North Korean defector: Hunger is humiliation and hopelessness

As a boy, Joseph Kim could only watch helplessly, he says, as he watched his father “wither and die” in the isolated country’s devastating famine in the 1990s, which led to the tragic disintegration of his once loving family.

Kim was 12 when his father died, and his mother and sister left for China to try to find food.

When his mom returned she was alone, having sold his sister to a man in the belief that she may have a better life, according to Kim’s account.

Kim, who now studies in New York, after himself escaping to China in 2006, urged his audience not to judge his mom harshly — as he still tries to track down his sister. “So many North Korean mothers are forced to make these kind of heartbreaking decisions.”

“This isn’t just my story, but the story of millions of North Korean people,” said 24-year-old Kim. Once orphaned, he said, he would wander the streets rummaging through trash cans. “Hunger is humiliation, hunger is hopelessness,” said Kim.

[AFP]

Internet service restored in North Korea

After more than nine hours and 30 minutes, Internet service has been restored in North Korea, according to technology news service Dyn Research. Access is only partial, Reuters reports, but the country’s main news service and newspaper both are back online.

North Korea’s Internet went offline days after President Obama pledged a “proportional response” to the communist country’s alleged hacking of Sony Pictures, multiple news reports say.

Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, told The New York Times and other news organizations that North Korea’s Internet access became unstable late Friday. By Monday, it was offline, he said.

It’s unclear what caused the outage, but State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “We aren’t going to discuss publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in any way except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen.”

In an interview with NPR’s Elise Hu, Matthew Prince, chief executive of CloudFlare, pointed to four possible scenarios: North Korea turned off its own Internet; China’s upstream provider turned it off; the country’s routers failed at an unfortunate time; or it was the result of a denial-of-service attack from either a hacking group or the U.S.

[NPR]

White House focuses on North Korea

The United States is weighing the possibility of a “proportional response” to the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures that prompted the cancellation of the release of the $44 million-dollar film The Interview. U.S. officials believe that North Korea was a key player in the cyberattack, believed to be a retaliation to the satirical picture about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. President Obama has reportedly made the issue a top priority.

While the Obama administration believes the attack originated in North Korea, some cyber security experts remain skeptical, citing the exhaustive inside knowledge the hackers appeared to have on Sony’s internal architecture. The Guardians of Peace, the group taking credit for the attack, has released thousands of emails between studio executives and producers, as well as some 47,000 social security numbers. The group sent news outlets an email on Tuesday threatening to attack theaters that screened The Interview, which led Sony to cancel its release the next day.

Given the uncertainty over exactly who perpetrated the attack, it remains unclear exactly how the United States might respond, and whether such a response would provoke or deter another attack. “It’s a new area, and we’re in uncharted territory,” said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s hard to know at this point if there are other options that might be less visible.”

[Foreign Policy]

Activists to drop ‘Interview’ DVDs into North Korea

Whether or not North Korea is behind the Sony hack, Kim Jong Un better brace himself because “The Interview”, a comedy that has the CIA recruiting a couple of hapless American journalists for a mission to kill Kim Jong Un, is headed to his country. Human rights activists are planning to airlift DVDs into the country via hydrogen balloons.

Fighters for a Free North Korea, run by Park Sang Hak, a former government propagandist who escaped to South Korea, has for years used balloons to get transistor radios, DVDs and other items into North Korea—not to entertain the deprived masses, but to introduce them to the outside world.  Over the past two years, the Human Rights Foundation in New York, created by Thor Halvorssen, has been helping bankroll the balloon drops, with the next one set for January.

The balloons are launched from South Korea and they fly two miles high so that they cannot be shot down. Each is affixed with a small, acid-based timer that breaks open plastic bags and drops packages over the countryside.

Statistics vary, but by some accounts 74 percent of North Koreans have access to a TV and 46 percent to a DVD player, neither of which are illegal assuming only preapproved TV shows and movies are played on them, which increasingly is not the case.

The Kim regime will especially be on the lookout for copies of The Interview, a comedy about a mission to kill Kim Jong Un. “In a totalitarian country the state endeavors to control all citizens, and so every activity that is not government-sponsored is a subversive act,” says Halvorssen. “Watching a film is a crime for which you can be executed. And comedies are hands down the most effective of counterrevolutionary devices.”

[Hollywood Reporter]

What military chiefs worry about at night

Shortly before he retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I asked Adm. Mike Mullen what he saw on the ceiling on nights when he couldn’t sleep.

“Cyber,” he said.

That was 2011 and this is 2014, and it seems that Mullen’s ceiling has been moved to Sony Corp., which has been hacked, maybe by North Korea, and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

–Richard Cohen, Washington Post columnist

The cyber army of North Korea Bureau 121

Somewhere deep inside North Korea is a cell of sophisticated cyber warriors known as Bureau 121. It is suspected to have carried out a series of other attacks against South Korean companies, and also possibly against Sony more recently. Cybersecurity researchers have said the Sony breach is similar to an attack against South Korean media and financial institutions last year that was attributed to North Korea.

A North Korean defector, Jang Se-yul, told Reuters that Bureau 121 consists of roughly 1,800 hackers, who live a relatively pampered life as elites in the country’s military.

“For them, the strongest weapon is cyber. In North Korea, it’s called the Secret War,” Jang told Reuters. But while members of Bureau 121 are reportedly handpicked from the reclusive nation’s technical university programs, the rest of the country is largely cut off from the online world outside of North Korea.

Given the increasingly digital nature of warfare in the world, it makes economic sense for North Korea to pour resources in entities such as Bureau 121. On the digital battlefield attackers have a distinct advantage. For hackers to win, they only need to breach a system once, while defenders must deflect each and every attack to be successful.

“Cyber warfare is an important asymmetric dimension of conflict that North Korea will probably continue to emphasize— in part because of its deniability and low relative costs,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of United States Forces Korea, testified.

An Hewlett-Packard Security Briefing from earlier this year said, “North Korea’s hermit infrastructure creates a cyber-terrain that deters reconnaissance. Because North Korea has few Internet connections to the outside world, anyone seeking intelligence on North Korea’s networks has to expend more resources for cyber reconnaissance.”

[Washington Post]

North Korea broadcasts U.S. citizen’s anti-American rant

James Clapper just can’t catch a break. No sooner does the Director of National Intelligence help retrieve two Americans from the clutches of repressive North Korea, then another one goes and gets himself ensnared.

“I would like to reveal some facts about America’s imperialistic influence and dominance, as well as much of its corrupt and threatening practices through which it has proven itself to have little to no regard for human rights or serving the greater good.”

That was Arturo Pierre Martinez, a 29-year-old El Paso, Texas, resident, giving a press conference to North Korea’s state-run media during which he heavily criticized the United States’ human rights record.

Martinez told the cameras he entered the country illegally in November from China by crossing the Yalu River. During his speech, he thanked the government for pardoning his crimes, indicating he won’t be charged for illegal entry.

His condemnation of the U.S. touched on familiar controversies like the war in Iraq, economic disparity and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. The New York Times notes he also “warned of ‘extremely dangerous and subversive technologies’ related to U.F.O.s,” which inexplicably hasn’t made the headlines.

CNN spoke to Martinez’s mother, who said her son has bipolar disorder and left for North Korea after being released from a California psychiatric ward. “He is very smart and he got the court to let him out, and instead of coming home to us he bought a ticket and left for China.”

It’s not clear if Martinez is free to leave the country, but he says he plans to seek asylum in Venezuela.

North Korea has a history of detaining U.S. citizens and coercing anti-American confessions from them, but it’s not clear if Martinez was speaking under duress or whether he’s free to leave the country.

“Very valuable for them to have an American citizen saying the things he’s saying, because now they can broadcast that to their own people and to the rest of the world to make their case against the United States,” a CNN report noted.

[WFTV]

Defector speaks of North Korea horrors

When Yeon-Mi Park was 9 years old, she and everyone in her North Korean village were forced to watch in horror the execution of a woman for the crime of watching illegal DVDs, she says. The victim was the mother of one of her friends.

Park was born in Hyesan, the daughter of a government official, whose job provided the family with relative stability and protection. Then came the famine, and to survive her father set up a small illegal trading business smuggling goods into China, says Park.

“In 2004 my whole world came crashing down. My father, my hero, got arrested for his illegal trading business.” He was sent to a hard-labor camp, and the family was marked. “We had no real future anymore.”

So, Park said, she and her mother decided to sneak over the border into China, where a trader spotted them. In exchange for not giving them away, he demanded sex with Park, then just 13. “My mom offered to be raped in order to protect me,” she said simply.

Later, after her father had rejoined them in China but died of lung cancer, Park and her mother met up with a group heading to Mongolia.

“We walked and crawled across the Gobi desert, evading Chinese police, kidnappers and wild animals. We followed the compass, but it broke, so we followed the stars to freedom . . . we wanted to live as human beings,” she said.

[AFP]

North Korean defector: I could not trust anyone

A North Korean defector has spoken out about how he escaped from the world’s most secretive state with his infant son strapped to his back and a cyanide pill in his mouth. Choi Joong-Ha left North Korea with his wife Yun-Ah-Jung and one-year-old son Joon Choi in 2004. He had been conditioned into such a state of paranoia that he did not tell his wife about the escape.

Joong-Ha told his wife they were going to visit his brother who lived near the Chinese border. When they reached the Tumen River that separates the two countries he revealed the real reason they had come. “My wife was not pleased and she didn’t want to go. If the authority catches you trying to escape, you will be shot or sent to a camp.”

For 12 years Joong-Ha had been in the North Korean army and would, therefore, have been subjected to the most severe punishment if he had been caught trying to leave. Because of this he waded across the river with his son strapped to his back and a cyanide pill in his mouth. “I would have been arrested, tortured and put in a camp or shot there and then. If the authorities saw us trying to cross it would be better to die in the river.”

The trip across the river took a day and when Joong-Ha and his family got into China they had to strip off their clothes and dispose of anything that might identify them as North Korean. He said: “Just because we had got to China it didn’t mean we were safe. Every day we were fearful of being caught and being deported.

“We were lucky that my wife had family near the border and she and my son could stay with them. They helped us a lot.”

After four years working as a labourer, Joong-Ha managed to save enough money to pay a broker to take him and his family to the UK.

[Full story]

Satellite monitoring North Korean political prisons

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and Longmont, Colorado commercial imagery intelligence company AllSource Analysis (ASA) announced a strategic partnership to use satellite imaging and analysis to monitor and report on North Korea’s notorious political prison system.

“Up to 120,000 citizens are being held without due process in horrific, inhumane conditions for political reasons, and an estimated half-million people have died in these camps,” HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu said from the group’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. “The collaboration with ASA will allow us to monitor, review and report on North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment. Our collaboration will employ technology used for the first time to address such an enormous human tragedy.”

The new collaboration will focus on data collection using time-lapse tracking of current and historical images, combined with on-the-ground surveillance and testimonials from former prisoners, guards and other human sources to track developments and bring as much transparency as possible to the situation.

Having this application of satellite imagery, collection and analysis represents a game-changing approach to international humanitarian efforts in North Korea and other hot spots around the world.

Most satellite imaging analysis of North Korea has focused on weapons and military infrastructure,” said AllSource Chief Analytics Officer Joe Bermudez, an internationally recognized expert on North Korea. “We’re honored to provide the technology to take humanitarian monitoring and analysis to a new level.”

[Longmont Times-Call]