Christianity, Dr. Kim said, “we would have trouble.”

“They know we are Christian, we do not hide that,” he said. “But we are not missionaries. Christians and missionaries are different.” [N.Y. Times]

As you analyze whether any “engagement” project with North Korea is beneficial, ask yourself who changed who. The evidence that PUST has made Pyongyang more like America is far from clear, but it’s very clear that the PUST administration has taken on some very North Korean characteristics.

I must put Miss Kim’s book on my list now.

Dennis Halpin on the suppression of protests in Hong Kong

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Halpin explains why the crackdown in Hong Kong not only portends worse things to come for China’s aggression against democracy within it borders, but also beyond them:

A major Beijing propaganda theme in attempting to deny the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong is that outside agitators, chiefly from the United Kingdom and the United States, are behind the wave of unrest. China’s government mouthpiece, the Global Times, editorialized earlier this fall that “the more [extremists] count on support from Washington and London, the more absolutely they will fail.” President Obama was put on the defensive on Hong Kong by his Chinese hosts at the APEC summit. In a joint press conference with Xi Jinping, Obama declared, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, “On the issue of Hong Kong, I was unequivocal in saying to President Xi that the United States has no involvement in fostering the protest that took place there.” [….]

According to the Los Angeles Times, Xi had pointed this fall to Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” as the model for ending the political separation of Taiwan. The Times went on to quote Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council as pointing out “that more than 70 percent of Taiwanese people” consider Xi’s suggestion “unfit” for consideration.

Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, cut to the crux of the situation by pointing out in a November 1 interview with the New York Times, “If mainland China can practice democracy in Hong Kong or if mainland China itself can become more democratic, then we can shorten the psychological distance between people from two sides of the Taiwan Strait.” Ma, the Times noted, “risked antagonizing Beijing .??.??. by voicing support for protesters in Hong Kong and for greater democracy in mainland China.” [Dennis Halpin, The Weekly Standard]

One day, historians may conclude that the failure of the U.S. and Britain to stand with the protestors in Hong Kong convinced the leaders in Beijing that they could go further and suffer no prohibitive consequences.

N. Korean spy targeted refugees in the South

As much as I agree that the National Security Law is overbroad and prone to abuse, cases like this show that parts of it remain necessary for the protection of South Korean citizens, including refugees from the North.

A North Korean defector was sentenced to two years behind bars on Friday for trying to pass on information about fellow defectors in South Korea to Pyongyang authorities.

A local court in this southeastern city said it found the 45-year-old woman, identified only by her surname Kim, guilty of gathering information on about 20 defectors in South Korea and attempting to send it to the North.

She was indicted on charges related to South Korea’s strict National Security Law that bans South Koreans, including North Korean defectors, from having contact with the North. [Yonhap]

Miss Kim told the judge that after her defection, she changed her mind, decided to return, contacted the North Korean Embassy Consulate in Shenyang, and volunteered to become a spy to earn the right to return. It seems rather more likely that Miss Kim was sent South by the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Workers’ Party to collect intel on others. It seems unlikely that Miss Kim learned the sources and methods of espionage while already in South Korea.

What I’d ask Jean Lee if I could

So Jean Lee is going to be at this event at the Woodrow Wilson Center in D.C. this afternoon, but I’m down with the flu. Assuming she takes questions, maybe one of you can ask instead.

1. Why did AP agree to co-sponsor “A joint exhibition by The Associated Press and the Korean Central News Agency Marking 100 Years Since the Birth of Kim Il Sung” that portrayed North Koreans as content, well-fed, and devoted to their leaders? In retrospect, can you see why that decision caused some of us to question AP’s objectivity? Will AP release the MOU in which it agreed to co-sponsor that exhibition?

2. After you left Pyongyang as Bureau Chief, an apartment building collapsed in downtown Pyongyang, no more than a 15-minute drive from the AP’s offices. If AP’s presence has been as transformational as AP has represented, why wasn’t AP able to report from the scene of the disaster, confirm or refute reports that hundreds died in the collapse, or report on the safety of other recent construction in Pyongyang?

3. While you were Bureau Chief, you wrote several reports on Ri Sol Ju’s tastes in fashion and entertainment. At the same time, some news sources were reporting that thousands of people in South Hamgyeong Province were dying of starvation following crop seizures by the government. Aside from this chaperoned tour of a model collective farm, what efforts did you make to get the North Korean government to allow you to confirm or refute the accuracy of those reports?

4. In 2012, AP reported the story of Pak Jong Suk, a North Korean woman who defected to South Korea and later returned to the North. At a “press conference” in Pyongyang, Pak said she had been tricked into defecting by South Korean intelligence agents. Reporters for the Donga-Ilbo and The Washington Post investigated the story and reported that Ms. Pak returned to Pyongyang after learning that her son and his family had been exiled to a remote province as punishment for her defection. Did AP ever investigate or question the story Ms. Pak told at her press conference? Also, were the KCNA “journalists” detailed to AP among those seen applauding Ms. Pak’s confession at the press conference?

So I guess naming your dog “Kim Jong Un” is a definite no-no.

North Korea has ordered its people not to use the name “Kim Jong-un” in a bid to protect the supreme authority of the current leader, according to Pyongyang’s official document confirmed Wednesday.

In January 2011, then leader Kim Jong-il issued a decree urging people with the same name to change it “voluntarily.” As North Korea is regarded as a totalitarian state, it is unclear whether the decree was actually voluntary. [Yonhap]

Oh, it seems clear enough to me. When I first read the headline, I thought it meant that they’d banned people from saying Kim Jong Un’s name at all, which is disappointing, because now I can’t use this.

Presumably, it’s still legal to name your kid “Adolf” or “Pol Pot” there.

In 2006, Ashton Carter called for blowing up a N. Korean missile on the launch pad

At the time, I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about the idea, and I’m still not enthusiastic about it today, but had I known then that George W. Bush and Barack Obama would let things get to where they’ve gotten today, I might have agreed with the idea of an aerial intercept.

One thing we know about Ashton Carter is that he talks a good game.

Sony Pictures should go after North Korean hackers’ Chinese enablers

Since the weekend, several of you have e-mailed me about “suspicions” — and really, I don’t think they went further than that — that North Korea may have hacked Sony Pictures and leaked unreleased movies to file sharers to punish it for “The Interview.” Those rumors were covered by many outlets, but frankly, the open-source evidence for North Korea’s complicity was little more than speculation, at least until I read this today:

Hackers who knocked Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer systems offline last week used tools very similar to those used last year to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs, people briefed on the investigation said.

The similarity would reinforce a hunch among some investigators, which include Sony, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a team from Silicon Valley security company FireEye Inc., that North Korea played a role in the breach at the film and television studio, one of the largest in the U.S. South Korea publicly blamed the 2013 attacks on North Korea. [….]

Sony Pictures is set to release this month “The Interview,” a comedy in which U.S. spies enlist a television host played by James Franco and his producer, played by Seth Rogen, to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In June, a spokesman for the Pyongyang government said distribution of the movie would be “the most undisguised terrorism and a war action” and threatened a “strong and merciless countermeasure” if the U.S. government “patronizes the film.” [Wall Street Journal]

It’s hardly proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it’s something. Interestingly, “The Interview” wasn’t one of the Sony films the hackers leaked — not yet, anyway. For now, Sony Pictures continues to deny that it has direct knowledge of North Korea’s involvement. As I noted here, Sony was previously reported to have made changes to the script to appease the North Koreans. So much for appeasing North Korea, although South Korea seems congenitally incapable of learning that:

“The Interview,” a North Korea-themed satire starring actors Seth Rogen and James Franco, won’t be released in South Korea, a Seoul-based official for Sony Pictures Entertainment said. [….]

South Korean media reports cite a Sony Pictures Korea official as saying the distributor never had plans to release the film due to concerns about inter-Korean relations. A Sony Pictures official declined to comment on the reasons behind the decision not to show the film in South Korea. [WSJ Korea Real Time, Jeyup S. Kwaak]

Cowards. Kwaak’s post notes that South Korean state censors prevented “Team America” from being screened in South Korea, but doesn’t link the suppression of “The Interview” to government censorship. One possibility is that the ROK government asked Sony very politely. Another is that Sony anticipated that the usual gang of pro-North Korean thugs and thought police would try to disrupt screenings.

And what recourse does Sony have against the hackers, assuming it can prove that North Korea was responsible? Hacking is a federal felony, and an attack on a U.S.-based computer system would arguably give the feds subject-matter jurisdiction. If the Justice Department prosecutes, it probably wouldn’t find any live bodies to stick in the dock, but because hacking is a predicate offense for money laundering, DOJ would still be able to forfeit assets of anyone the court convicted. Not that that would do Sony much good.

Sony might be able to sue North Korea by taking advantage of several exceptions to North Korea’s sovereign immunity under 28 U.S.C. 1605(a). Collecting the judgements, of course, would be another matter entirely. Just ask any of the lawyers who won these judgments.

More interesting, however, are suspicions that the hackers may have been operating out of China, which isn’t a novel theory. That almost certainly couldn’t happen without the knowledge of the Chinese government and other Chinese entities, perhaps including entities with assets that could be reached by U.S. courts.

This suggests that a more fruitful legal strategy may be for the feds to prosecute, and for parties like Sony to sue, the Chinese enablers. There are even indications that our government might have the political will do to that. The new Congress could also require the Director of National Intelligence to report on China’s sponsorship of North Korean hacking. Unclassified portions of that report might provide useful evidence for Sony’s case.

~   ~   ~

Update: One reason Sony Pictures might not go after the hackers’ Chinese enablers is that Hollywood has been too preoccupied welcoming its new Chinese overlords and sucking up to its new censors. I thought it was bad enough when Sony Pictures bent over for Japan’s censorship; wait till you see what stultifying delights the Chinese have in store for us.

And the unlikely hero of this alarming and underreported controversy? Oliver Stone, himself a suspected disseminator of KGB propaganda, naturally. So I guess the wounds from the Stalin-Mao rift are still raw in some quarters. Hat tip to a reader.

~   ~   ~

Update 2: According to this report by U.S. Army Major Steve Sin, a defector reported that as of 2004, members of a North Korean military hacker unit called Unit 121 conducted “some of its operations from a North Korean government-operated hotel called Chilbosan in Shenyang, China.” Business Insider sent a reporter there (Update: or, horked the pictures online; see comments) to see what the hotel looks like today.

KCNA cites debunked accusations to deny human rights violations

It all started with a piece of web journalism that printed the demonstrably untrue accusations of two men whose views were never newsworthy, and which would never have been published had they been researched. One is a notorious denier of North Korea’s crimes against humanity who claims to have traveled widely within North Korea, meaning he’s either too blind to read a cuckoo clock at high noon or prevaricating, probably to protect his business interests there. The other is a combustible man (as in, warning: contents under pressure) without any basis for his mean-spirited accusation — an accusation he now both repeats and regrets in one incoherent post that also concedes the broader truth of Pyongyang’s crimes (but only as asserted by numerous other witnesses). Yet last week, their accusations graduated into official KCNA propaganda talking points in Pyongyang’s smear campaign against its accusers:

A journalist of Ireland on Oct. 29, 2014 in an article dedicated to the internet magazine The Diplomat said that Pak Yon Mi, 21-year old girl who defected from north Korea, spoke about “the serious human rights situation” in north Korea in tears at the World Youth Summit held in Dublin early in October and BBC, Al Jazeera, Daily Mail and other media gave wide publicity to it, but not a few critics claimed what she said was contrary to the truth, expressing skepticism about her speech.

Swiss businessman Felix Abt who had worked in north Korea for seven years till 2009 asserted that most of the stories told by those defectors from the north were not confirmed and clearly hyped or they were sheer lies.

Denying the claim mader by Pak Yon Mi, comparing Dublin Canal with a river in the area where she had lived, that she saw dead bodies afloat over the river every morning, Abt refuted her story by saying he had been to north Korea many times but had never seen dead bodies, showing a picture of children in north Korea wading in rivers with joy.

Challenging the assertion of Ri Kwang Chol, defector from the north, who said there is no physically disabled person in north Korea due to infanticide, Abt recalled that Pyongyang dispatched disabled players to the Paralymic Games held in Inchon, south Korea.

Michael Bassett, who served the U.S. forces as an expert for north Korea in the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula for years, said that the story made by Pak Yon Mi, defector from the north, was a shee lie, that Pak described the human rights situation in north Korea as a “massacre”, prompted by her intention to create a great sensation and that such anti-DPRK organizations in south Korea as “Freedom Factory” were behind her. Bassett, referring to the fact that Pak Yon Mi sent him an article refuting his story, ridiculed that her English was too perfect though she was a foreigner. [KCNA]

Congratulations, guys. Your reputations are now secure.

Who will be the first to fly this into North Korea?

Now I know what I want for Christmas.

I wish all borders could be like this

I have a tendency to get lost in Wikipedia, bouncing from page to page chasing curiosities. Last night, I learned this about Liechtenstein:

During the 1980s the Swiss army fired off shells during an exercise and mistakenly burned a patch of forest inside Liechtenstein. The incident was said to be resolved “over a case of white wine”.

In March 2007, a 170-person Swiss infantry unit became lost during a training exercise and inadvertently crossed 1.5 km (0.9 miles) into Liechtenstein. The accidental invasion ended when the unit realized their mistake and turned back. The Swiss army later informed Liechtenstein of the incursion and offered official apologies.

Yes, really.

New building built on site of deadly Pyongyang collapse

I’m not sure the speed of that reconstruction should give the new residents much confidence. It’s another great piece of reporting by NK News.

S. Korea to partner with WFP on N. Korea aid

For all my skepticism about the WFP, if Park Geun-Hye can commit South Korea to giving its humanitarian aid through the WFP, or at least in coordination with its need assessments and monitoring standards, that will be a major improvement over inter-Korean bilateral aid, for reasons Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard explained here long ago.

Oh, so this is what pissed the North Koreans off.

Speaking at the International Democrat Union last Friday, Park said this:

In a luncheon meeting with the party leaders, President Park Geun-hye said North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons had resulted in the country’s isolation and dire human rights conditions.

“Now the North Korean people are faced with hunger and a tragic humanitarian situation as the North sticks to the path of… isolation by developing nuclear arms,” Park said during the luncheon at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

“I request consistent attention and support from IDU members as international support and cooperation are vital for improving the North Korean situation and bringing about unification of the two Koreas,” she said. [Yonhap]

So that explains that.