Category Archives: North Korea

Time for Fresh Approaches to North Korea

A familiar op-ed in Monday’s Washington Post by Victor Cha (Asian Studies professor at Georgetown, director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council from 2004 to 2007, and deputy head of the U.S. delegation at the six-party talks) outlined how the U.S. should “disarm” North Korea. Put simply, the U.S. should get China and Russia to help, beef up financial sanctions, and strengthen the American alliance with South Korea … common proposals united by decades of ineffectiveness.

Instead, it is long past time for new ideas to reinvigorate U.S. relations with North Korea. I offer two examples here, one harnessing cellphones and the latest transmission technologies, the second going back to the armistice agreement that halted the Korean War in 1953.


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Suspected North Korean cyberattack raises fears for S. Korea – Washington Post

An article from today’s Post provides a solid outline of recent North Korean cyberattacks on the South; a story we have been following here (NK Hackers Working with SK Organized Crime?, NK Hackers Take Down SK Bank, SK Cops: North Responsible for March Cyberattack, Cyberwar in Korea – Kim Jong-eun’s Key to the Throne?) for several months. Particularly salient, in my humble opinion, are the rumors/allegations that heir apparent Kim Jong-eun is behind the attacks, using them to outflank his brothers and win his father’s approval to become next in line. Whether or not he is personally behind the attacks, one of the safest bets in international security right now is that they will both continue and grow more sophisticated.

North Korea’s Newly Rich Business/Entrepreneur Class

North Korea has rich people? Yes, they are the ones buying all the new cellphones. NK specialist Andrei Lankov wrote an article examining this rare new species for yesterday’s Asia Times (hat tip to NK Economy Watch for pointing out the story). According to the article, “North Korea’s new rich made their fortunes amid the economic chaos and social disruption of the great famine of 1996-1999. This new bourgeoisie matured in the next decade as the North Korean economy started to partially recover from the disastrous 1990s.”

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Axis of Evil World Tour – An American’s Travels in Iran, Iraq and North Korea

A book on my travels in Bush’s three Axis of Evil countries. Excerpts from the book are available in the Iraq, Iran, and North Korea sections of this blog, with additional photos on the book’s website at:

My goal in writing the book is to present the countries as I saw them, without adhering to any particular branch of U.S. politics or foreign policy – if you are a diehard Democratic or Republican ideologue, I’m not your guy. For more on the book, please check out my interview with Chicago NPR station, WBEZ.


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NK Hackers Working with SK Organized Crime?

The U.S. government (Voice of America) reported today that the South Korean police arrested five local organized crime members and charged them with collaborating with North Korean hackers to break into gaming websites to steal (for later sale) personal information. The North Korean hackers were based in China, the origin of a recent attack that reportedly stole the personal information of “nearly everyone” in South Korea – 35 million out of a total population of 49 million.

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The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

[hang1column element=”div” width=”122″][/hang1column] [Book Review] Fantastic. Someone finally went through Seoul’s expansive archive of North Korean domestic media (magazines, TV programs, movies, etc.) to see what the North was/is telling its populace. The conclusion refutes those who see the North primarily through a communist ideological prism, instead painting a picture of the nation as a racist dictatorship focused on keeping its blood pure, populace ignorant, and elites entrenched. I’ve already cited Myers’ research in my own work and come across it in dozens of articles, a trend that is unlikely to change. Anyone interested in the North will enjoy and learn from this fresh take on the country and culture. While the illustrations, as shown by the book cover, add to the power and uniqueness of the text.

Paper Excerpt II: Case Study on Using North Korean Defector-run Networks to Monitor Conditions Inside North Korea

This paper excerpt is a follow-up to a previous posting examining the accuracy and timeliness of disease outbreaks in North Korea, outbreaks reported by North Korean defectors living in the South.  The previous posting examined the reliability of defector reporting using Chinese cellphones along the North’s border with China – where the signal from Chinese cellphone towers bleeds a few miles into the North. This posting looks at defector reporting of the North’s late 2009 currency reform that used satellite phones to make the initial reports.  Satellite phones, just like Chinese cellphones, are illegal in North Korea and using them to report on conditions inside the North to a foreign audience would likely result in the caller being jailed,  or worse.

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NK Refugees in U.S. Number 101

The Department of Homeland Security recently released immigration statistics through the end of 2010 for refugees and asylum seekers.  It gives an overview of the major sources of international refugees for the U.S., which North Korea certainly is not. Instead, for the North, there is Table 14, an Excel spreadsheet listing all refugee arrivals by region and country from 2001 to 2010. Here, you can see the first nine NK refugees arrived in the U.S. in 2006, with 22 in 2007, 37 in 2008, before declining to 25 in 2009 and only 8 in 2010. I’ll do some further research to try and determine the cause of the decline. For the sake of comparison, hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees are thought to be in China, with another 20,000 defecting to the South since the Korean War.  

Amnesty Releases New NK Study

Amnesty International released some new photos and info about conditions inside North Korea yesterday. Reading the defector testimony helps bring home just how bad things are north of the border. Check it out when you have a few minutes.

SK Police Raid Google Korea; NK Hackers Take Down SK Bank

Wow, it’s getting tough to run a website in South Korea. Between cyberattacks from North Korean intel agencies (possibly led by Kim Jong-il’s son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-eun) and the police raiding your offices to see who you’re spying onstalking … collecting data on, life is getting tough for webmasters in Seoul. Police and prosecutors announced earlier today that North Korea was behind an April attack on the South’s agriculture bank and cooperative, Nonghyup, that locked 30 million people out of their bank accounts for “several days.”  The North’s “Reconnaissance General Bureau” (read: intelligence agency) reportedly entered through a laptop belonging to a subcontractor (the name of that subcontracting company? A little outfit by the name of IBM.) last September, stole over a thousand pages of documents, before finally wreaking so much havoc on Nonghyup’s servers that it took down the bank’s electronic banking system. Hmm, not making IBM look very good. Nor Nonghyup. The other main story, the police raid, took place at the offices of both Google Korea and Daum, the popular Korean portal site. The police were reportedly looking for illegally collected private data, mainly from smartphone users. Nice to see at least one country values personal privacy. All in all, a rough day for IBM, Google, Nonghyup, and Daum, though it is nice to see at least an attempt to protect users’ personal data. Most worrisome is North Korean state-run hackers using IBM to bring down the electronic banking system of a major South Korean bank. These online provocations don’t (so far) get as much attention as military provocations, but they are becoming both more frequent and more capable. It doesn’t take a genius to see more of this is coming – are we ready? UPDATE (10 May): In a report carried by both Singapore Press and the Voice of America, North Korea denied it was responsible for the cyberattack on Nonghyup. It called the accusation an “anachronistic anti-DPRK (North Korea) farce and charade.” All of which means someone in the North is monitoring outside media reports and was able to issue a formal denial within a week – not a bad turnaround time for the North. They are obviously following these stories closely.  

  • Ex-workers at Russian 'troll factory' trust US indictment - posted on 20/02/2018

  • More importantly, what’s the South doing? Also, interesting to hear from the NNSC, one of the more unique legacies… - posted on 13/02/2018

  • Long, but worth a read: “There was a moment where everyone said ‘Oh, holy shit, this is like a national security si… - posted on 12/02/2018

  • Inside North Korea’s Hacker Army - posted on 10/02/2018

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