North Korea Threat: is it cooling?

11 04 2013

NK missile launch drills (By Steven Borowiec, Chrisian Science Monitor, 10 April 2013) North Korea threat of missile launch continued to preoccupy the region today, which was the deadline North Korea gave for foreigners to leave South Korea to avoid conflict. But nothing happened.

North Korea picked Wednesday April 10 as the day by which foreign embassies in Pyongyang should submit evacuation plans, foreigners should leave South Korea, and South Korean workers should leave the now barely functioning Kaesong Industrial Complex, hinting at a provocation that could bring the area into a state of conflict.

Though North Korea has threatened South Korea many times in the past, this time analysts are viewing the situation differently, seriously considering the possibility of a large-scale provocation from the North. North Korea is believed to have moved two Musudan missiles to its eastern coast last week, leading many to predict an imminent missile launch. South Korean and US defense forces responded by upgrading their military surveillance postures looking for signs of a North Korean rocket launch.

But as the day came and went with no observed action, it raised the question: Have North Korea’s heated rhetoric and threats been bluffs? “The general principle is to escalate tensions in order to later be able to negotiate from a position of strength,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at Australian National University.

Musudan missiles have a range of about 1,875 miles, meaning they could reach anywhere in South Korea, Japan, or the US territory of Guam. But as the Musudan missiles have never been flight-tested by North Korea, their launch might be unlikely, as the North would be wary of the loss of face that would come with an unsuccessful launch attempt.

According to analysts, the raising of tensions may be a deliberate ploy to create an atmosphere of nervousness about North Korea’s next move and thereby strengthen Pyongyang’s hand when it comes time to negotiate next with the international community. North Korea, for example, raised eyebrows with seemingly irrational acts like pulling workers out of the joint North-South Kaesong economic industrial park, an important source of revenue for the cash-strapped country.

According to Mr. Petrov, this type of short-term move could pay off down the road when North Korea seeks aid or economic assistance. Hostile rhetoric can also contribute to more important ends like rallying citizens around an ideology of confrontation with enemies, particularly the US and South Korea. “North Korea’s leadership is willing to do things that may be self-harming in the short term. Money is not the most important thing to them. Things like maintaining their system, the stability of the leadership, the isolation of the people from other sources of information, those are the most critical things,” says Petrov.

In a New York Times opinion piece on Tuesday, Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov wrote, “Put bluntly, North Korea’s government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.”

Today in Seoul, the US Department of State reiterated its position that there was no reason for US citizens to expect any special danger in South Korea, in a statement that read, “North Korea’s reported ‘advice’ to foreigners that they depart South Korea only serves to unnecessarily and provocatively escalate tensions.”

Still, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a parliamentary hearing today, “according to intelligence obtained by our side and the US, the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high.” Mr. Yun added that a missile launch could still come “at any time.”

South Korea’s police raised their state of terror alert one level from “attention” to “caution” out of concern for a possible North Korean terrorist attack.

Dates and numbers have great symbolic importance to North Korea, so Pyongyang often schedules what Washington calls “provocative acts” around holidays and important political events. Some are eying the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather, on April 15.

Also on Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that it had determined that North Korea was behind cyber-attacks that disrupted the systems of several banks and broadcasters on March 20. This has fed speculation that North Korea will increasingly use asymmetric tactics that are still harmful but avoid direct military conflict, where it is at a significant disadvantage.

Cyber attacks may spark new war in Korea

8 06 2012

(Leonid Petrov, 38 North, 9 July 2013) Those who are familiar with Len Wiseman’s 2007 film “Live Free or Die Hard” (“Die Hard 4.0”) will recall the actor Bruce Willis taking on a gang of cyber terrorists intent on hacking FBI computers. At one point, the arch-villain Gabriel orders a crew of hackers to start a “fire sale” by taking control of the stock market and transportation grids. The attack is designed to target the nation’s reliance on computer controls, sending the public into a panic and presenting us with an almost credible sci-fi plot. The reality of today’s world shows that cyber-terrorism, if left unchecked, might be used not only by individuals or extremist groups, but by hostile governments on the offensive.

The Korean peninsula is now quickly turning into a place where a singular cyber-attack might spark a full-fledged conflict. Last month, North Korea was accused of actively jamming global positioning system (GPS) signals, targeting South Korea’s two largest airports outside its capital city of Seoul. The jamming signals, which were first detected on April 28 and ended on May 6, were traced to the North Korean border city of Kaesong, just 10 km north of the DMZ. Suspicions fell on imported truck-based jamming systems from Russia, capable of jamming signals within 100 kilometres. Was it really North Korea who stood behind the GPS jamming incidents and, if so, what was the purpose?

Following the North’s failed satellite launch on April 13, cyber warfare could be considered by Pyongyang as a more cost-effective way of intimidating the South. North Korea can send out jamming signals over a wide bandwidth, affecting a large number of facilities without consuming excessive amounts of energy or much needed foreign currency. A total of 553 aircraft flying in and out of South Korea’s Incheon and Gimpo airports reported GPS system failures, as did hundreds of ships and fishing boats. Considering the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ and Incheon International Airport’s proximity to the disputed waters of West Sea (Yellow Sea), such activity could cause aircrafts or ships to stray into North Korean territory, which would justify another naval clash.

GPS jamming can be used alone or in combination with other electronic and network-based attacks to disrupt South Korea’s highly digitized society. In addition to its forays into electronic warfare, the North’s military is also reportedly building up its hacking expertise. Within the last 12 months, North Korean military intelligence was accused of conducting a number of cyber attacks against South Korean and US financial institutions, government, and military websites. Experts believe that the DPRK People’s Army has units with hundreds of hackers, many of them based in China, who are employed in psychological operations to spread propaganda and infiltrate social networks. The Reconnaissance General Bureau is usually suspected of being responsible for coordinating these attempts to take down South Korea’s IT and communications infrastructure.

While inter-Korean confrontation is reaching new heights, the arrest of a 56-year-old naturalized citizen of New Zealand in Seoul in June reveals a new trend in an old conflict. An ethnic Korean known as “Mr. Kim” has been accused of exporting a satellite navigation system and long-range rocket detectors, which could have seriously compromised South Korea’s military capability. Kim and his South Korean business partners were arrested after an alleged meeting with a North Korean agent in Dandong, China. In July of last year, Kim also engaged in trade activities in Nampo, North Korea, where he handed over sensitive information that had been requested by a North Korean agent.

To what extent the North Korean military was able to utilize this equipment and information became clearer in early June this year. In an unusually detailed statement, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army declared an ultimatum to the South Korean president Lee Myung Bak. It claimed that its missile units and other forces had been programmed with the longitude and latitude co-ordinates of various media outlets in Seoul. Among the named targets were the Chosun Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo newspapers, a TV channel operated by the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, and the KBS, CBS, MBC, and SBS television stations. In its report, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) named specific coordinates of the targets and promised to eliminate them if Lee did not publicly apologize for “hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.”

According to Martyn Williams, who runs the “North Korea Tech” website, the coordinates given by the KCNA for the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo were incorrect, in that they failed to factor in the simple rule that the maximum value for measuring minutes and seconds is 60. That is, the Chosun Ilbo was listed at 37°56’83″ North and 126°97’65″ East. Even if these calculations were corrected and processed through mapping software, one would end up in the mountains to the northwest of Chuncheon province—a long way from downtown Seoul. The Dong-A-Ilbo’s location was similarly mistaken, as well as the coordinates of JoongAng Ilbo office, which in fact, belonged to a building across the street.

However, it is not only the hi-tech GPS equipment that North Korea might use to cause chaos and panic in South Korea. Some computer experts say that the North could try to destroy infrastructure in South Korea connected with traffic, electricity, power plants, and water supplies by hacking into computer systems. Over the years, the arsenal of North Korean cyber warfare has expanded to include virus-laden computer games. A 39-year-old South Korean game distributor, known as “Mr. Cho,” is now in police custody for allegedly violating the National Security Law when he travelled to Shenyang, China, where he is said to have met with agents of a North Korean trading company.

Cho asked the North Korean programmers to develop game software that would be used in South Korea, purchasing dozens of copies valued at tens of millions of Korean won. He then sold them to South Korean distributers. According to South Korean intelligence officials, these games were infected with malignant viruses, which turned customers’ PCs into “zombie computers,” contributing to the attempted cyber attacks against Incheon International Airport in March 2011. This activity could also provide the North with the personal information of hundreds of thousands of South Korean users of online games.

Unlike the GPS-guided conventional strike, a cyber-attack can be much more precise, long-ranged, and frustrating. North Korea-focused websites run by Pyongyang watchers and academics often fall victim to hacking attempts, which usually take the form of a Distributed Denial of Service attack. DDoS attacks involve surging a server with unwanted requests, creating such demand on the processor that the website itself becomes unavailable. Tad Farrell’s web portal “NK News: DPRK Information Center” suffered several such attacks in the past before being knocked out completely on June 6 by a different type of malicious attack where passwords were changed and most of the data in the server was wiped out.

It happened just two days after a rare photo of Kim Il Sung was published online, revealing the huge cyst on the neck of the former North Korean leader. Talking about this tumor is considered a crime in the North, and the DPRK media still meticulously avoids depicting it. Was this attack initiated by the North Koreans? It is always very difficult to find the culprit of any cyber attack. The North is routinely blamed for masterminding cyber attacks against the unfriendly sites, particularly if they are linked to North Korean defectors or focused on human rights issues. The paranoid nature of the South’s spy agencies and the ongoing inter-Korean conflict tend to elevate such suspicions to the status of common knowledge.

Cyber-attacks occur regularly worldwide and Trojan viruses are relatively easy to code. To organize and sustain a DDoS attack, the hackers must have resources on the scale that could only be provided by a wealthy client or a nation state. With heightening tensions in mind, North Korea would certainly do everything in its power to bolster its intelligence gathering capability along with the ability to attack vulnerable targets. But would not South Korea or China do the same? Even rogue NGOs with sufficient funds and vested interests can be linked to cyber crime.

For example, another news portal that follows North Korea, The Daily NK, reports that it knows the source of the malware infections installed on its website because the same Trojan scripts can be found on Chinese registered domains and These sites have no content and could be used by squads of international hackers. But just because a script is associated with China, does not necessarily answer the question about the origin of the malware code. The reasons behind each attack are much more obvious then the identity of a culprit. In most cases, cyber attacks leave us with circumstantial evidence but never with a smoking gun.

Still, following the most recent incidents, South Korean prosecutors will look even closer at any possible relations between the arrested suspects and North Korea’s jamming of GPS signals and cyber attacks. In a divided Korea, espionage can mean the death penalty. Although no one has been executed in the South for any crime since 1997, the new age of burgeoning information and communication technologies presents new challenges to states and national security. More peoples’ lives become vulnerable to subtle technological manipulations, and even foreign nationals can be easily accused of conspiring with the enemy or targeted by the conflicting sides.

Bruce Willis_die-hard-4The damage from cyber warfare can be serious and its potential consequences are yet to be understood worldwide. A Russian specialist on information security, Eugene Kaspersky, warns: “A cyber weapon can replicate itself and hit a random victim anywhere around the world, no matter how far you are from the conflict zone. After all, the Internet has no borders and an attack may target an identical system, for example power stations, even if they are located in a very different region of the world.” In other words, cyber terrorism opens a new Pandora’s Box of dangers of which the world has not had a chance to witness except from hypothetical scenarios in the Hollywood blockbuster “Die Hard 4.0.”

Peace and security in Korea is becoming increasingly susceptible to cataclysms, which can be triggered by either a malicious intent or human mistake. The non-aggression and non-nuclear agreements, which were signed by Seoul and Pyongyang in the early 1990s, as well as the suspension of mutually hostile propaganda, which was maintained during the years of “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2008), are now null and void. Any provocation—either real or assumed—can be fatal and can lead to the resumption of a full-scale war on the densely populated peninsula.

The Armistice Agreement signed in Korea in 1953 is long over-due for replacement by a firm peace treaty, which would guarantee security and create conditions for peaceful co-existence of the two Korean states. Reconciliation and collaboration between Koreans and their neighbors is necessary to avert the danger of a man-made regional catastrophe. Failing to achieve it quickly, means the whole world might be caught in the virtual crossfire of an unfinished civil war, which began 62 years ago.

Read a shorter version of this article in Korean here…  한반도에서 펼쳐지는 사이버 전쟁?!

His dear leader: Meet North Korea’s secret weapon – an IT consultant from Spain

21 01 2012

Alejandro Cao de Benos_1(by Tim Hume, The Independent, 21 January 2012) Alejandro Cao de Benos – or ‘Zo’, as his comrades call him – is a devoted follower of the late Kim Jong-il and vigorously defends the North Korean government he represents.

As North Korea convulsed in grief last month with the passing of its Dear Leader, the rest of the world tittered nervously. For Zo Sun-il, a North Korean government spokesman in Europe, this made the bereavement doubly hard to take. While he mourned in isolation, his phone rang hot with calls from international media, who marked Kim Jong-il’s demise by gleefully rehashing the more remarkable claims put forward about him in state propaganda: that he was an influential trendsetter in world fashion; that the one time he picked up a golf club, he made 11 holes-in-one. That he didn’t need to defecate.

Zo took their calls, and seethed inwardly. “I found myself alone in the outside world,” he told me, days before Kim Jong-il’s funeral. “It’s so painful to hear words from people that are so completely ignorant. They broadcast these stupid cartoons of Team America, making a mockery out of the pain of the Korean people. This makes me even more angry and resolute to continue defending his honour.”

For comfort, Zo drew on memories of the man North Koreans viewed as a father, and who, unlike the vast majority of his countrymen, he had met personally. He recalled the horn-handled hunting knife he had presented Kim, and the tea set he had received in return. The way that Kim seemed to single him out for personal salutes at military parades. “His eyes looking at me, his face smiling at me. I keep this very dear to me,” he said.

Most of all, the way Kim’s words had guided Zo to reach his own improbable life’s goal: of joining the Communist revolution by becoming part of the North Korean government. “My friends would say, ‘We love you, but what you want to do is impossible’,” he said. “But in his speeches and writings, Kim Jong-il taught me that impossible is a word that doesn’t exist in the Korean language.”

Zo, whose name means ‘Korea is one’, had to take the Dear Leader’s word for that, because he doesn’t actually speak Korean. His friends’ scepticism seems well-founded given that he is a Spaniard of aristocratic Catalan heritage, better known as Alejandro Cao de Benos, and that North Korea is possibly the world’s most paranoid and isolated nation, a nuclear-armed rogue state all but closed to outsiders.

Yet despite this, Cao de Benos – or Zo – has managed to achieve the unique distinction of being granted honorary North Korean citizenship and an official role as “honorary special delegate” to its Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.

He spends about half of every year in Pyongyang, where he has close ties with the upper echelons of the regime. There, he hosts foreign delegations and acts as an intermediary for external parties wanting to invest, make documentaries or simply visit the country. (He maintains he has “never received a single cent” from North Korea, although admits to clipping the ticket on deals he helps see to fruition.) The other half of the year he acts as a roving ambassador, making media appearances with each new flashpoint arising from North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship, his talking points drawn from the state ideology of juche, or self-reliance.

A rotund 37-year-old with a brusque bearing (as a young man, he spent a year in the Spanish army), Cao de Benos speaks forcefully and formally, favouring archaic terms of statecraft like “plenipotentiary”. For public appearances, he wears a North Korean military uniform heavy with state medals, or black suits cut in the distinctive, high-buttoned style of his adopted homeland, from which his scrubbed, clean-shaven face emerges like a pink balloon.

It took a decade of wooing of North Korean officials before Cao de Benos, who has a background in IT, sought and received permission to set up the country’s first website, in 2000. “Imagine you’re bringing flowers every day to a girl and she’s always rejecting you,” he recalls.

The webpage he built established the first fixed, broadly accessible conduit for communication between North Korea and the world beyond its borders. “Imagine the power in my hands!” the webmaster marvels.

Although he had envisaged attracting “high profile people” – diplomats, entrepreneurs, journalists – Cao de Benos says the site was soon being used by “the most normal people in the world”, wanting to contact the DPRK (The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). From their ranks, Cao de Benos founded the Korean Friendship Association, a club for people wishing to express solidarity with a totalitarian regime whose deadly famines, spontaneous acts of aggression and nuclear weapons programme has it viewed even by its closest remaining patron, China, as a dangerous liability.

On a Saturday afternoon last November, about 20 people assembled before the North Korean flag in a community centre in Camden, north London, for a meeting of the Korean Friendship Association.

Turnout was smaller than expected, given that Cao de Benos claims his organisation has 15,000 members, but the founder was unbowed. Flanked by a display of ideologically sound texts (sample title: “Kim Il-sung: The Great Man of the Century”), he seemed to be channelling his mentor as he delivered a stream of bellicose, anti-American invective.

“If they dare to touch a single inch of the DPRK, we will unleash all our force,” he promised. “If you shoot even one nuclear bomb over US territory, it’s enough to destroy the country,” he went on. “The people will start killing each other, because everybody has weapons in their houses… It will be the Far West once again.”

Though many in the audience wore militaristic attire, the impression was more that of a Boy Scout jamboree. At such meetings, KFA members are awarded badges and posters, and jostle to outdo each other with their trainspotters’ grasp of the minutiae of North Korean life.

Like other followers of niche enthusiasms – medieval role players, American Civil War re-enacters, Japanese anime obsessives – the KFA’s members seem not completely at home in their own world, seeking instead a deeper affinity with a distant, idealised time or place. For them, North Korea’s isolation, its status as a mysterious, forbidden kingdom in an otherwise globalised world, is the source of its unlikely mystique. “It’s the only exotic country,” explains Frank Martin, a 49-year-old Parisian bank manager and KFA member, who has twice visited North Korea on KFA solidarity tours.

North Korea is seen as the ultimate outlier, boldly defying not just global corporate capitalism, but modernity itself. Their fantasy worker’s paradise hews to simpler, nobler values than exist in the benighted West. “They’re not having an easy time of it, the Koreans, but what drives them? What keeps them going? How can they have such grit, whereas in the West they fold over any given problem?” asks George Hadjipateras, a 36-year-old London office clerk and ideological true believer whose affection for North Korea as Communism’s last great hope extends to collecting the republic’s music, and picketing the US embassy once a year. He doesn’t believe the “lies” he reads about Kim Jong-il in the Western media, but has never visited the DPRK because he doesn’t like to travel.

“Sarcasm doesn’t exist in DPRK,” Cao de Benos notes at one point, giving a list of things that do: “Honour, respect, order, discipline”.

Cao de Benos was a serious-minded teenager seeking a solution to the world’s problems, when he first found himself drawn to North Korea in 1990. “I didn’t want to dedicate my life to be a slave in the capitalist system. My dream was to be a part of the revolution,” he recalls.

When, at 16, he came into contact with a North Korean delegation at a World Tourism Organisation exhibition in Madrid, he was mesmerised. “They treated me as though I were their own son,” he recalls. Two years later, he made his first trip to North Korea, with money saved working nights at a petrol station. There, his infatuation deepened. “In DPRK, not only did I find a reflection of my ideal politics, but also of an ideal way of life. I was feeling I was half-Korean.”

In the following years, he developed close relationships with officials as high-ranking as Kim Yong-nam, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, who in theory jointly ruled the country as part of a tripartite executive with Premier Choe Yong-rim and, before his death, Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong-il. (Like many things in North Korea, theory and practice surrounding this arrangement do not necessarily align: Kim Jong-il’s power was absolute.)

Cao de Benos’s fidelity to a rogue state has come at considerable cost. When his interest began, during the time of perestroika, he says, “saying you were a Communist was close to saying you were a terrorist”. He lost jobs and friends, upset his family, and became “a very isolated person”. But he says his convictions never wavered. “If I had taken a different path, in IT or politics, I could have enjoyed success much earlier and without problems. I wouldn’t be a millionaire, I’d be a billionaire. But I’m a revolutionary person. I had to go a very hard and painful way that no one else has taken.”

All the same, his work has earnt him a minor degree of celebrity in North Korea, where he writes newspaper articles and performs revolutionary songs at government banquets. “People will approach me with their babies if they see me in the street, or invite me for a drink,” he says. He makes no secret of the fact he enjoys the status his role as a gatekeeper affords him, in North Korea as well as beyond it, among media, businessmen and other curious parties seeking access to this closed-off regime. “Suddenly, I’m a very, very respected person, even among people who are not Communists.”

Not everyone agrees. Deploying a term historically used for Western sympathisers of the Soviet Union, a former participant on one of Cao de Benos’s tours to North Korea describes him as a “perfect example of the ‘useful idiot'”.

The one-time traveller – who does not want to be identified for fear of jeopardising future trips – had taken the tour out of a sense of goodwill and curiosity, “to see if North Korea could really be as bad as everyone said it was. It was”.

“You mostly just wanted to cry,” the tourist recalls. “It’s like you’ve witnessed a terrible car accident, and you slow down just enough to see, but you’re not allowed to do anything. And then you leave, and you know there’s no ambulance coming to help.”

The group witnessed events and settings that were clearly laid on for their benefit, and increasingly felt their presence was being mined for propaganda. Closely monitored, the visitors had no opportunity to discuss their concerns. Even after the tour’s conclusion, back in the safety of Beijing, they remained too shocked to dissect their surreal ordeal. The fakery was so obvious that the trip might have seemed farcical, were it not for the ominous sense that there could be terrible consequences if events deviated from the approved pathway – both for the group, and any North Koreans dragged into their gyre.

One such departure from the script was captured in a Dutch documentary, Friends of Kim, which follows a KFA trip to North Korea in 2004. During the tour, Cao de Benos breaks into the hotel room of an American journalist in the party, stealing his tapes and denouncing him to authorities. The terrified reporter, under threat of imprisonment, signed a confession and an apology for filming sensitive sites, and was allowed to flee the country.

Incidents like this have earnt Cao de Benos a reputation as a dangerous ideological brown-noser, eager to report on anyone whose actions might be politically suspect in order to curry favour with his superiors. Certainly, it was witnessing this type of behaviour which has led the former tourist to conclude: “In my view, he’s a narcissist. And he loves the power and control he has over there. He does have real influence. People are frightened of him, and he likes that power. I think his primary motivation is that he’s special there.”

For his part, Cao de Benos says he has no qualms about taking action against the journalist during the trip featured in the documentary. He would have been blamed if the journalist’s report had eroded the dignity of North Korea. To the best of his knowledge, while his denouncements have led to North Koreans being demoted in rank, no one has been sent to a prison camp as a result. Besides, he says, those camps – in which international human rights groups say 200,000 political prisoners are held in inhumane conditions, starved or worked to death or publicly executed – are not the great evil they are made out to be.

“These are re-education camps. With 24 million people, sometimes you may have a few criminals. We believe not in punishment but in rehabilitation. It’s a kind of psychological therapy.”

Another misunderstanding he is keen to clear up is that North Korea is a hereditary dictatorship. “There’s no one person that decides everything and can do whatever he wants,” he explained, two days before Kim Jong-il’s funeral. As to whether the dictator’s third son, Jong-un, would become “the next beloved leader of Korea, it is up to the people of Korea to recognise him as such”.

The people of Korea must have liked what they saw as, four days later, Kim Jong-un was formally named supreme commander of North Korea’s military, making the untested political novice, believed to be 28, the world’s youngest head of state.

Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korea specialist at the Australian National University, has had contact with Cao de Benos for more than a decade, and doubts that he, or any other rational outsider, could genuinely believe North Korean state propaganda. He believes the KFA president is making the right noises ideologically so that he can straddle both worlds, carving out a profitable niche as a middle man and deriving status, access, and financial rewards through his consultancy work.

“Alejandro believes that to be close to the establishment he has to play the role of a revolutionary Westerner who is more North Korean than the North Koreans are,” Petrov says. “I really doubt he is a brainwashed individual who believes North Korea is the paradise for workers. Even North Koreans don’t believe in that.”

“I don’t think he’d like to spend the rest of his life in North Korea,” he adds. (Cao de Benos responds that he would love to live in Pyongyang permanently, but that would prevent him from performing his spokesman role in the West.)

The member of his tour party agrees – “You can’t possibly believe that stuff if you’ve been there” – and says while believing state propaganda is understandable for brainwashed North Koreans, it’s unconscionable in a Westerner who knows the outside world.

“To come back and tell North Korean people that everything they hear is correct – that the rest of the world is evil, out to cut each other’s throats, that war and oppression is everywhere… he perpetuates that. He’s not forced to; he does that for personal gain and power and prestige. It’s horrible.”

Cao de Benos bristles at the suggestion he is motivated by anything less than genuine ideological commitment. “I will take this as a type of jealousy from people who have no goals in their life. I have lived a life of big things,” he reminds me. “I only care about the opinions of the people that love me, my comrades.”

Given his position, he need neither answer nor fear their criticisms from the West. And despite the recent upheaval, that position so far appears secure. Kim Jong-un is “a very military person” who is “exactly like” his father, he says, and who, most importantly, “represents the continuity of our ideology”.

“He’s an important sign that although Dear Leader Kim Jong-il is passed away, there’s not going to be any changes,” says Cao de Benos, perhaps hopefully. Whatever North Koreans might make of that, it suits him down to the ground.

Cyber-buggers are again targeting Koreanists

16 05 2011

Aidan Foster-Carter Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University in the UK, received the email copied below. Has anyone else received this, or similar? If so, beware. It is almost certainly a virus.

A.F-C: “I have disabled the title section (here in capitals) As sent, this was a hyperlink in the usual blue. It would have been so easy to click on it!

Luckily I didn’t. Instead I hovered the cursor over it, revealing that the link ended in .hta – which is executable code, ie something nasty.

So here we go again. You may recall that I warned of a similar sly ambush attempt in August 2009. See

I know of, and am copying this to, others who have been thus attacked before. The common factor seems to be simply taking an interest in North Korea.

Importantly, those targeted are not only critics of the DPRK but also such blameless souls as CanKor:

As you may know, South Korea recently experienced two serious cyber-attacks: in March and again in April. The former was general, but caused little harm since it met defences strengthened since a similar DDoS attack last year. The latter was specific (Nonghyup), and did serious damage.

The ROK government has officially blamed the DPRK for both attacks. Pyongyang sneeringly denies Nonghyup; see
and some in Seoul are sceptical too. I haven’t seen the North comment officially on the March episode.

Whoever may be responsible for any or all of this, as Curtis Melvin of NKeconwatch aptly put it, a year ago:
He has also just posted a warning of this new threat:

In short: Be careful what you click on.

Aidan Foster-Carter
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University, UK

Forwarded message ———-
From: David L <>
To: “” <>
Date: Thu, 12 May 2011 00:58:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: final draft

It’s been a long time since I last corresponded with you.
How have you been? I hope everything is well with you, your family.
Finally, The final draft was complete yesterday.
It will be announced next Month after collecting more opinions from experts in the field.
The Current Situation and Future Prospects in Northeast Asia : JAPAN, NORTH KOREA, SOUTH KOREA, CHINA ( XX is added at the end to prevent anyone from accidentally linking to the server).

I look forward to sharing my insights with you once I receive your assessment.
I hope to hear from you soon .

Sincerely Yours,

David in Japan