Category Archives: South Korea

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.  
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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.  
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Aid for North Korea – No Longer Just for Bleeding Hearts?

Former President Carter’s recent trip to North Korea, and resultant call for a resumption of humanitarian (mainly food) aid to the North, once again brings attention to the controversial issue of sending aid to North Korea. Many people disagree strongly on this one, some blaming aid provision for prolonging the rule of the Kim clan, with resultant additional suffering of the populace, others blame a failure to provide aid for the sickness and death of untold numbers of North Koreans. Aside from food aid, what about medical aid? Further, what if disease outbreaks in the North sicken people in the South? Should the South provide aid if it protects Southerners? What if those affected include not only South Korean civilians, but also South Korean and U.S. troops stationed near the border? How would that change the debate?  
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North Sends Message to Recent Defectors

“There are family members of the four who have died or are still unconscious after waiting for their loved ones.” A quote from North Korea directed at the four people who chose to remain behind while their comrades, who were all on a boat that drifted into South Korean waters in February, were repatriated to the North. Of the 31 who were on the boat when it mistakenly entered South Korean waters and was captured by the South Korean Navy, 27 chose to return to the North and were sent back on 27 March. The remaining four apparently decided to defect, only to get the message above from the North on Monday (click here for a related story in English from the South’s JoongAng Daily, or here for the original North Korean story in English, or Korean). Interestingly, the English version of the North Korean report doesn’t contain the quote above, it’s only in the Korean version. Hmm, why is that? Why, a couple of weeks after the four defected, did the North suddenly send a message to the defectors that their family members had died or are unconscious? That’s always the saddest part of talking to defectors, or reading their accounts: the repercussions their actions have on family members left behind. The North doesn’t play games with those that embarrass it and this message is designed to remind those four of what is currently happening to the family members they left behind.  
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NK: Forest Fires Are a ‘Gift from Heaven’

There have been reports over the past couple of weeks of forest fires in North Korea, including one fire that came across the border and into the South’s side of the DMZ. NASA has even detected the fires, mainly along the North’s east coast.

Forest Fires in North Korea

While forest fires might be expected to be bad news, especially in a country as hungry and agriculturally-deprived as North Korea, defector reporting from today’s Chosun Ilbo says exactly the opposite. According to the report, the fires are “heaven-sent gifts” that foster the growth of 고사리, a type of fern or bracken eaten by starving North Koreans. The fires also clear areas for future cultivation and reportedly create additional firewood [not exactly sure how that works, but I rarely wander burned-out forests in search of bracken and places to grow my crops]. The desperation runs so strong that people attempting to put out the fires are criticized or blocked. The government and party mainly focus fire prevention efforts on saving trees with writings praising Kim Il-sung, a concern reportedly ignored by most people. Not that putting out the fires is really an option – most firefighting equipment is reportedly so old and in such disrepair that it doesn’t work. So, forest fires are good, prevention efforts should focus on special Kim Il-sung trees rather than homes or people, and it doesn’t really matter anyway, because none of the firefighting equipment works. North Korea, helping keep the news weird since 1948 …  
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‘Room Salon’ in DC?

After years of living in Korea, it was odd to open the Post this morning in DC and find an article on authorities busting a local Korean room salon. Two people, the owner and the “primary ‘madam'”, were sentenced to jail for reportedly employing dozens of illegal immigrant women as … ahem, “hostesses.” This was the kind of stuff that kept Koreans from getting visa-free status to visit the U.S. until long after their economic development and income levels merited it. Read all about it in the brief Post article.  
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SK Cops: North Responsible for March Cyberattack

The “cyber cops” at South Korea’s National Police Cyber Terror Response Center announced today that North Korea was responsible for an early March cyber attack on South Korean websites (related posting here). The latest attack reportedly used the same techniques and IP addresses as a 7 July 2009 attack also blamed on the North. The latest attack reportedly harnessed 746 servers in 70 countries in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on 40 South Korean websites. With two attacks, both somewhat successful, and no repercussions, look for the North to continue this method of provocation, especially if Kim Jong-eun really is in charge of the unit conducting the attacks. Given the current (lack of) food situation in the North, an April or May provocation to help unite North Korea’s domestic populace during the depths of the food crisis is increasingly likely (ala last year’s attack on the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island / 연평도).  
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SK Telecom to Protect Customers from North Korean Jamming

Interesting follow-up to a previous report on North Korea attempting to jam GPS signals in Seoul and other areas of the South back in early March. SK Telecom, one of the South’s leading telecom providers, announced today that it had developed a new technique to protect 2G and later phones from future jamming attempts. The company plans to update its systems and fully implement the added protections by mid-April, helping safeguard its customers and their phones not only from future GPS jamming attempts, but also attempts by the North to block or reduce call quality.

In a surprising twist, SK also said it would make the knowledge available for free to other telecoms, apparently viewing the jamming as a national security issue rather than a chance to make a quick buck. Kudos to SK for that.

South Korea uses the CDMA system, like Verizon in the U.S., but not GSM (like AT&T). So the new technique is likely readily replicable by Verizon, should it so decide (in case Canada attacks?), but may be more complicated for AT&T (or anyone trying to use a GSM phone in South Korea).

 
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North Korea Continues to Pass the Tin Cup

The Chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly was recently in Britain begging for food, part of a recent campaign by the North to acquire food supplies for:
  1. The brutal April to May ‘hardship period’ (춘궁기) when the previous year’s harvest has been largely consumed, but food from the spring plantings has yet to arrive. This is the reason given by the North Koreans for their current, desperate need for food aid. While it is at least partly true, no mention is made that April and May come every year, that the South conquered this problem back in the 70s (many older South Koreans can also vividly recall the difficult period between harvests), and that the North’s problems are largely of the leadership’s creation.
  2. The reason commonly advocated by conservatives in the South (and likely partially true as well), is that the North is stockpiling food to celebrate 2012, the year the country’s leadership promised to become a “powerful and prosperous nation” (as mentioned in a previous post).
Combine these doubts with Kim Jong-il’s recent offer to donate $500,000 to Japanese relief efforts, made at the same time the UN was reporting the North needed aid to feed six million people, and you can see why the North is having difficulty attracting much international support. Caught in the middle? The six million hungry people.  
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North Accuses U.S. Soldiers of … Partying

Perhaps tired of calling us imperialist, colonialist oppressors, the North on Sunday accused U.S. soldiers of trespassing in the DMZ to party. Specifically, according to the South’s Herald Media, quoting the North’s official media, the U.S. soldiers, “came within 20 meters of the military demarcation line with women, taking photos and throwing bottles of alcohol toward North Korean troops.” In response to such dastardly acts, the North actually didn’t vow to turn Seoul into either a sea of fire or a sea of blood, as it commonly does when it’s mad. Instead, it threatened “human damage” to the South if it continues to allow “U.S. invasion forces to act rampantly” inside the DMZ. While I’ve been to the DMZ a dozen times, nearly gotten into a fight on the North’s side, and had a great lunch at the Swiss and Swedish outpost in the DMZ (Wikipedia entry on NNSC here), I can’t say I’ve ever gone up there to drink and throw bottles at North Korean troops. Did this really happen? Given the number of cameras up there, and the relative scarcity of U.S. troops at the border these days, I’ll remain unconvinced until I see some actual video, in which case I will update this posting with links to the video. If you come across anything, let me know!
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