Fake news in North Korea

In the North Korean media, news stories are made, not covered, said Chang Hae Seong. He was a former journalist for the North’s Korean Central Television (KCTV) and is now a defector living in Seoul. “While working as a reporter at the Division of Revolution I at the TV station, I dignified Kim Il Sung to elevate him to being the hero who saved the country,” he said during a recent interview with Korea Times.

When Kim Il Sung died of cardiac arrest in 1994 and the leadership was passed to his son Kim Jong Il, the next person in the so-called Mount Paektu Bloodline. “I did research on Kim to find stories. If I found even a speck of something positive about him, I would exaggerate it to recreate a whole story to portray him as a great leader,” Chang said. ”Reporters were ordered to make and report stories about the Kim family to justify their policies.”

Chang said he got into trouble in the 1990s after he shared classified information about the Kim family with one of his co-workers, and finally defected to evade arrest from the security forces.

According to Chang, North Korean state media’s current policy was established during the Kim Jong Il era. His son Kim Jong Un, who took power in late 2011 following his father’s death, has largely followed the guidelines set by his father. Chang said that the media environment in the reclusive country has changed a lot since he fled the North in 1996. Ordinary North Koreans now have greater access to news from foreign media.

In the 2000s, some defectors worked together to provide fact-based news programs for North Koreans. Today North Koreans can secretly tune their radios to listen to news from any of the several radio stations that specialize in such news.

[The Straits Times]

Ex-US ambassador: Trump has gotten China to do more on North Korea than any American president

President Donald Trump, in unprecedented fashion, has been able to get the Chinese government to turn the screws on North Korea in hopes of getting Kim Jong Un to halt military provocations, according to a former diplomat who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents.

“The Chinese have done more under President Trump’s prodding than any other American president. They signed on to the UN sanctions. There are now individual Chinese sanctions; the central bank governors instructed banks in China to wind up loans to North Korea,” Nicholas Burns told CNBC.

“The Chinese are clearly frustrated with the North Koreans. The Chinese don’t want a war on the Korean Peninsula. They want trade,” said Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and was the State Department’s third-ranking official during George W. Bush’s presidency. He also advised the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was just given a major governing mandate, will be “eager to cooperate” with Trump, said Burns, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “The president [Trump] has obviously gone slow on any kind of major [trade] sanctions against China because he’s prioritizing the North Korean issue. The Chinese understand that.”

Burns said the best scenario for Trump on his upcoming Asian trip would be to persuade North Korea’s Kim through a unified international alliance to agree to negotiations.

It’s unknown whether Trump will visit the DMZ. “I think it may too provocative. Given the fact that the president is not disciplined and his advisors never know what he’s going to say or not say,” Burns said.

[CNBC]

Assassinating Kim Jong-un could go so wrong

There have been rumors and discussions about the assassination of Kim Jong-un in the West. But, as logical as it may seem to some warmongers, assassinating the North Korean leader is not a good idea.

The first reason why assassinating Kim Jong-un is not a good idea is that it would be a very difficult task to achieve. North Korea, at over 120,000 square kilometres, with mountains making up nearly 80 percent of its surface, is one of the most heavily fortified countries in the world, with …its tapestry of tunnels and between 6,000 to 8,000 subterranean facilities, all making it very easy for Kim to hide. If an attempt was made, and failed, the full nuclear anger of Kim Jong-un could be expected in response.

The second reason is this practice is illegal under US laws.

The third reason is that Kim Jong-un’s death by no means guarantees solving the problem. The more likely scenario is that power would pass directly to one of his children in accordance with a pre-agreed succession plan. Either his sister, Kim Yo-jong , or his wife, Ri Sol-ju will act as regent until his elected heir is old enough to take control of the communist de-facto monarchy. … The success of this type of regency and succession would depend on support from the military.

An alternate possibility is the country descending into absolute chaos after such an assassination. Recent examples of the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi show that the removal of such strongmen can bring dangerous fragmentation and enduring conflict that destabilize regions for decades ahead.

The final and most likely possibility is that the “head of the snake” keeps biting for a few minutes after it is decapitated … the North Korean military start firing everything they have.

[Excerpts of an Opinion by Alexander Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato, New Zealand]

Popular online cartoons portraying North Korean defectors

With a few strokes on a computer tablet, the wide-eyed look of Yong-chul takes shape. In his late 20s, the cartoon character is the face of a young North Korean defector, who has recently arrived in South Korea and is bewildered by his new home.

Yong-chul is the alter ego of Choi Seong-guk, “but better looking and more expressive,” says Choi. Choi himself arrived in Seoul seven years ago, surviving a journey through four countries that took months to complete. He’s been able to turn his creative skills to his advantage, not only to support himself, but also to convey what being a defector from North Korea means. (In the North, he was an animator at Pyongyang’s leading SEK studio when he was arrested and jailed for selling DVDs of banned South Korean movies.)

He escaped north through China, following a route of more than 8,000 kilometers to end up living on the outskirts of Seoul, only 80 kilometers from the heavily fortified and impassable North Korean border.

Today, Choi communicates his impressions of life in the North — and the challenges of defecting to the South — in a series of popular online cartoons. Some are in the dark style of graphic novels, showing the risks of getting shot while crossing the border, being tortured if caught and dragged off to your execution.

“You will often be victimized by louder and stronger people,” he writes in one of his cartoons, above a drawing of a young man being bullied by a bigger character who looks a lot like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Aside from chronicling the experiences of the newcomers, Choi also helps those who want to leave North Korea. He says he passes along contacts, advice and sometimes money to three to five defectors a month who are determined to make the dicey journey.

[CBC]

North Korean cyberpower threat

Last week, a South Korean lawmaker revealed that North Korea had successfully broken into the South’s military networks to steal war plans, including for the “decapitation” of the North Korean leadership in the opening hours of a new Korean war.

North Korea is not motivated solely by politics: A chief political objective of the cyberprogram is to preserve the image of the North’s 33-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un. Its most famous cyberattack came in 2014, against Sony Pictures Entertainment, in a largely successful effort to block the release of a movie that satirized Mr. Kim, “The Interview.”

What has not been disclosed, until now, is that North Korea had also hacked into a British television network a few weeks earlier to stop it from broadcasting a drama about a nuclear scientist kidnapped in Pyongyang.

Intelligence officials estimate that North Korea also reaps hundreds of millions a dollars a year from ransomware, digital bank heists, online video game cracking, and more recently, hacks of South Korean Bitcoin exchanges. One former British intelligence chief estimates the take from its cyberheists may bring the North as much as $1 billion a year, or a third of the value of the nation’s exports.

A recent analysis by the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future found heavy North Korean internet activity in India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nepal, Kenya, Mozambique, and Indonesia. In some cases, like that of New Zealand, North Korean hackers were simply routing their attacks through the country’s computers from abroad. In others, researchers believe they are now physically stationed in countries like India, where nearly one-fifth of Pyongyang’s cyberattacks now originate.

[New York Times]

North Korean hackers steal US-South Korea war plans

Hackers from North Korea are reported to have stolen a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including a plan to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a South Korean lawmaker, said the compromised documents include wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.

Plans for South Korean special forces were reportedly also accessed, along with information on significant power plants and military facilities in the South.

Mr Rhee sits on its parliament’s defense committee, and said some 235 gigabytes of military documents had been stolen from the Defence Integrated Data Centre, and that 80% of them have yet to be identified.

The hack took place in September last year. In May, South Korea said a large amount of data had been stolen and that North Korea may have instigated the cyber attack – but gave no details of what was taken.

[BBC]

US works its worldwide squeeze on North Korea

Over 20 nations have curbed diplomatic or business operations of the North Korean government following a more-than-yearlong effort by the U.S. State Department, an indication of the kind of behind-the-scenes pressure the U.S. is using to tackle an emerging nuclear standoff.

U.S. officials have asked countries to shut down businesses owned by the North Korean government, remove North Korean vessels from ship registries, end flights by the country’s national air carrier and expel its ambassadors. At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit earlier this year, U.S. diplomats made sure North Korea couldn’t secure any bilateral meetings.

Mexico, Peru, Spain and Kuwait all expelled their North Korean ambassadors after the U.S. warned that Pyongyang was using its embassies to ship contraband and possibly weapons components in diplomatic pouches and earn currency for the regime. Italy became the latest country to do so on Oct. 1.

Kuwait and Qatar, among other countries, have agreed to reduce the presence of North Korean guest workers, according to U.S. officials and people familiar with the matter.

State Department officials drew up a detailed spreadsheet that listed all of North Korea’s known political, economic and military interests around the world, a former U.S. official said. The document functioned as a “to do” list of entities to target for closure. The campaign abroad is intensifying as the Trump administration adopts stricter sanctions at home, and the United Nations pursues enforcement of its tightest sanctions on Pyongyang yet.

The talks are also a contrast to the heated exchanges between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Mr. Trump, who has issued a series of vague threats of possible military action, saying diplomacy has failed. The latest threat came in a Twitter message Saturday from the president. “Sorry, but only one thing will work,” Mr. Trump wrote. On Thursday, he said a White House meeting with military leaders represented “the calm before the storm.” The White House refused to clarify either remark.

Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, has said that new pressure tactics need time to work, but that North Korea eventually will lack the resources to run its missile program.

[Wall Street Journal]

Kim Jong-un promotes sister to North Korean politburo

Kim Yo-jong, the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il, will be replacing her aunt as a member of the Workers Party’s Politburo.

Kim Yo-jong (30), who has frequently appeared alongside her brother in public and is thought to have been responsible for his public image, was already influential as vice-director of the propaganda and agitation department.  She was referred to as a senior party official three years ago.

Her promotion was announced by Mr Kim at a party meeting on Saturday as part of a reshuffle involving dozens of other top officials.

The BBC’s Danny Savage says the move to elevate Ms Kim will be seen as further evidence of the Kim family’s iron grip on North Korea.

When Ms Kim was given a key post at the country’s rare ruling party congress last year, it was widely expected that she would take up an important role in the country’s core leadership.

[BBC]

Kim Jong Un promotes his sister to center of power

In a meeting of the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un made his sister, Kim Yo Jong, an alternate member of the politburo — the top decision-making body over which Kim Jong Un presides.

Alongside Kim Jong Un himself, the promotion makes Kim Yo Jong the only other millennial member of the influential body. Her new position indicates the 28-year-old has become a replacement for Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, who had been a key decision maker when former leader Kim Jong Il was alive.

“It is a further consolidation of the Kim family’s power,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University’s 38 North website.

In January, the U.S. Treasury blacklisted Kim Yo Jong along with other North Korean officials over “severe human rights abuses”.

North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, who named Donald Trump “President Evil” in a bombastic speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, was also promoted to full vote-carrying member of the politburo.

“Ri can now be safely identified as one of North Korea’s top policy makers,” said Madden. “Even if he has informal or off the record meetings, Ri’s interlocutors can be assured that whatever proposals they proffer will be taken directly to the top,” he said.

[Reuters]

Jimmy Carter on moving forward with North Korea’s leaders

Excerpts of a Washington Post article by former President Jimmy Carter:

As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States. This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement.

Over more than 20 years, I have spent many hours in discussions with top North Korean officials and private citizens during visits to Pyongyang and to the countryside. I found [many of the] leaders to be both completely rational and dedicated to the preservation of their regime.

What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community. There is no remaining chance that it will agree to a total denuclearization, as it has seen what happened in a denuclearized Libya and assessed the doubtful status of U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that “we have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation” is a good first step to defusing tensions.

The next step should be for the United States to offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable.