Senior North Korean diplomat’s defection a ‘unique situation’

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joo-hee said on Wednesday North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho defected for the sake of his family and because he was “tired of Kim Jong Un’s regime.”

Liberty in North Korea (LINK) Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Park said the defection of the senior North Korean diplomat  was a “unique situation,” and could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea.

“There’s been those kind of things that have happened in the past for very high level defectors: assassination attempts, death threats … there will be protection from the South Korean authorities around this person, especially [in] the short term,” Park said.

Park said the defector Thae was the member of an elite family in North Korea, the son of a high-profile general. As with all high-profile defections, Park said the family still in North Korea could expect to face suspicion and possibly punishment in the future.

Park said it was unusual the diplomat had been with his entire immediate family overseas when he was posted. “That’s quite rare … a lot of the time there will be a son or an immediate family member that’s still back in North Korea kind of as collateral to make it harder for people to defect,” he said.

When asked why Thae may have defected to South Korea, rather than the United Kingdom where he was posted, Park said he may have been offered more incentives. “Maybe he would have better career prospects, for instance, if he came to South Korea, worked with the national intelligence service … rather than staying in the United Kingdom,” he said.

[CNN]

Bureau 121 hackers operating in China says defector

In the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, you’ll find businesses owned and operated by the North Korean government.

You’ll also find a secret network of North Korean hackers, known as Bureau 121, according to defector Kim Heung-Kwang.

“It’s easy for them to work secretly. It also has great Internet infrastructure,” says Kim Heung-kwang, a former Pyongyang computer science professor who escaped North Korea in 2004. Kim says some of his own students became cyber warriors for the hacker network. “By day, they worked regular jobs. But the rest of the time, they were acting on orders from Pyongyang,” he says.

Kim claims North Korean hackers operated secretly in Shenyang for years, moving from location to location to conceal their whereabouts and activities. “Bureau 121 began its large-scale operation in China in 2005. It was established in the late 90s,” Kim says.

“Team members entered China separately — in smaller groups — 20 members at a time,” he says. “When they entered China, they came under different titles. For example an office worker, an official with a trade company or even as a diplomatic staffer.”

Long before North Korea had its own Internet, it dialed in to servers in Shenyang, in Liaoning Province, in the country’s north. Today, nearly all of North Korea’s Internet traffic is still routed through China.

Kim says the operation in China scaled back considerably a few years ago, when North Korea expanded its high speed Internet access. But he believes hackers are still operating in Shenyang.

“North Korea does have illicit activities in China,” says Steve Sin, a terrorism expert at the University of Maryland and former U.S. military intelligence analyst. Sin wrote a report naming Shenyang as a North Korean hacker hub. “It has the location, security, as well as infrastructure,” Sin says.

“Right now, the best information available to us is that they are still conducting such an operation and they can still conduct such an operation from that location.”

[CNN]

North Korean markets with women at the helm

Five North Koreans visiting China spoke to NPR recently, offering a rare insight into how political dictates have had an extraordinary social impact in their own homes. All of them count among the elite, who have enough money to enter China legally and hope to return to their families North Korea.

“In the past, our husbands would bring home rations, and we’d live off that,” says Mrs. Kim. “Now there are no rations, and the women support the families. If we don’t make money, they starve, so life is hard for women.”

Facing a catastrophic famine in the mid-1990s, the state had reduced — and then mostly stopped — giving out the rations, known as the Public Distribution System.

By then, markets had sprung up illegally to keep people alive, and have thrived despite the state’s numerous attempts to roll them back. The government had imposed a welter of restrictions on market activity, including forbidding anyone except older women from market trading. Those restrictions have largely been relaxed recently.

Most women trade in the markets, orjangmadang. Mrs. Kim gets up at 4:30 each morning to feed the animals she sells, and also brews alcohol illegally. Every minute of the day is spent figuring out how to feed her family, including an adult son and daughter whose state-run jobs do not provide enough to live on.

For almost half of North Korean families, private trading forms the only source of income, according to research done by American academics at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

 

North Korean Prison Camp Report by Freedom House

A report by Freedom House concludes that the North Korean prison camps breach almost every definition of crimes against humanity under modern international law.

“The phenomena of repression associated with the political prison camp system of (North Korea) are clear and massive crimes against humanity as now defined in law,” said the report, written by David Hawk.

Among other abuses, it said, camp officials and guards are regularly able to have sexual relations with female prisoners under circumstances judged to constitute rape or sexual violence.

Prisoners “are subjected, usually for a lifetime, to forced labor under extremely severe circumstances, beginning with the provision of below-subsistence level food rations.”

Inmates were regularly subjected to beatings and sometimes more systematic torture for breaking minor regulations.

The high rates of deaths in detention from malnutrition, starvation, exhaustion from forced labor and disease “would likely be deemed by legal scholars and judges to constitute the crime of humanity of extermination, the report said.

 

North Korean refugee documentary nominated

A documentary about the plight of North Korean refugees has been nominated for the documentary category of the 40th International Emmy Awards.

Titled “Across Land, Across Sea” in English, the documentary was nominated along with works from the U.K., Germany and Argentina. The documentary has three 52-minute episodes:

  • “Across Land, Across Sea,” which tracks a successful escape from North Korea and China to South Korea in December 2009 by Song Sung-kook and his family helped by Pastor Kim Sung-eun;
  • “Seeking Haven,” which depicts the desperate attempts of a North Korean refugee to bring her family in the North to the South and her difficult adjustment to South Korean society; and
  • “Crossing Three Borders,” a story of North Korean refugees who stormed into the Danish Embassy in Vietnam in pursuit of freedom.

The International Emmy Awards are presented to the best TV programs produced and originally aired outside the U.S. and are considered to be among the world’s top three broadcast awards along with Canada’s Banff World Media Festival and Monaco’s Monte Carlo Television Festival. The award ceremony takes place in New York on October 19.

North Koreans shorter than South Koreans due to malnutrition

The biggest hurdle for many North Korean refugees trying to assimilate into South Korean society was not just that they faced a language barrier but that, quite simply, they also looked different. First, they are shorter.

According to UNICEF, because of malnutrition, by the age of 7 there’s already a 4.7-inch gap in height between North Korean and South Korean children — and that difference may reach 7.8 inches.

Another sign is malnutrition. Many young refugees from North Korea have heads that appeared to be slightly oversize on their frames. It was hard to notice, until they are standing next to a South Korean their age — or unless you are South Korean.

”We live under the myth of homogeneity, of oneness here in Korea,” Byung-ho Chung, an anthropologist, told me, ”but these kinds of distinctive physical markings are a scar. The fear is that the scar will become a social stigma affecting many generations to come.”

–Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine

Likelihood of a new North Korean nuclear test

The Guardian reports that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has published a report on the likelihood of a new North Korean nuclear test, which argues that the Pyongyang regime has its ducks in a row technically to pull off a third test, motivated in part by the need to make amends for the humiliating failure of a space rocket launch in April .

The article is by Frank Pabian, an expert on satellite imagery at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory and a visiting fellow at Stanford University, and Siegfried Hecker, also of Stanford, who was taken on a tour of a hitherto unknown North Korean uranium enrichment site in 2010.

Pabian and Hecker think that any new North Korean test could involve both plutonium and highly-enriched uranium devices, speculating that Pyongyang will emulate the Pakistani experience and that it might have acquired blueprints for making small HEU warheads from the AQ Khan nuclear smuggling network, as suggested by the UN panel of experts.

Kim Jong-un accompanied by officers of the Korean People's ArmyHowever, the authors do not believe the regime has made up its mind to test, and argue that there is still time for the international community to weigh in on Pyongyang’s cost-benefit analysis:

“North Korea has strong technical and military drivers to conduct additional nuclear tests, and it is capable of doing so within as little as two weeks. It appears that Kim Jong-un’s regime is now weighing the political costs it would have to bear should it decide to test…It is imperative for Washington, Beijing, and their partners in the six-party talks to join forces to increase the costs on North Korea of continued testing. An additional nuclear test or two would greatly increase the likelihood that Pyongyang could fashion warheads to fit at least some of its missiles — a circumstance that would vastly increase the threat its nuclear program poses to the security of northeast Asia.”

North Koreans economic migrants or political refugees?

China defends the repatriations of North Korean refugees back to North Korea by claiming that the refugees are simply “economic migrants”.

Writes Suzanne Scholte of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, “Yet as soon as a North Korean crosses the border, they immediately fit the definition of a political asylum seeker because it is a crime against the state for a North Korean to leave the country.

“We know from eyewitness testimony that when North Koreans are repatriated they are subjected to harsh sentences, in some cases they are executed.”