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]

What North Korean defectors want Trump to know

Four North Korean defectors have told VOA in video messages intended for U.S. President Donald Trump what they want him to do and say during his visit to South Korea. The messages were delivered ahead of Trump’s departure Friday morning for a 12-day, five-nation tour which is expected to focus on tensions over North Korea’s its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

“If [Trump’s] coming to strengthen Korea-U.S. relations, he’s welcome, but if he’s coming to foment a war between the two Koreas, I cannot welcome him,” said Kim Young Soo, a defector and former soldier who arrived in South Korea in 2006. “As a head of state, I think he could be more discreet when talking about a war.”

The defectors want Trump to persuade China, Pyongyang’s only remaining ally, to stop repatriating North Koreans who take refuge there. “While seeking freedom, they are put at risk of being captured by Chinese authorities and being forcibly returned to North Korea,” said Ji Seong-ho, a defector. “They may even face death. So I sincerely would like to ask President Trump to urge China’s Xi Jinping to stop repatriation of North Koreans so that they can attain their dreams of freedom.”

And they want him to keep up the pressure on North Korea with sanctions. “It’ll take an insurgency against the regime to bring about a revolution,” said Ri Sun Kyong, who arrived to South Korea in 2002. “Every single country in the world should … increase pressure so an insurgency takes place.”

[VoA]

300,000 underground Christians in North Korea

The totalitarian state of North Korea forces the estimated 300,000 Christians living there to hide their religious beliefs and fellowship among each other.

“In a nation where the ruling regime demands total control over the general public, anything that challenges the government’s power is seen as a threat, including religion,” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, told Fox News. “As a result, the North Korean government does everything in its power to squash the spread of Christianity.”

This leads much of the religious population in North Korea to go underground with their worship. On the subject, North Korean defector Choi Kwanghyuk said, “North Hamgyong province is very cold. In the winter, we would dig a big hole and store kimchi there. We sometimes had services there. In the summer, we had services in the mountain or by the river. …We had only one Bible.”

In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He said that he was about to be sent to one of North Korea’s brutal labor camps when he was able to break free. “I decided to escape because I thought that once they sent me to the other camp, they could eventually send me to the concentration camp or kill me,” Choi recalled. “I was traveling back and forth between China and North Korea, but they kept searching for me, and I knew it could put my friends in danger too, so I left.”

“Unfortunately, it is inexplicably easy to wind up in one of these camps. While someone can be sent to one of these camps for openly evangelizing, someone can just as easily be sent there for simply being in contact with a religious person,” said King.

[Fox News]

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]

What it means to be a Christian in North Korea

For over 15 years, North Korea has ranked #1 on the Open Doors “World Watch List” as the worst place to be a Christian:
– The very act of owning a Bible is punishable by death.
– An estimated 25% of the Christian population lives in prison camps comparable to Auschwitz in Poland.
– All other Christians must keep their faith a secret.
– Many Christian parents even choose to keep their faith a secret from their children, for fear that they might accidentally expose their faith to their neighbors, teachers or government officials.

Nevertheless, reports indicate that the church is growing, in spite of the persecution.

[Open Doors]

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]

Hacking is an almost perfect weapon for Pyongyang

North Korea’s army of more than 6,000 hackers is undeniably persistent, and undeniably improving, according to American and British security officials who have been tracing their attacks. And unlike its nuclear weapons tests, which have led to international sanctions, the North’s cyberstrikes have faced almost no pushback or punishment, even as the regime is already using its hacking capabilities for actual attacks against its adversaries in the West.

And just as Western analysts once scoffed at the potential of the North’s nuclear program, so did experts dismiss its cyberpotential — only to now acknowledge that hacking is an almost perfect weapon for a Pyongyang that is isolated and has little to lose.

“Cyber is a tailor-made instrument of power for them,” said Chris Inglis, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, who now directs cyberstudies at the United States Naval Academy. “There’s a low cost of entry, it’s largely asymmetrical, there’s some degree of anonymity and stealth in its use. It can hold large swaths of nation state infrastructure and private-sector infrastructure at risk. It’s a source of income.”

Mr. Inglis added: “You could argue that they have one of the most successful cyberprograms on the planet, not because it’s technically sophisticated, but because it has achieved all of their aims at very low cost.”

North Korea’s primitive infrastructure is also far less vulnerable to cyberretaliation, and North Korean hackers operate outside the country, anyway.

Both the United States and South Korea have placed digital “implants” in the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North Korean equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents that Edward J. Snowden released several years ago. Indeed, both sides see cyber as the way to gain tactical advantage in their nuclear and missile standoff.

“Everyone is focused on mushroom clouds,” said Robert P. Silvers, the former assistant secretary for cyberpolicy at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, “but there is far more potential for another kind of disastrous escalation.”

[New York Times]                                                                              Read more

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]

Celebrity defector women of North Korea changing stereotype

South Korean entertainment is awash in fads that come and go. Here’s one with staying power: celebrity defectors from North Korea.

In recent years, North Koreans have populated a new wave of talk shows, reality TV programs and dramas — each of them promising viewers a thrilling glimpse of life north of them. Often enlightening, sometimes tawdry (and occasionally both), these programs have proved highly popular.

It also sharply inverts the typical image of fly-nibbled refugees, replacing it with a new stereotype: celebrity defectors who are invariably young, female and attractive. For decades, North Korean defectors have been regarded by their southern siblings as sad, backwards and possibly still brainwashed. That is now changing.

One such talk show called “Now On My Way To Meet You” is propelled by a rotating cast of North Korean defectors — almost all of them glamorously dressed young women with perfect skin. These “northern beauties,” as they’re called by the show, are quizzed by upbeat hosts about life beyond the border. The success of that show inspired a new spate of defector-themed shows.

One celebrity North Korean defector Kim Ah-ra says, “They’re starting to see that the story of our people is much bigger than Kim Jong-un and nuclear bombs. … Now we have shows that present us in a lighter, more human way.”

[USAToday]

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]