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North Korea

Tag Archives | North Korea

New McAfee Study on North Korean Malware

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Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

According to news reports, there is a new piece to the Dark Seoul puzzle. A new Malware is on the loose and it’s after information on South Korean and U.S. Military secrets. The report does not identify which government networks have been targeted specifically, just that it’s looking for information on the two specific countries. The researchers have found it’s been gathering information since 2009, but the attack wasn’t discovered until March 20, 2013.

It’s called Operation Troy, after the historic city in which the Trojan War took place. A significant reference considering how much of a historic impact the war had on Greek literature. Not to mention that the city of Troy fell due to the enemies breaking through with the famous Trojan horse. All familiar references in modern day hacking and hackers love their references.

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Is North Korea Poised to Launch a Cyber Attack?

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There are strong indications that North Korea has launched a major cyber espionage attack against the United States and its long-term adversary, South Korea, in an effort to acquire strategic military intelligence. North Korea’s historical pattern of aggression and its proclivity for asymmetric attacks suggest a follow-on cyber attack may only be weeks away.  Recent revelations about previous cyber attacks that point to North Korean sponsorship indicate that the country continues to refine its tactical capacity and targeting capability to carry out complex, multi-tiered cyber espionage efforts. It also reaffirms LIGNETs belief that North Korea has built a formidable cyber army that is increasing in sophistication and proving to be an elusive threat to both regional and global powers.

To read the full analysis, please visit Langley Intelligence Group Network.

Japan Mends ties with North Korea

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The big story in Asia affairs today is a little trip that was supposed to stay a secret: the dispatch of Isao Iijima, adviser to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to meet with senior officials in North Korea, thereby breaking the united US/South Korean/Japanese front in negotiations with Pyongyang.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

It is the first instance of an overt divergence between Japanese and US diplomatic and security strategies, something that has been implicit in Japan’s sometimes-inflammatory brand of nationalism under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - and Abe’s determination to move Japan beyond its traditional role of obedient US ally to independent regional force.

The United States has been quietly disapproving of Japan’s China strategy - witness Kurt Campbell’s statement that the US advised Japan against nationalizing the Senkaku islands - and provocative nationalist hi-jinks on issues like the Yasukuni Shrine, but excused them as politically motivated exercises in domestic base-pandering. However, the North Korean trip has revealed the cloven hoof beneath the robe, as far as Japan’s independent aspirations in Asia are concerned. Japan Times made it clear that the US was not consulted in advance about the trip; US special representative for North Korea Glyn Davies was only briefed after the visit: Japan briefed the United States on Thursday about the surprise visit to North Korea by an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo, Glyn Davies, US. special representative for North Korea policy, said he hopes to gain more “insights” into Isao Iijima’s unannounced trip in the coming days.

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North Korean Provocations will not Lead to War

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Military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. Source: NOS Nieuws

The media has been reporting often (with speculation) about the latest string of threats emanating from North Korea, including possible nuclear attacks on Seoul, Tokyo and Guam, a United States territory in the Pacific Ocean. The speculation on what will happen in Northeast Asia implies that no one can be certain about the intentions of the reclusive yet bellicose Kim Jong-un. The general consensus worldwide is that the North Korean regime is neither rational nor trustworthy, and therefore the international community should take its threats very seriously.

However, this is not the first time that a Northeast Asian leader and his regime have been labelled as as irrational and unpredictable. In 1950, analysts in the United States made similar judgements of Mao Zedong as a volatile leader as well. Two major foreign policy decisions by Mao – to enter the Korean War against the US in 1950, within a year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and to openly split with the Soviet Union in 1960 – were used as evidence of his “irrationality” by US analysts.

By drawing parallels between North Korea’s current sabre-rattling and Mao’s security posturing in the 1950s and 1960s, it is possible to introduce the perspective that Kim is acting according to an old script; his intention is to bolster sagging domestic support and strengthen North Korea’s international bargaining position. North Korea wants something, but it’s clearly not war.

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The White House’s Flawed North Korea Strategy

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President Barack Obama meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office where they discussed among other things tensions with North Korea, February 28, 2011. Pete Souza/White House

In the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula the Obama administration is virtually repeating the 2004 Bush playbook, one that derailed a successful diplomatic agreement forged by the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. While the acute tensions of the past month appear to be receding—all of the parties involved seem to be taking a step back— the problem is not going to disappear and, unless Washington and its allies re-examine their strategy, another crisis is certain to develop.

A little history. In the spring of 1994, the Clinton administration came very close to a war with North Korea over Pyongyang’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international inspectors, and extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods. Washington moved to beef up its military in South Korea, and, according to Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly, there were plans to bomb the Yongbyon reactor. Kaplan is Slate Magazine’s War Stories columnist and author of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. “Yet at the same time,” writes Kaplan, “Clinton set up a diplomatic back-channel to end the crisis peacefully.” Former President Jimmy Carter was sent to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and the Agreed Framework pact was signed, allowing the parties to back off without losing face.

In return for shipping their fuel rods out of the country, the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to finance two light-water nuclear reactors, normalize diplomatic relations, and supply the DPRK with fuel. The U.S. pledged not to invade the North. “Initially, North Korea kept to its side of the bargain,” say Kaplan, “The same cannot be said for our side.” The reactors were never funded and diplomatic relations went into a deep freeze. From North Korea’s point of view, it had been stiffed, and it reacted with public bombast and a secret deal with Pakistan to exchange missile technology for centrifuges to make nuclear fuel.

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North Korea: Enter Realpolitik

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“[North Korea has] to be prepared to live up to the international obligations and standards which they have accepted, and make it clear they will move to denuclearization as part of the talks, and those talks could begin.” – Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on April 13, 2013

Will President Obama become a late and unlikely convert to realpolitik and allow John Kerry to sacrifice America’s nuclear non-proliferation principles on the battered altar of North Korean diplomacy? And will the fearsome pivot to Asia turn into a dainty pirouette, an American pas de deux with China as the two great powers search for a way to dance around the North Korean nuclear problem? Potentially, the North Korean nuclear crisis is a good thing for the US and South Korea-and perhaps even for China!—if President Obama is ready to bend on some cherished non-proliferation beliefs. That’s what the North Korean leadership is begging him to do, amid the nuclear uproar.

Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, seems to be interested in getting, if not on the same page, in the same chapter with North Korea, and maybe pick up a geopolitical win (with Chinese acquiescence) similar to the successful effort to push Myanmar (Burma) out of its exclusive near-China orbit. John Kerry is very much the pragmatist—normalization of US-Vietnam relations was his signature geostrategic success as US Senator—and apparently would enjoy negotiating with the North Koreans and weaning them away from the Chinese at the cost of finessing the nuclear weapons issue.

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Beijing and Moscow: Pyongyang’s Silent Partners

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As tension mounts on the Korean Peninsula, consider the two most reluctant participants, Russia and China.

Photo released by KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013 shows top leader Kim Jong-Un attending an urgent meeting with top military officials

Russian involvement in Korean affairs can be traced back to the 19th century and China has been involved for several centuries. Both states are trapped into supporting Pyongyang for economic and diplomatic rewards. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin gambled that the cancellation of economic aid would lead to better economic relations with the Republic of Korea. The gamble failed because China entered the void that Russian influence had once filled and consequently it partly restored its traditional suzerain relationship with Korea. Yet to gain this influence, China took over the burden of aid to Pyongyang, which now accounts for 70% of energy and regular donations of over $1m in food aid.

Without significant influence over Pyongyang, the weakest partner in the Six Party Talks, President Putin and Medvedev have both attempted to rekindle relations. This has gifted Kim Jong-Un an opportunity to take advantage of Sino-Russian competition for influence. He and his father, Kim Jong-Il, exploited this opportunity by continually refusing to settle Cold War era debt, stating that they were donations.

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Mr. Kim and the Envelope

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Like his father, Kim Jong-Un is best compared to a bellicose 13-year old child who stomps his feet and makes a fuss until he gets his way. Unlike an ordinary child, this one’s tantrums come with high stakes.

Photo released by KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013 shows top leader Kim Jong-Un attending an urgent meeting with top military officials. Source: KCNA/Xinhua

The young Mr. Kim has now taken his game of chicken as far as it can go without actually pulling the trigger. The series of exchanges and threats are indeed worrisome for Washington and its allies; China, Japan, South Korea and the United States are taking it all seriously. Is Kim Jong-Un dumb enough to actually follow through? According to a statement released by state-run KCNA, North Korea has stated that it is in a “state of war” with South Korea. “Situations on the Korean Peninsula, which are neither in peace or at war, have come to an end,” the statement read. “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.”

We think not. While North Korea has a standing army of more than a million soldiers – making it one of the world’s largest — approximately 12,000 artillery guns, over 800 fighter jets and thousands of tanks, many elements of its military are outdated and would not be able to sustain a ground war with South Korea and the United States. While Pyongyang has warned that it will strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear-armed ICBM’s, by all accounts it lacks the technical ability to do so. It has yet to successfully test a long-range missile, nor has North Korea been able to miniaturize a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on an ICBM. The greater threat is short and medium-range missiles, so while U.S. territory is not at risk, Japan and South Korea certainly are. Kim Jong-Un knows, however, that any use of nuclear or chemical weapons by him would result in the same by the U.S.

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North Korea’s Provocative Pattern

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North Korea, the recalcitrant hermit kingdom, has decided yet again that the international community is ignoring it. Pyongyang has voided the 1953 Korean armistice and warned that it will launch a nuclear attack on the United States as U.S.-South Korean military exercises involving 3,000 American and 10,000 South Korean soldiers began earlier this month.

The United States will add more ground-based ballistic missile interceptors to its arsenal, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced at the Pentagon

Exactly how Pyongyang plans to launch a nuclear salvo on the United States is still unclear and whether it has the capacity is questionable. Most North Korea watchers remain doubtful that the belligerent nation has the technical means to deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States. This does not, however, undermine the seriousness of the threat nor detract from North Korea’s intentions to up the ante. Already, Pyongyang has severed communications with South Korea and launched a propaganda campaign designed to seek out concessions from the United States while at the same time bolstering the credentials of Kim Jong-Un among North Koreans and the country’s military establishment.

The greatest danger for the United States and the international community is that North Korea is unpredictable. Compared to other recalcitrant states like Iran, which does not yet possess a nuclear arsenal, a bloody war was previously fought on the Korean Peninsula over a half century ago. Additionally, North Korea has not shied away from unsolicited attacks in the past and has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to bring the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war. An example can be found in North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in 2010 that killed 46 sailors and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island also in 2010 that killed four South Koreans.

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Petulant Child: North Korea and Chastisement

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It is treated as a petulant child, the infelicitous member of the world community, and devoid of fidelity.

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located on the border with South Korea. Source: KCNA

Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post, struggling with his crystal ball gazing, tries to find the tempo the DPRK clicks to. He decides that Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself a second time as farce after tragedy requires a third phase: North Korea. The assumptions, for there are only assumptions, are many. The decisions are not coming from the leader himself, the seemingly child-like steward Kim Jong-Un. No, that would be too much. As with previous ideologies of watching, be it with China, or with the Soviet Union, leaderships can be hostages to factions, to cliques, Mikado-like in their ceremonial impotence. The “experts” are, however, often the last to know.

North Korea more broadly speaking is being treated like a child monster. If Kim Jong-Un is still in need of potty training, then the entire state is a delinquent in need of a good chastising. “The most likely explanation for North Korea’s actions,” advances Zakaria, “is that it is trying to get attention.” Hence, scrapping the armistice with Seoul made in 1953, terminating the hotline to the South, and accelerating its nuclear program. It has also, just to keep things interesting, threatened the United States with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Such prima donna squealing seems to have come about in response to further sanctions imposed on North Korea after its third nuclear test. No one is pleased.

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Understanding China’s Internal Migration

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“At the beginning of the new century, the Chinese government realized that measures aimed at inhibiting the movement of workers from rural to urban areas had generated many negative impacts on the development of the rural economy.” – Li Shi, Beijing Normal University

China’s President Hu Jintao talks to Vice President Xi Jinping after the closing ceremony of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Alfred Cheng Jin/Reuters

In November 2012, China began a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that will continue through this month when Xi Jinping succeeds Hu Jintao as President of the People’s Republic. Xi has been primed to carry his nation into the second decade of the twenty-first century, as the country prepares itself for an unprecedented international role. With its new economic, political, and military clout, Xi’s China stands ready to be both a regional and global leader. Amidst this historic shift, however, lies a set of deep challenges that Xi will be forced to confront on the international front.

These include a ‘pivoting’ United States, growing nationalism in Japan, and a more caustic North Korea, among many others. However, an often overlooked and more dangerous domestic problem is a result of the restrictions placed on the migrant workers that have been fueling China’s monumental growth. Understanding the causal factors that explain rural migrants’ flock to urban areas will be crucial for the fifth generation of leadership, which is dealing with one of the largest human movements in the world.

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Iranian Observers Attended North Korea’s Nuclear Test

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Reports released yesterday indicate that a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, traveled to North Korea to observe the country’s recent nuclear test. Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi is believed to be in charge of Iran’s effort to miniaturize a nuclear warhead so that it can be outfitted on a ballistic missile. It is rare for Iranian nuclear scientists to travel outside of Iran, especially given the numerous high-profile assassinations that have taken place over the years. The trip suggests close relations between Iran and North Korea, and raises the possibility of nuclear collaboration.

While Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s focus on miniaturization could be perceived to support North Korea’s claim that its recent test employed a new, advanced miniaturized nuclear device, LIGNET maintains there is a high probability that North Korea does not yet possess the technical capability to produce a miniaturized nuclear device. To read the LIGNET analysis on North Korea’s recent nuclear test, please visit “North Korea: Nuclear Test Shows Limits of Chinese Influence.”

To read the full analysis, please visit LIGNET.

North Korea: Martial Law Declared Ahead of Possible Nuclear Test

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The South Korean media reported yesterday that a secret domestic security order was recently issued by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The secret order essentially implements martial law. Reports indicate that senior North Korean security and military officials met on January 26 to discuss increasing the nation’s readiness level.  Following UN sanctions that were passed earlier this month North Korean officials stated that their nuclear weapons development effort would not be deterred. Reports that additional domestic security measures are being implemented and that the North Korean military is upgrading its readiness status reinforces analysis that the country may be preparing for a new provocative action, possibly a nuclear test.

To read the full analysis, please visit LIGNET.

Scenes from North and South Korea

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Photo: Ethan Wilkes

All photos are the exclusive property of Ethan Wilkes. Photos of North Korea were taken in August 2007 and shots of South Korea in September 2009. The photo sets below are a reflection on this question, showing one shot of North Korea followed by a similar shot of South Korea. They are a testament to life on both sides of the divide and an indication of what currently is in contrast to what might become.

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The Iran Nuclear Debate

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Over the last few months, there has been much public discussion surrounding the increasing likelihood of an Israeli pre-emptive strike upon Iran, as part of a broader strategy to halt the Iranian government’s supposed nuclear weapons programme.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the Natanz enrichment facility

Recently this talk has been muted by Israel’s latest attempts to ‘pacify’ the Gaza Strip, though as far as Israel’s strategic defence is concerned, an Iranian nuclear deployment is a far more dangerous ball game. Or is it? This article aims to purport a convincing argument to the contrary, that Iranian nuclear ambitions are not as great a threat as supposed, and may even be welcome.

However, this article also serves to warn of the consequences should a military solution to remove this alleged threat be undertaken, and principally argues that the cost of action is likely to be far greater than restraint.

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