Category: Kim Jong Un

North Korea denies expert UN report linking it to $2 billion hacking campaign

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Allegations that the North Korean government is responsible for getting over $2 billion in a long-running hacking campaign, including attacks on crypto-exchanges, are a “sheer lie,” says a North Korean government spokesperson.

The statement, which was published by KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, denies allegations that North Korea “illegally forced the transfer of two billion US dollars needed for the development of WMD programs by involving cyber actors”.

“Such a fabrication by the hostile forces is nothing but a sort of a nasty game aimed at tarnishing the image of our Republic and finding justification for sanctions and pressure campaign against the DPRK,” reads the statement.

A UN report, leaked to the AP and Reuters, reveals that North Korea hit South Korean exchanges hard, stealing cryptocurrencies from exchanges and using victims’ computing power to mine bitcoin for the development of mass destruction programs. 

The cybercrime group Lazarus, alleged to be sponsored by North Korea, is said to be responsible for $571 of the $882 million–or 65%– of the total crypto stolen from exchanges between the second quarter of 2017 and early 2018, according to a report released by cybercrime watchdog Group-IB last October. 

[Yahoo News]

North Korea’s extensive underground empire may include underground air bases

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North Korea, one of the most secretive countries in the world, is no stranger to building underground military facilities. Whether a tunnel dug under the demilitarized zone designed to pass thousands of troops an hour, or bunkers to accommodate the regime’s leadership, North Korea has built extensive underground facilities designed to give it an edge in wartime.

One of the earliest examples of North Korean underground engineering was the discovery of several tunnels leading from North Korea under the demilitarized zone to South Korea. The first tunnel located in 1974, extended one kilometer south of the DMZ, and was large enough to move up to two thousand troops per hour under the DMZ.

Thanks to a tip from a North Korean defector, an even larger tunnel was discovered in 1978, a mile long and nearly seven feet wide. Since then at least four tunnels have been discovered, with reinforced concrete slabs, electricity for lighting and fresh air generation, and narrow railway gauges.

It’s difficult to determine how many tunnels exist. One report says that Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North Korean state and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, ordered each of the ten front-line combat divisions to dig two tunnels. If completed, that would theoretically mean another dozen or so tunnels remain undiscovered. A former South Korean general, Han Sung-chu, claims there are at least eighty-four tunnels—some reaching as far as downtown Seoul. (The South Korean government does not believe Han’s numbers—nor the claimed ability to reach Seoul—are credible.)

The North Korean People’s Liberation Army Air Force is also believed to have three different underground air bases at Wonsan, Jangjin and Onchun. The underground base at Wonsan reportedly includes a runway 5,900 feet long and ninety feet wide that passes through a mountain. According to a defector, during wartime aircraft would take off from conventional air bases but return to underground air bases.

Another underground development is a series of troop bunkers near the DMZ. A North Korean defector disclosed that, starting in 2004, North Korea began building bunkers capable of concealing between 1,500 and two thousand fully armed combat troops near the border. At least eight hundred bunkers were built, not including decoys, meant to conceal units such as light-infantry brigades and keep them rested until the start of an invasion.

Other underground facilities are believed to have been constructed to shelter the North’s leadership. According to a South Korean military journal, the United States believes there are between 6000-8000 such shelters scattered across the country. This information was reportedly gathered from defectors in order to hunt down regime members in the event of war or government collapse.

North Korea is believed to have hundreds of artillery-concealing caves just north of the DMZ. Known as Hardened Artillery Sites, or HARTS, these are usually tunneled into the sides of mountains. An artillery piece, such as a 170-millimeter Koksan gun or 240-millimeter multiple-launch rocket system, can fire from the mouth of the cave and then withdraw into the safety of the mountain to reload. As of 1986, and estimated 200-500 HARTS were thought to exist.

All these facilities are hard to spot via satellite, so gleaning information from defectors has been the best way to learn about them in peacetime. Pyongyang’s eventual defeat in any wartime scenario is a given, but its underground headquarters, fortifications and troop depots have the potential to not only enhance the Korean People’s Army’s ability to mount a surprise attack, but also to prolong the war, confounding the high-tech armed forces of its adversaries.

[Read full article at The National Interest]

North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho says defection is a gradual process

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Born into North Korea’s elite class, Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat, was destined for great things. In the 1990s, he was posted to North Korea’s embassy in Denmark.

Only then, living in the West, did doubt about the system he was indoctrinated in begin to grow. “I learned that North Korea is not a socialist paradise, which I was taught,” Thae said in an interview. “So from that time on, the suspicion inside me is growing.”

It would take another two decades before Thae made a monumental decision that has made him both internationally famous and an assassination target for the regime he was once proud to serve.

Defection is a gradual process, he said, not a snap decision. He had been holding out hope that North Korea might embrace change. “[I hoped] that one day North Korea can become like Vietnam or China,” Thae explained. But his optimism was shattered when former leader Kim Jong-il announced he would be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un, who he knew would not be a reformer.

While living in Copenhagen, Stockholm and, lastly, London, Thae saw his two now-adult boys increasingly become at home with life in countries where democracy, a free media, open education, public health systems and plentiful food was normal.

Whenever Thae and his family had to return to North Korea, as diplomats do periodically, they had to conceal the lives they had been living in order to keep faith with the false messages transmitted to the people by the Kim regime. His boys could not talk about the internet or social media; they had to pretend living in the West was ugly.

Unless he acted, he knew he and his family would have to continue the unimaginable pretense of their double lives. Thae said his decision to become one of North Korea’s highest-ranking defectors ever was made out of love for his sons and their future children. “So as a father, I thought that it is my last mission to cut off this kind of slavery system, you know, for my sons,” he said.

In 2016, Thae and his family walked out of North Korea’s embassy in Ealing, West London, for the last time. Thae knew not only that his defection to South Korea would require high-level protection for his wife and sons; it would likely make life unbearable for his wider family back home. Knowing they could be working in forced labor camps or worse is a pain he cannot escape.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

North Korea changes constitution to solidify Kim Jong Un’s rule

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North Korea’s parliament has approved changes to the country’s constitution to solidify leader Kim Jong Un’s role as head of state, state media said on Thursday. The move comes after Kim was formally named head of state and commander-in-chief of the military in a new constitution in July.

Kim’s legal status as “representing our state has been further consolidated to firmly ensure the monolithic guidance of the Supreme Leader over all state affairs,” state news agency KCNA quoted Choe Ryong Hae, president of the presidium of the supreme people’s assembly, or titular parliament, as saying.

The new constitution said Kim, as chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), a top governing body created in 2016, was the supreme representative of all the Korean people, which means head of state, as well as “commander-in-chief”.

A previous constitution simply called Kim “supreme leader” who commanded the country’s “overall military force”. Thursday’s constitutional amendments appear to confirm that North Korea’s legal system will now recognize Kim as head of state.

“With the amendment, Kim Jong Un is reviving his grandfather’s head of state system,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute. “He has become a de facto head of state.”

The back-to-back constitutional revision is unprecedented, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News, a website that tracks North Korea. “By further bolstering the SAC chairman’s authority, Kim Jong Un has emerged as the most powerful leader in North Korean history,” she said.

In reality Kim, a third-generation hereditary leader, already rules North Korea with an iron fist and the title change will mean little to the way he wields power.

[Reuters]

Contradictory impulses by North Korean leadership

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North Korea’s leaders have shown contradictory impulses when it comes to the influence from the South, pushing a narrative of Korean unification, even as they discourage cultural crosscurrents at home.

One woman in her late 20s who defected from North Korea last year recalls watching a video of a concert, shared behind closed doors in her hometown near the Chinese border. “Kim Jong Un clapped and cheered at the [same] performance, but we could only watch smuggled footage of it in hiding, because consuming South Korean music was still a crime that could land us in prison,” she said.

Another North Korean defector Han Song-ee recalls she was just 10 when she first saw a video of the South Korean K-pop group “Baby V. O. X.”

“At first it was so shocking and weird to see these ‘capitalist vandals.’ But as I listened to their music, I realized it was pretty catchy,” she said. Soon, she was hooked.

Han and her friends began to wear the colorful hot pants popularized by another South Korean group, “Girls’ Generation” – but only in their neighborhood, not the city center. Her father even became angry with her mother for copying the band’s hairstyle.

Han defected in 2013 and is now a well-known vlogger in Seoul, where she also appears on radio and television.

[San Francisco Gate]

Does Kim Jong Un get Trump tweet alerts?

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How people stay informed in the Hermit State of North Korea is always a question.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump made a statement indicating that it only took Kim Jong Un 10 minutes to respond to his tweeted proposal for a landmark meeting in June at the border of North and South Korea.

This suggests that someone in Pyongyang — perhaps Kim himself — keeps a minute-by-minute watch on what the US tweetmaster-in-chief is saying on social media.

Trump told the New Hampshire Today radio program: “When I was flying to South Korea I had the idea, you know what, I am going to South Korea, right next to North Korea …. I put out a tweet: ‘Hey, I am going to South Korea. If you want to meet for a couple of minutes, let’s meet.'”

“And I put it out and [Kim Jong Un] was calling within 10 minutes.”

Trump appeared to reject speculation that the meeting had already been discussed quietly before he tweeted on June 29 from the G20 summit in Osaka: “If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello (?)!”

In any case, a little more than a day later, Trump became the first serving US president to step foot in North Korea, where he held brief talks with Kim.

“I mean it’s the craziest thing,” Trump, an early and now prolific Twitter user, told the radio program. Twitter is “an incredible way of communicating for me … It’s a way of getting the word out.”

Kim himself has not taken up tweets to communicate his edicts and invitations.

But he appears to be watching.

[AFP]

North Korea appears to have built its first real ballistic missile submarine

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Hidden behind the distraction of the recent spate of tactical missile tests is a greater development with strategic implications: New submarines that will allow the Hermit Kingdom to improve the lethality and survivability of its nuclear arsenal.

On July 23, North Korean state media released images of Kim Jong-un inspecting a submarine. The boat (submarines are always called boats) was described as newly constructed, although it is likely an old boat that has been newly modified. …The age of the underlying design notwithstanding, it appears to have a new capability that should energize strategists: it looks like a ballistic missile submarine.

This is beyond reasonable doubt. Stitching together the handful of images we can see the tell-tale signs. North Korean state media attempted to obscure this but trained eyes can see through the blurring. On top of the enlarged sail in the middle of the submarine are a series of small holes. These are to allow water to escape sideways when a missile is launched and was a feature added to an earlier submarine after some test launches. Together with an in-depth analysis of the likely interval arrangement of the hull we can be confident that this is a ballistic missile submarine.

Placing part of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal aboard submarines greatly increases their survivability in the event of conflict. All countries with a nuclear arsenal have sought to do this to some extent, and North Korea launched its first missile submarine in 2014. That submarine only carries a single missile and is primarily seen as a test platform.

This new submarine has room for three missiles, indicating an operational role and greatly increasing the chances of a missile penetrating any defenses. It will probably carry three KN-11 ballistic missiles, which have an estimated range of 1,250 kilometers (775 miles). … The missile range is enough to threaten U.S. forces in the region from the relative protection of its home waters, but the submarine would have to break out into the Pacific to directly threaten Hawaii, Guam or the Western seaboard of the United States. It would have the range to do this, however.

The old design does come with some drawbacks. It is comparatively noisy, which means it’s less stealthy and so easier to attack. … It does have one trick up its sleeve, however: Unlike the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines used by the U.S. Navy, it can sit on the sea floor and go silent, making it very difficult to detect for a few hours or days while it is there.

The conversion of existing submarines to carry ballistic missiles is likely to be the fastest way for North Korea to achieve the goal of most nuclear countries’ planners: a submarine force which is continuously at sea. This means that in any future conflict there may be a certainty that some of North Korea’s nuclear weapons will be hiding beneath the waves, ready to strike at any moment.

[Read full article at Forbes]

North Korea ‘brainwashes’ its children for future military service says defector

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North Korea’s military is the fourth-largest in the world, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, with 1.2 million active-duty soldiers. Military service is compulsory for most citizens.

North Korean military indoctrination begins early. “When I was young, I thought it was obvious I should become a soldier,” says Hyun Lee, a North Korean defector. “Each element of North Korea’s student education instills a brainwashing idea of being loyal to the Kim family…” he said.

Anna Fifield’s book “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un” details the ways the regime indoctrinates children early on. “I went to a nursery with a sign across the front saying ‘Thank you, Respected General Kim Jong Un,'” she writes. “Inside, it was decorated with cartoon raccoon soldiers holding rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sailor ducklings with machine guns.. The toddlers posed with plastic Kalashnikovs while visiting reporters took photos,” Fifield writes.

Lee echoed that sentiment, saying, “From a very young age, we are taught that it is an honor to be in General Kim’s army.”

Military prowess is baked into the Kim family’s narrative; Kim Il Sung, the first leader of North Korea, built his mythic status in part on his prowess as a guerilla fighter against the Japanese army during its occupation of the Korean peninsula. And while Kim Jong Un didn’t serve in the military, he pushed the country toward a military-first approach and conducted the first nuclear tests in 2006.

Fifield notes that Kim Jong Un was called “Comrade General” — even by adults — from the time he was ten. She describes him as often wearing a child-sized general’s uniform, too.

He’s not the only one; many photos of Chairman Kim feature children — even toddlers — in military uniform.

And, as Lee described, North Korea’s version of the Boy Scouts (albeit with a more militaristic mindset) sing a song about how they’ll fight — and sacrifice themselves — for General Kim: “3 million boy scouts will be guns and bombs/ We will be guns and bombs for the General,” the lyrics promise.

[Reuters]

UN claims North Korea stole $2bn from cyberattacks

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North Korea has stolen up to $2 billion from banks and cryptocurrency exchanges through cyberattacks to fund its nuclear missiles program, according to a United Nations report seen by AFP Wednesday.

The UN is investigating at least 35 reported instances of Pyongyang “attacking financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges and mining activity designed to earn foreign currency,” it said. “Large-scale attacks against cryptocurrency exchanges allow the DPRK to generate income in ways that are harder to trace and subject to less government insight and regulation than the traditional banking sector,” the report added.

“Cyber actors, many operating under the direction of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (North Korea’s intelligence agency), raise money for its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs, with total proceeds to date estimated at up to two billion US dollars,” said the UN report.

North Korea has launched four pairs of projectiles in less than two weeks and threatened more, amid fears it is ramping up its missiles program. Leader Kim Jong Un says the country’s latest missile launches were a warning to Washington and Seoul over their joint war games, state news agency KCNA reported.

[AFP]

North Korea’s missile tests raise stakes for Trump’s personal diplomacy with Kim

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North Korea’s return to missile testing after a long hiatus raises the stakes for President Trump ahead of planned nuclear negotiations, undermining his claim that his personal relationship with dictator Kim Jong Un has reduced the threat from North Korea and made Asian allies safer.

The short-range weapons are a threat to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, or potentially to U.S. forces in the region. North Korea says its testing is a warning to South Korea, which is resuming joint military exercises with the United States in August and is also acquiring American F-35 stealth fighter jets.

The challenge from Kim to Trump is also clear and appears aimed at squeezing concessions from the U.S. leader when negotiators meet after months of delay. That session is expected soon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.

In an interview Wednesday evening on Fox Business Network, national security adviser John Bolton said the tests do not break a pledge Kim made to Trump that he would not test intercontinental ballistic missiles. He added a note of caution, “You have to ask if, when, the real diplomacy is going to begin, when the working-level discussions on denuclearization will begin.”

Trump downplayed a similar launch last week, saying many nations test short-range weapons. “My relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good one, as I’m sure you’ve seen,” Trump said Tuesday, hours before the latest launch. “We’ll see what happens. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I know one thing: that if [Hillary Clinton] was president … you would be in a major war right now with North Korea.” Trump added, “I have a good relationship with [Kim Jong Un]. I like him; he likes me,” Trump said Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens.”

Kim’s calculation may be that the tests unnerve and weaken both the United States and South Korea, but that Trump would not retaliate by canceling talks or taking other actions so long as Kim does not directly confront or insult him.

[Washington Post]