Archive for the ‘Civil society’ Category

Sony and “The Interview”

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

UPDATE 7 (2014-12-20): The DPRK denies involvement and makes an offer:

DPRK Foreign Ministry Rejects U.S. Accusation against Pyongyang over Cyber Attack

Pyongyang, December 20 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA Saturday as regards the U.S. accusation against the DPRK over a cyber attack on a movie company in the U.S.:

Obama, Kerry and other high-ranking authorities of the U.S. cried out for sort of counter-measure Friday, claiming that the results of the investigation into the cyber-attack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment proved that the DPRK was behind it.

They, without presenting any specific evidence, are asserting they can not open it to public as it is “sensitive information.”

Clear evidence is needed to charge a sovereign state with a crime.

Reference to the past cyber-attacks quite irrelevant with the DPRK and a string of presumptive assertions such as “similarity” and “repetition” can convince no one.

The U.S. act of daring charge the DPRK with a crime based on absurd “investigation results” reveals its inveterate bitterness toward the DPRK.

This is proven, as in the recent cyber-attack, by the recent urge made by a man called a “human rights special envoy” of the U.S. State Department to movie-makers that they should harass the north Korean government and keep alive scenes hurting the dignity of the its supreme leadership.

The U.S. ruling quarters are working hard to divert the criticism of its administration to the DPRK as the plan of putting on show the anti-DPRK film on Christmas Day canceled due to the controversial cyber-attack, causing an uproar in the U.S.

We will never pardon those undesirable elements keen on hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK. In case we retaliate against them, we will target with legitimacy those responsible for the anti-DPRK acts and their bases, not engaging in terrorist attack aimed at the innocent audience in cinemas.

The army of the DPRK has the will and ability to do so.

The U.S. State Secretary is going to justify the production of the movie hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of a sovereign state while trumpeting about the freedom of expression. He should know that there is punishment of libel in enforcement of international law.

We propose the U.S. side conducting a joint investigation into the case, given that Washington is slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumor.

We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture as what the CIA does.

The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasure while finding fault with the DPRK.

UPDATE 6 (2014-12-19): There is the official FBI press release on the matter.

UPDATE 5 (2014-12-19): The New York Times has published information from the FBI that implicates the DPRK in the Sony hack:

The F.B.I. on Friday said it had extensive evidence that the North Korean government organized the cyberattack that debilitated Sony Pictures computers, marking the first time the United States has explicitly accused the leaders of a foreign nation of hacking American targets.

The bureau said that there were significant “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks” to previous attacks by the North Koreans. It also said that there were classified elements of the evidence against the North that it could not reveal.

“The F.B.I. also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyberactivity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea,” the bureau said. “For example, the F.B.I. discovered that several Internet protocol addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with I.P. addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

The F.B.I. said that some of the methods employed in the Sony attack were similar to ones that were used by the North Koreans against South Korean banks and news media outlets in 2013.

“We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,” the F.B.I. said.

It added: “Though the F.B.I. has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyberintrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

North Korea has been under extraordinary economic sanctions for decades, and it has done nothing to curb either its nuclear program or these cyberattacks. A military response seems unlikely — the White House said on Thursday that it was examining options for a “proportional response,” and that would seem to rule out conventional military options.

Some of the evidence has been developed from “implants” that the National Security Agency has placed in networks around the world. But North Korea has proved to be a particularly hard target, because it has relatively low Internet connectivity to the rest of the world, and its best computer minds do not move out of the country often, where their machines and USB drives could be accessible targets.

“Suffice it to say,” one senior intelligence official said this week, “that we almost never name a suspect country. So when we do, it’s got to be based on something fairly strong.”

As the F.B.I. pointed out, the attacks at Sony share similarities with a similar series of destructive attacks last year on South Korean banks and broadcasters, and they used the same data-wiping tool that Iranian hackers used to destroy data on 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco in 2012, according to forensics researchers.

In 2009, a similar campaign of coordinated cyberattacks over the Fourth of July holiday hit 27 American and South Korean websites, including those of South Korea’s presidential palace, called the Blue House, and its Defense Ministry, and sites belonging to the United States Treasury Department, the Secret Service and the Federal Trade Commission. North Korea was suspected, but a clear link was never established.

But those were all “distributed denial of service” attacks, in which attackers flood the sites with traffic until they fall offline. The Sony attack was far more sophisticated: It wiped data off Sony’s computer systems, rendering them inoperable.

“The cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment was not just an attack against a company and its employees,” Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “It was also an attack on our freedom of expression and way of life.”

Mr. Johnson said the attacks underscored the importance of taking measures “to rapidly detect cyberintrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.”

“Every C.E.O. should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity,” he added.

UPDATE 4 (2014-12-18): Paramount has chickened out and will not let any theater show “Team America” right now…See here and here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-12-18): Christmas day screening of Team America at the Alamo Draft House is already sold out.

UPDATE 2 (2014-12-18): Maybe time for a Team America sequel?

UPDATE 1 (2014-12-18): Team America to the rescue! At least one American theatre will stick up for the first amendment. And let’s be honest, it is probably a much better movie.

Oh, and this.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-17): Today Sony Pictures announced it was canceling the opening of the film The Interview. According to NBC:

Sony is dropping its planned Dec. 25 release of “‘The Interview,” the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The decision comes after some of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, including Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex, said they were holding back or dropping “The Interview” from screens in the aftermath of a hack that has ballooned from embarrassing disclosures for Sony Pictures executives to involve threats against theaters screening the film.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business,” Sony said in a statement Wednesday, saying that it reached the decision after the top cinema chains pulled out.

“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” the company said.

At the same time, another North Korea themed film was also put on hold.

This seemed like a massive over-reaction in my opinion until a few minutes later when this story was published by the New York Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.

You can read the remainder of the article here.

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North Korean “Superman” robs Fort Knox

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I received a strange email from an anonymous source (so of course I opened it) containing the following information:

This is a piece of exciting news that has been leaked from an anonymous source in North Korea and it might be of your interest: some images from the storyboard of the latest film production by the Korean Feature Film Studio, based in the capital of the country, Pyongyang.

The images that we have received show a scene of what appears to be the North Korean version of a Marvel superhero story. He is less muscled than his American counterparts; his clothes are not so tight or shiny but recall the military apparel. He carries a hammer, a sickle and a brush, representing the Korean workers and uses a torch as a weapon. And he is not alone: he has a winged horse as his sidekick.

Apparently, the objective of this superhero is to destroy the capitalist system. In the images we can see him attacking Fort Knox, which holds the largest US official gold reserves, and then flying away with the money and throwing it into the ocean.

I have no idea if this is “real” or where it came from, but it is certainly interesting and entertaining. The people who sent this to me do not seem to know much about North Korea, or they would have easily recognized the Chollima Horse –if not the more obscure “Ranam Torch.” So given how little they appear to know about the DPRK, how would they have access to this information? It is also worth noting that the drawing of the bullion depository at Fort Knox is a very accurate representation of the actual building, but so far no Fort Knox set can be seen at Pyongyang Film Studio.

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The story line is not too original–it is the plot of Goldfinger (or Die Hard 3), except of course “Goldfinger” has been replaced by a North Korean Superman, and he is the protagonist. For what it is worth, Kim Jong-il was also rumored to be a big fan of James Bond films.

Of course the US (and everyone else) went off what was left of the international gold standard (Bretton Woods) on August 15, 1971, so the economic implications of the plot are negligible nowadays (Fort Knox gold is an insignificant part of the US economy–it’s actually a drain on the US Treasury until the gold is sold off). Additionally, Fort Knox did not play a role in international gold clearing. That was done by the Federal Reserve. I doubt that these crucial bits of information will make it past the North Korean producers (if there are any).

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Rungra 88 Trading Company

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Neungna 88 [Rungra 88],  Trading Company, located in Suncheon, South Pyongan Province, has been a popular workplace for women, offering jobs in clothes manufacturing. It is one of the companies tasked with earning foreign currency for the North, but recently, with the wages standing at a mere 10th of individually employed workers, more people are leaving their posts, the Daily NK has learned.

“Workers employed by breweries or bakeries receive roughly 200,000 KPW a month,” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on Tuesday. “But at Neungna 88, workers on the clothing line only make 20,000 KPW even though they work in unsatisfactory environments.”

The trade company falls under the Chosun Workers’ Party’s Finance and Accounting Department and exports to China everything from coal and iron ore to medicine, alcohol, clothing, and health supplements, earning back foreign currency. The profits are offered up to the Department or are used to procure holiday gifts for Party cadres under Kim Jong Eun’s name.

Neungna 88 in Suncheon is a branch of the headquarters in Pyongyang, and focuses on exporting clothes in collaboration with China, meaning the company brings in the yarn, fabric, and designs from China, and then exports the final products back. It also runs a restaurant serving pizza to procure additional funds. Increasing foreign food availability is the latest method employed by these foreign-currency organizations to encourage resident spending, encouraged by the increased demand. For foreign currency-earning enterprises to extend their activities domestically is indicative of the increasing purchasing power of the middle-class.

“If you get to Daedong River in Sunchon, you’ll see a big sign on a three-story building that reads Neungna 88 Trading Company,” the source explained. “The first floor is a pizza place, and on the second and third stories, there are some 150 women making clothes.”

Their monthly wages are 20,000 KPW [2.3 USD], which is almost seven times higher than other state-run companies, but the lowest among trading companies.There are no standards as to how much these trading companies have to pay their employees, and each company decides based on the profits and amount of work allocated.

Unlike men, it is very rare for women in their teens or 20s to work for a trading company. Despite this fact, some women work on garment manufacturing lines because of the regular food rations and extra benefits offered on national holidays, regardless of the low wages.

However, recently more people have been quitting their jobs, as those who are hired by private businesses are able to receive up to a ten-fold increase in wages and work in a more pleasant environment, the source explained. This portends a growing number of women who are seeking more than a low wage with rations and instead looking for better employment opportunities.

With this trend, the company has been trying to hire more women with experience at state-run apparel factories, but not many are willing to due to the low salary. “Because of this, unless Neungna 88 raises its wages it will create obstacles for exports, not only due to technical difficulties, but also low morale,” she concluded.

Read the full story here:
Women Leaving Low Paying Trade Co. Jobs
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-10-16

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DPRK animators join industry fair in China

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

SEK-studio-2014-9-21

Pictured Above (Google Earth): SEK Studios in Pyongyang

According to Yonhap:

North Korean animation films have been put on display at an international animation fair in China, with a North Korean official admitting that the country’s animators have been increasingly sub-contracted by foreign studios, according to a Chinese state media report on Wednesday.

About 200 companies from South Korea, North Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia and other nations joined the five-day animation fair in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei, starting Tuesday, the China News Service said.

North Korea’s state-run SEK studio set up a special exhibition hall at the fair, according to the report.

Ho Yong-chol, head of SEK’s office in Beijing, told the Chinese media that the SEK studio employs more than 1,500 animators and has “an annual production of up to 8,000 minutes” of animated films.

“OEM (overseas export market) has become a main source of productions for North Korean animation studios,” Ho said, adding that the North can produce an animated film with “even less than half” of a European studio’s budget.

North Korea has quietly developed its animation industry. One of South Korea’s popular animation films, “Pororo the Little Penguin,” was produced jointly with North Korean cartoonists.

Read the full story here:

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DPRK fun: Guess how many members of the women’s team are civilians

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

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Norwegians seeking to set up art school in DPRK

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

According to the Art Newspaper:

The North Korean government has approved plans by two Norwegian artists to open an art academy in the country. Henrik Placht and Morten Traavik travelled to North Korea together for the first time in August to flesh out the proposal and to look for potential sponsors. So far they have received financial support from the Prince Claus Fund.

The academy is due to be called DMZ after the term for the Korean demilitarised zone. It will primarily be an academy for North Korean students, but the plan is to open it up for international exchange programmes, Placht says.

“One of the reasons for us going to North Korea is that we don’t believe in sanctions and the boycott of art,” Placht tells The Art Newspaper. “Next year we are planning an exhibition and workshop in North Korea, in co-operation with the North Korean government, which will feature well-known international artists as well as North Korean artists,” he adds.

The artists already have good contacts in North Korea thanks to Traavik, who has produced several art projects in the country—some in response to North Korea’s dictatorship. In 2012, Traavik organised The Promised Land, a performance in Kirkenes, northern Norway, in which North Koreans holding flags instructed more than 200 Norwegian soldiers to create sequences of images using individual placards.

That same year, Traavik also produced the first Norwegian arts festival in North Korea, “Yes, we love this country”, named after Norway’s national anthem. Meanwhile, earlier this year, he arranged for musicians from the Kum Song Music School to come to Bergen in western Norway to perform a Norwegian children’s play.

Placht also has experience setting up academies in extreme political contexts. In 2002, he founded the International Academy of Art Palestine, where he was a project director until 2009. “I will be able to draw on my experiences in Palestine when it comes to fundraising, curating and co-operating with the government,” Placht says. “But I will also seek to create trust with North Korea so that they will have a natural ownership of the academy.”

More information here.

Read the full story here:
Norwegian artists plan to open art academy in North Korea
Art Newspaper
Hanne Cecilie Gulstad
2014-8-28

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North Korea increases production of consumer goods according to consumer demands and preferences

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-8-25

Due to the strengthening of capitalism and competition in North Korean society, it appears that the status of consumers has risen considerably.

In the North Korean economy — which has clung to a supply-oriented, planned economic model — it is extremely rare to see production change in response to consumer demands and preferences.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, published an editorial on August 3, 2014, calling for the “Brisk Opening of the August Third Consumer Goods Production Movement.” This editorial encourages the public by assuring that the consumer products will be made according to the needs and demands of the people.

“A socialist society cannot think about the production of consumer goods that are above the reaches of the people,” the editorial emphasizes, and that “the peoples’ demands and interests are [the Party’s] absolute top priority, and it is the noble duty of the Party to create these desired consumer goods for the people to enjoy.”

Through the use of various media, North Korea has propagandized the “consumer-focused” policy, claiming to have spurred competition and the increase in quality of products and services throughout the nation.

Joguk (Motherland), a media outlet of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, published an article in their August 2014 issue entitled, “The Standard of Competition Is Determined by the People.” The article emphasizes production tailored to consumer demands, saying that “Product evaluation is something which can be done only by those who demand and directly use the product; it can only be done by the general public.”

The article further states that “Products popular among the general public and used by the masses are evaluated accordingly for their high quality.” It also mentions the cosmetic brands “Eunhasu” and “Pomhyanggi” as examples.

In a July 30, 2014 article, the Choson Sinbo introduced the Potong River Shoe Factory, which is responsible for the production of popular products such as the so-called “kill heel” high-heeled shoes, wedge-heeled shoes, and pointed stilettos. By working together with a department store and periodically reviewing customers’ feedback, the Potong River Shoe Factory can produce shoes to cater to shoppers’ preferences.

This method of setting the focus on consumer evaluation can also be found in North Korea’s education system.

On August 7, 2014, the Rodong Sinmun introduced the “bottom-up evaluation” system at Kim Jong Suk Middle School. This process, touted as one of the successes of educational reform, allows students to evaluate their teachers once per semester. By creating competition among educators, this system is expected to have effects all across the nation.

These types of changes are said to have close relations to the Kim Jong Un regime’s policy focusing on light industry, which also accounts for the improvement of standards of living for the people.

It appears that unlike the heavy chemical industry previously emphasized by the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il regimes, light industry must consider not only production amounts, but the quality of the products as well. This inevitably leads to the emphasis being put on consumer product reviews.

Through consumer reviews, competition arises and productivity is increased, leading to the production of consumer goods with higher added value. Despite being called a “Socialist Competition,” in reality this system may not be so different from capitalism.

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KCTV updates news introduction

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Click above to watch the news introduction (Youtube)

On August 14 North Korea’s KCTV launched a new video introduction for its evening news broadcast.

The introduction begins with a global map that zooms in on the Korean peninsula followed by scrolling news clips and ending with “보도” (News).

The appearance of the evening news was last changed in 2012.

Thanks to Martyn Williams for technical help with this post!

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DPRK imports digital televisions

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea’s imports of digital television sets from China have more than quadrupled this year, a South Korean trade group said Sunday, amid reports that the country is moving to introduce digital TV broadcasting.

In the first four months of the year, China shipped digital TVs amounting to some US$17.66 million to North Korea, up 338 percent from $4.02 million during the same period last year, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

The figure is the fifth-largest amount for any single item shipped from China to North Korea in the January-April period. Gasoline topped the list.

The North earlier said on a state-run website that it was moving to introduce digital TV broadcasting. The country also asked the U.N. International Telecommunication Union in 2011 for assistance in switching from an analog to a digital broadcasting system.

“The move by the North Korean government to switch to a digital broadcasting system appears to be an effort to win greater public support by showing that the people’s lives are improving,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute.

Read the full story here:
Trade report says N. Korea importing large number of digital TVs
Korea Times
2014-5-25

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May Day Stadium Under Renovation

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Here is a December 2013 satellite image of the renovation (currently under way):

May-day-2013-12-1

 

My comments are in this NK News article

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