Archive for the ‘Illicit activities’ Category

North Korean-supplied missiles to Yemen

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

Scud missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Yemeni rebels in recent months came from North Korea, a South Korean intelligence official said Wednesday, in the latest case that illustrated North Korea’s support for the weapons programs of some countries in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has shot down about 40 percent of some 20 Scud missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, said the official, who is familiar with the issue.

He did not give further details on how South Korea reached the conclusion that the missiles originated from North Korea. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Missile exports have long been a major source of hard currency for North Korea.

“North Korea has sold missiles to Yemen and sent missile engineers to that country in the 1990s,” said a former North Korean official, who was in a position to know about the arms deals.

Another former North Korean intelligence official in Seoul said North Korea sold many Scud missiles to countries in the Middle East, noting Egypt was the hub of North Korea’s arms trade in the region.

The two former North Korean officials, who later defected to South Korea, asked not to be identified, citing the issue’s sensitivity.

North Korea’s Scud-B missiles and Scud-C missiles have a range of 300 kilometers and 500 kilometers, respectively, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

Read the full story here:
Scud missiles fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen traced to N. Korea: official


North Koreans arrested for trade in rhino horn

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

One of the two North Koreans arrested on site for engaging in illegal trade of rhinoceros horns in Mozambique has been confirmed a Pyongyang diplomat, according to the Voice of America.

“Of the two arrested North Koreans, one was confirmed to be Park Chol Jun, a diplomat working at Pyongyang’s embassy in South Africa,” VOA reported, citing an official working at Seoul’s mission in the same country.

The two perpetrators, arrested on the 3rd this month, posted bail the following day and left the country for South Africa, the official said.

The North Korean mission there paid roughly 30,000 USD for their bail, the South Korean official said.

North Korean diplomats are said to often engage in illegal activities in other countries.

In March, a Pyongyang diplomat was deported from Bangladesh after attempting to smuggle in 27kg of gold, while in April, a couple from the North’s mission in Pakistan was caught selling alcohol on the streets of Karachi without a license.

“These kind of illegal activities have been around for a long time, because they stem from structural problems in operation,” Hong Sun Kyeong from the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, who was also a former Pyongyang diplomat in Thailand, said. “Since the late 1970s, the North has not been giving its overseas missions money to operate. So not only do they have to make their own money, the state also makes it a rule that they have to wire back ‘loyalty foreign currency.’”

He added, “Back in the North, they do not recognize such illicit activities as being illegal, so even if officials are deported, they can just as easily be sent to missions in other countries.”

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang diplomat caught in illegal trading of rhino horns
Daily NK
Kim Seong Hwan


DPRK selling Viagra in Bangladesh

Friday, May 15th, 2015

According to UPI:

A North Korean restaurant manager in Bangladesh was arrested in connection with illegal sales of Viagra and alcohol on Friday.

The supervisor of Pyongyang Restaurant in Dhaka, identified as a North Korean woman, had been secretly selling the impotence drug alongside other pharmaceuticals, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Bangladesh’s Customs Intelligence Investigation Department was tipped off about the illegal sale of alcohol – and a raid on Friday uncovered 210 pills of Viagra, other medications, 94 cans of Foster’s beer and ten bottles of whisky, according to Bangladesh news site Prothom-Alo.

Pyongyang Restaurant in Dhaka is presided over by North Korea embassy staff, and an embassy employee reportedly tried to block the investigators.

Moinul Khan, head of the Customs Intelligence Investigation Department, said legal steps would be taken against the one North Korean national who was arrested.

Yonhap reported Bangladesh news network Jamuna TV was first to report the arrest, and said the North Korea-operated restaurant was raising funds through illegal operations.

Bangladesh’s population is mostly Muslim, with 83 percent of the country adhering to the Islamic faith. Alcohol cannot be sold without government permission.

This is not the first time North Korean envoys have been connected to illegal activity in Bangladesh.

In March North Korean diplomat Son Yung Nam tried to transport $1.4 million worth of gold bars, 170 in total.

Bangladeshi customs officials said the gold was most likely headed for a “local criminal racket” in order to raise cash for North Korea.

Read the full story here:
North Korean arrested in Bangladesh for sales of Viagra, alcohol
Elizabeth Shim


DPRK blamed for cyber attack on South Korean nuclear power plant

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-3-26): The DPRK has denied the hacking allegation. According to Yonhap:

North Korea again denied its involvement in a series of data leaks at South Korea’s nuclear power operator and rebutted Seoul’s interim probe results that accused the communist regime of conducting the hacking attacks.

The North’s Central Internet Research Institute said that the investigation that linked Internet protocol addresses used in the attack to North Korea is groundless and was fabricated by Seoul, according to Pyongyang’s state media Korean Central News Agency.

The denial follows a March 17 announcement by a special investigation team that found the data leaks at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. “believed to have been caused by an (unidentified) group of North Koreans hackers.”

In December, an unidentified hacker, claiming to be an activist against nuclear power, had posted data about nuclear power plants, including their blueprints, five times and threatened to destroy the facilities while demanding they be shut down.

Earlier this month, the hacker renewed its threats by posting more files on Twitter that included documents concerning the country’s indigenous advanced power reactor 1400, while demanding money in exchange for not handing over sensitive information to third countries.

The state-run KHNP operates 23 nuclear reactors in South Korea that provide nearly one-third of the country’s energy demand.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-3-17): According to the Wall Street Journal:

South Korea on Tuesday blamed North Korea for a December cyberattack on nuclear power-plant operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., marking the first online incursion publicly attributed to Pyongyang since the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

South Korean investigators said state-owned Korea Hydro, which operates the country’s 23 nuclear reactors, and its business partners were targeted in multiple cyberattacks aimed at stealing internal data that included plant blueprints and employees’ personal information.

South Korea’s nuclear-plant management wasn’t compromised in the attacks and no critical data was disclosed, the investigators said. A series of “spear-phishing” emails aimed at stealing passwords and obtaining remote control access of computers were largely unsuccessful, they added.

A Korea Hydro spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the firm wasn’t participating in the investigation.

A Twitter account holder in December posted Internet links to Korea Hydro’s internal-data archives and issued various demands to prevent further leaks, the investigators said.

Investigators said they traced the intrusions back to Internet addresses registered by North Korea. The spear-phishing virus that investigators said was used in the attack, named “kimsuky,” was previously identified by cybersecurity experts as created in North Korea. The related tweets were posted through servers in Shenyang, in China’s northeast, and Vladivostok, Russia, they said.

Pyongyang’s state newspaper in late December denied involvement in the cyberattacks, calling such accusations a ploy to escalate inter-Korean tension.

Tuesday’s statement was the first time South Korea had publicly attributed the cyberattacks to North Korea.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea Blamed for Nuclear-Power Plant Hack
Wall Street Journal
Jeyup S. Kwaak


“Golden” ambassador stopped in Bangladesh

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-3-9): According to the BBC, the ambassador has been expelled:


angladesh has expelled a North Korea diplomat caught trying to smuggle 27kg (59lb) of gold into the country.

Son Young-nam, the first secretary of North Korea’s Dhaka embassy, was stopped as he arrived in Bangladesh via Singapore on Friday.

He was released and has not been charged, according to diplomatic protocol, but customs officials said it was a “clear case of smuggling”.

Sanctions against North Korea tightly restrict the movement of money.

Mr Son’s bag, which he had refused to allow customs officials to inspect, was found to contain gold bars and ornaments worth about US$1.6m (£1m).

North Korea’s ambassador, Ri Song-hyon, was summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday and told to send Mr Son home.

“We told the ambassador to prosecute him in North Korea and update us about the action to be taken against him,” Mohammad Shahidul Haque, the ministry secretary, told Reuters.

“We conveyed to him that the government would take serious action if any embassy official is found to be involved in any crimes in future.”

Mr Son was reported to have left Bangladesh on Monday night.

Official figures show customs officers have seized nearly 1,000kg (2,200lbs) of gold in the past 22 months at Bangladesh’s two international airports.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-3-7): According to the Wall Street Journal:

Bangladeshi authorities said they intercepted a North Korean envoy who arrived at Dhaka’s international airport with 27 kilograms of gold—worth an estimated $1.4 million—in his carry-on bag.

Customs officials said they seized the gold and detained the diplomat, who they identified as Son Young Nam, a first secretary at the North Korean embassy in the Bangladeshi capital, on Thursday. Mr. Son was released Friday, they said.

Sales of gold have long been an important source of funds for the North Korean regime, which has been largely cut off from the global financial system by sanctions imposed to curb its nuclear-weapons program.

Kim Kwang-jin, a former banker for the Pyongyang regime, said North Korea could have been moving the precious metal in an effort to find buyers.

Bangladeshi police officials said they are also investigating whether Mr. Son was acting as a courier by a local smuggling ring. Bangladesh has become a transit point for illicit gold shipments bound for India, which has raised import duties on the metal.

Bangladeshi authorities said the North Korean diplomat had arrived from Singapore. “We tried to scan his bag, but he resisted,” said Kazi Zia Uddin, a senior customs official. “He gave in after he was told he would be arrested.”

Calls to the North Korean embassy in Dhaka went unanswered on Friday and Saturday, the weekend in Muslim majority Bangladesh.

A man who answered the phone at the North Korean embassy in Singapore and declined to give his name said he had “no idea” about the gold shipment and hadn’t heard of Mr. Son.

Bangladeshi airport officials said Mr. Son told them he had been given the bag with the gold by a man in Singapore whom he declined to identify. Mr. Son said he was to deliver it to “a friend” of the man in Dhaka, the officials said.

A police official said four North Korean diplomats came to the airport seeking Mr. Son’s release.

Gold smuggling through the Dhaka airport has risen sharply in recent months, with large quantities seized. In February, officials discovered 61 kilograms of gold in the toilet of a Bangladeshi aircraft.

Mr. Kim, the former Pyongyang banker, who defected while based in Singapore in 2003, said that North Korea may have moved the gold to Bangladesh for sale after running into problems selling it in Singapore.

North Korea has previously sold gold bullion in the Singapore market, he said. But tighter restrictions imposed by the city-state on sales of precious metals, stones and other valuable items last year have made it harder.

Singapore’s new rules, intended to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, require dealers to submit a report to the government for any cash transaction valued over about $14,000.

Gold sales help provide funds used by North Korean leaders to ensure the loyalty of senior officials by providing them with a comfortable lifestyle, according to high-level defectors.

Choi Kun-chol, a former senior North Korean official who worked at the state’s main gold-trading business, told the Journal last year that sales of gold from North Korean mines has fallen from a peak of around 10 tons in the late 1980s to around four tons in more recent years.

North Korea often uses diplomats to carry cash and other valuables, defectors and diplomats say. Increased sanctions and scrutiny of official bank accounts have increased the need for secret movement of items in this way, they say.


The 2015 UNSC Panel of Experts report published

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

The report is dated February 23, 2015 and you can download the PDF here.

Andrea Berger commented on the report in this article at 38 North.

Media coverage of the report has focused on two aspects: 1. North Korea has changed the name of the ships in its commercial fleet to avoid sanctions enforcement. 2. North Korean spies managed to infiltrate the UN World Food Program and UNESCO.

Here is Reuters on the report:

Exclusive: Sanctioned North Korea shipping firm still active, renamed ships – U.N. panel

A U.N.-blacklisted North Korean shipping company has renamed most of its vessels in a bid to disguise their origin and continues its illicit shipments in violation of United Nations sanctions, according to a U.N. experts report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions on Pyongyang, also said in the 76-page report that North Korea “continued to defy Security Council resolutions by persisting with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

North Korea is under United Nations sanctions because of its nuclear tests and missile launches. In addition to arms, Pyongyang is banned from importing and exporting nuclear and missile technology and is not allowed to import luxury goods.

The experts’ report also said the sanctions have not curbed food or humanitarian aid to the impoverished hermit state, but it recommended that the U.N. spell out which items for such use are exempt.

The council last July blacklisted shipping company Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM) for arranging an illegal shipment on the Chong Chon Gang ship, which was seized in Panama and found to be carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of Cuban sugar.

“Following the designation of OMM … (North) Korea acted in order to evade sanctions by changing the registration and ownership of vessels controlled by the company,” the report said.

“Thus far, 13 of the 14 vessels controlled by OMM have been renamed, their ownership transferred to other single ship owner companies (with names derived from the ship’s new names) and vessel management transferred to two main companies,” it added.

The report said OMM worked with individuals and entities based in countries such as Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.

The panel recommended that the council’s sanctions committee blacklist 34 OMM entities (shell companies), including Chongchongang Shipping Co, Amnokgang Shipping and Biryugang Shipping. It also recommended sanctioning OMM Vice President Choe Chol Ho, Chongchongang Shipping President Kim Ryong Chol and three Chongchongang directors.

It said that North Korean diplomats, officials and trade representatives played key roles in illegal weapons and missile deals. They often were involved in illegal funds transfers.

The panel also said North Korean intelligence agents aided the movement of money believed to be linked to weapons transactions.

The report said agents of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s main intelligence agency, had worked at international organizations and were using those positions to support activities aimed at skirting sanctions.

It cited as an example the French government’s decision to freeze assets of Kim Yong Nam, an RGB officer working under cover as an employee at UNESCO, the U.N. cultural and scientific organization in Paris, and his son and daughter. His son Kim Su Gwang, also an RGB officer, was working at the U.N. World Food Program.

The panel said Kim Young Nam’s daughter, Kim Su Gyong of the Korean United Development Bank, “was engaged in financial activities under false pretences in order to conceal the involvement of her country.”

The panel also opened its first inquiry into the use of drones. Between October 2013 and March 2014, South Korea found wreckage of three drones it determined were from North Korea and had been spying on military facilities.

The Security Council has banned the supply, sale or transfer of complete armed or surveillance drones with a range of at least 300 km (186 miles). The panel said it was unclear if the recovered drones were acquired abroad or made in North Korea.


The experts found “no incidents where bans imposed by the (U.N.) resolutions directly resulted in shortages of foodstuffs or other humanitarian aid.”

“National legislative or procedural steps taken by (U.N.) member states or private sector industry have been reported as prohibiting or delaying the passage of certain goods to (North Korea),” the report said. “It is sometimes difficult to distinguish these measures from United Nations sanctions.”

The U.N. Security Council says the sanctions are not intended to harm North Korean civilians, but there is no exemption mechanism. For that reason, the experts recommended that exemptions be proposed “provided that such items are confirmed to be solely for food, agricultural, medical or other humanitarian purposes.”

North Korea has said the sanctions are illegal and aimed at toppling the country’s reclusive government. A U.N. inquiry last year reported systematic torture, starvation and killings by the country’s leaders that are comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

In the Associated Press:

UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions

A North Korean shipping company that famously tried to hide fighter jets under a cargo of sugar later sought to evade U.N. sanctions by renaming most of its vessels, a new report says.

The effort by Pyongyang-headquartered Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd. is detailed in the report by a panel of experts that monitors sanctions on North Korea. The report, obtained by The Associated Press, makes clear the challenge of keeping banned arms and luxury goods from a nuclear-armed country with a history of using front companies to duck detection.

The U.N. Security Council holds consultations Thursday on the report, which also says North Korea’s government persists with its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of council resolutions.

North Korea’s mission to the U.N. did not respond to a request for comment.

The council last year imposed sanctions on OMM after Panama in 2013 seized a ship it operated that carried undeclared military equipment from Cuba. Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles and live munitions beneath the Chong Chon Gang’s cargo of sugar.

The council’s sanctions committee said that violated a U.N. arms embargo imposed in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that imposing a global asset freeze on OMM meant that the company would no longer be able to operate internationally.

But the new report says that in the months after the sanctions were imposed, 13 of the 14 ships controlled by OMM changed their owners and managers, “effectively erasing” the company from a database kept by the International Maritime Organization. Twelve of the ships “reportedly stayed, visited or were sighted near ports in foreign countries,” and none were frozen by member states as the panel of experts recommends.

The new report explores the shipping company’s global reach, using people and entities operating in at least 10 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand. The report recommends updating the sanctions list with 34 OMM entities and says all 14 vessels should be subject to sanctions.

No interdictions of the kind that Panama made in 2013 were reported in the period between Feb. 8 of last year and Feb. 5 of this year. But the new report warns that the panel of experts sees no evidence that North Korea “intends to cease prohibited activities.”

The report also says diplomats, officials and trade representatives of North Korea continue to “play key roles in facilitating the trade of prohibited items, including arms and related materiel and ballistic missile-related items.”

The panel of experts warns that some U.N. member states still are not implementing the council resolutions that are meant to keep North Korea from further violations.

North Korea also faces an embargo on luxury goods, but the report found that it managed to bring in luxury goods from multiple countries, including with the help of its diplomatic missions. Some items were for the country’s Masik Pass luxury ski report, which opened in 2013. China told the panel of experts that the ski lift equipment it provided was acceptable because “skiing is a popular sport for people” and that ski items are not specifically prohibited.

In another case, a yacht seen alongside leader Kim Jong Un in 2013 was sourced by the panel of experts to a British manufacturer, Princess Yachts International, which the panel said did not reply to a request for more information.

The panel also said it has opened its first investigation into a case involving North Korean drones after the wreckage of three drones was found in South Korea in late 2013 and 2014. The report says the drones had been used for reconnaissance over South Korean military facilities and that the drones contained components “sourced from at least six foreign countries.”

North Korea protests that the U.N. sanctions are harmful to its citizens, but the report says it has found no incidents where they “directly resulted in shortages of … humanitarian aid.” It does recommend that the sanctions committee propose exemptions for purely food, medical or other humanitarian needs.

Here is more in the Telegraph.


Sony, “The Interview”, and new US sanctions

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

UPDATE 28 (2015-3-17): reports that a US congressman may have revealed a US response to the Sony hacking:

Rep. Michael McCaul hinted at a think tank event on Tuesday that the US may have been responsible for North Korea’s massive internet outage in late December.

McCaul, in the course of his answer on how the US responds to cyber threats, then mentioned North Korea: “There were some cyber responses to North Korea,” he said, referring to the country’s alleged role in the November hacks against Sony Pictures.

Though he did not explicitly confirm long-held suspicions that US cyberattacks were responsible for North Korea’s mass internet outage, McCaul’s comments have come as close as any official US statement ever has to acknowledging a role.

The comments, made at a cybersecurity policy event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, were first reported by Bloomberg reporter Chris Strohm and confirmed by a source with knowledge of the event.

Here is a link to the original Bloomberg report.

UPDATE 27 (2015-1-18): The New York Times is reporting that the NSA had broken into North Korea’s computer system before the North Koreans hacked Sony:

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

UPDATE 26 (2015-1-9): The NSA played a role in identifying the DPRK.

UPDATE 25 (2015-1-7): FBI reveals more details (New York Times):

The F.B.I.’s director, James B. Comey, said on Wednesday that the United States had concluded that North Korea was behind the destructive attacks on Sony Pictures partly because the hackers failed to mask their location when they broke into the company’s servers.

Mr. Comey said that instead of routing some of the attacks and messages through decoy servers, the hackers had sent them directly from known North Korean Internet addresses.

Though Mr. Comey did not offer more details about the government’s evidence in a speech in New York, senior government officials said that F.B.I.’s analysts discovered that the hackers made a critical error by logging into both their Facebook account and Sony’s servers from North Korean Internet addresses. It was clear, the officials said, that hackers quickly recognized their mistake. In several cases, after mistakenly logging in directly, they quickly backtracked and rerouted their attacks and messages through decoy computers abroad.

UPDATE 24 (2105-1-5): The DPRK criticized the latest round of unilateral sanctions imposed by the US. According to the New York Times:

North Korea denounced the United States on Sunday for imposing new sanctions on it after a cyberattack on Sony Pictures, calling them byproducts of American “hostility” toward the North.

North Korea reiterated its denial of involvement in the hacking of Sony computers and said Washington’s sanctions would only strengthen resolve to pursue its “military first” policy. That policy calls for an arms buildup, including nuclear weapons development, as a “deterrent” against Washington’s policy.

“The persistent and unilateral action taken by the White House to slap sanctions against the D.P.R.K. patently proves that it is still not away from inveterate repugnance and hostility toward the D.P.R.K.,” an unidentified government spokesman was quoted as saying by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. D.P.R.K. stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

The statement from the spokesman was the North’s first reaction to the new sanctions the Obama administration announced on Friday.

UPDATE 23 (2015-1-2): US sanctions Pyongyang over Sony hack. According to the AP:

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Friday authorizing the sanctions. Although the U.S. has already sanctioned North Korea over its nuclear program, these are the first sanctions punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyberattacks.

The Obama administration says the sanctions affect three North Korean entities, including a government intelligence agency and a North Korean arms dealer. The U.S. is also sanctioning 10 individuals who work for those entities or the North Korean government.

Those sanctioned are barred from using the U.S. financial system, and Americans are prohibited from doing business with them.

The updates to the treasury department’s list of sanctioned entities and individuals can be found here.

Here is the press release from the treasury department.

Here is additional coverage: Reuters, New York Times,

UPDATE 22 (2014-12-31): FBI still maintains DPRK is behind the attack.

UPDATE 21 (2014-12-25): Lizard Squad takes credit for DDoS attack on Xbox live. Also, I have had trouble accessing North Korean web pages this evening (11:20pm).

UPDATE 20 (2014-12-24): Meet the hacker group, Lizard Squad. Also, here is another story in the New York Times which casts doubt on the theory that the hack originated in the DPRK.

UPDATE 19 (2014-12-24): Via @levie on Tiwtter:

“A country with no internet is now essentially responsible for causing Hollywood to adapt its business model to the Internet. This is weird.

UPDATE 18 (2014-12-24): Martyn Williams reports that “The Interview” will be available on line. More at CNN and Washington Post.

UPDATE 17 (2014-12-23): Sony has authorized a limited release of “The Interview”  on Christmas Day. According to the Associated Press:

“The Interview” was put back into theaters Thursday when Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a limited theatrical release for the comedy that provoked an international incident with North Korea and outrage over its cancelled release.

Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said Tuesday that Seth Rogen’s North Korea farce “will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day.” He said Sony also is continuing its efforts to release the film on more platforms and in more theaters.

“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview,'” Lynton said in a statement Tuesday. “While we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech.”

For Sony, the decision was the culmination of a gradual about-face: After initially saying it had no plans to release the movie, the company began softening its position after it was broadly criticized.

Moviegoers celebrated the abrupt change in fortune for a film that appeared doomed as “The Interview” began popping up in the listings of independent theaters across the country Tuesday, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The film stands to open in as many as a few hundred theaters on Thursday, the day it was originally set for wide release.

One of the loudest critics of the film’s shelving — President Barack Obama — hailed Sony’s reversal.

“The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film,” said Obama spokesman Eric Schultz. “As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”

Rogen, who stars in the film he co-directed with Evan Goldberg, made his first public comments in a surreal ordeal that began with hackers leaking Sony executives’ emails and culminated in an ongoing confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea. The FBI has said North Korea was behind the hacking attacks.

“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up!” said Rogen on Twitter.

“VICTORY!!!!!!!” said James Franco, who co-stars in the film. “The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken.”

The film will be showing at the Alamo Draft House (where Team America was yanked).

UPDATE 16 (2014-12-23): In Update 11 I noted that the US has asked for Chinese support. Apparently China is cool to the idea. According to the Washington Post:

China said Tuesday there was no proof that North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, signaling its reluctance to side with the United States over the incident, while also rejecting speculation it could have cut off Pyongyang’s Internet access as punishment.

Asked about American requests for help from China to punish North Korea for cyberattacks, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said the United States and North Korea needed to communicate directly.

She said Beijing had not seen proof of who was behind the attack on Sony. “We need sufficient evidence before drawing any conclusion,” she said at a news conference.

Administration officials had asked China last Thursday to block Pyongyang’s access to Internet routers and servers based in China, to expel North Korean hackers living in China and to pressure the regime of Kim Jong Un to end its alleged cyberoffensive against companies in the United States, according to one official.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 15 (2014-12-22): This morning I was having trouble loading some North Korean web pages. Looks like others were as well: Martyn Williams, Bloomberg, Vox, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post.

UPDATE 14 (2014-12-22): Martyn Williams has some more information here.

UPDATE 13 (2014-12-21): KCNA has published a second statement on the Sony hacking–this time from the National Defense Commission (the initial statement was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs):

U.S. Urged to Honestly Apologize to Mankind for Its Evil Doing before Groundlessly Pulling up Others

Pyongyang, December 21 (KCNA) — The Policy Department of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK issued the following statement Sunday:

Strange thing that happened in the heart of the U.S., the ill-famed cesspool of injustice, is now afloat in the world as shocking news.

The Sony Pictures Entertainment, the biggest movie producer in the U.S., which produced the undesirable reactionary film “The Interview” daring hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and agitating even terrorism and had a plan to distribute it, was exposed to surprisingly sophisticated, destructive and threatening cyber warfare and has been thrown into a bottomless quagmire after suffering property losses worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The public in the U.S. is now describing this case as “disgrace suffered by Sony Pictures Entertainment,” “very sorry thing caused by the U.S.,” “Sony Pictures Entertainment showing a white flag before hackers” and the “unprecedented disaster suffered by the U.S.”

Those who meted out a stern punishment of justice were reported to be cyber experts styling themselves “guardians of peace”.

Seized with terrible horror and threat in face of their merciless hacking attack in retaliation against unjust actions, many movie and drama distributors in North America including 41 states of the U.S. and Canada immediately canceled the screening of the reactionary movie. And it was reported that the Sony Pictures Entertainment which directly sponsored its production and distribution hastily issued a statement on Dec. 25 that it would suspend the screening of the undesirable movie which had been planned in 63 countries.

The NDC of the DPRK highly estimates the righteous action taken by the “guardians of peace,” though it is not aware of their residence.

It, at the same time, considers as fortunate the step taken by the Sony Pictures Entertainment to give up the overall distribution of the above-said movie due to the decision and strong pressure of the movie and drama distributors for stopping the screening of the reactionary movie, though belatedly.

This is an official stand of the army and the people of the DPRK on what happened in the heart of the U.S.

This stand is taken by the DPRK because the movie “The Interview” is an undesirable and reactionary one justifying and inciting terrorism which should not be allowed in any country and any region.

Another reason is that the movie is run through with a story agitating a vicious and dastardly method of assassinating a head of a legitimate sovereign state.

No wonder, even political and social circles of the U.S. commented that it is quite wrong to defame the head of the state for the mere reason that his politics is different from that of the U.S. and it is in the hostile relationship with the latter and, therefore, the Sony Pictures Entertainment got into a serious trouble and paid a due price.

For these reasons, the DPRK is more highly praising the “guardians of peace” for their righteous deed which prevented in advance the evil cycle of retaliation– terrorism sparks terrorism.

It is quite natural that the movie and drama producers should refrain from undesirable deeds contrary to the noble mission to lead morality and civilization.

But what matters is that the U.S. and its followers are groundlessly trumpeting that the recent cyber attack was made by the DPRK.

The FBI issued the results of the investigation into the hack at the Sony Pictures Entertainment on December 19.

According to them, it suffered tremendous losses.

One may say this is the due price incurred by wrong deed, the evil act of hurting others.

The U.S. released a statement asserting that this loss was caused by the DPRK.

No matter how big and disgraceful the loss may be, the U.S. should not pull up others for no reason.

The FBI presented a report on the results of technical analysis of hacking program used by the “guardians of peace” for this attack, citing it as the ground that the serious hacking was caused by the DPRK.

The report says the malignant code had access to north Korea’s IP already known several times and the hacking methods applied in the “March 20 hacking case” and during cyber warfare against media and various other computer networks in south Korea in recent years are similar to that applied against the Sony Pictures Entertainment this time, being another ground that “this was done by the north”.

The report, in particular, adds that the malignant code and algorithm applied during the attack are similar to what was used during the hacking attack on south Korea, citing it as a proof.

Not satisfied with those groundless “evidence”, the FBI is letting loose ambiguous remarks that it is hard to fully prove due to the “protection of sensitive information sources.”

This means self-acknowledgement that the “assertion about the north’s deed” came from an intentional allegation rather than scientific evidence.

It is a common sense that the method of cyber warfare is almost similar worldwide. Different sorts of hacking programs and codes are used in cyberspace.

If somebody used U.S.-made hacking programs and codes and applied their instruction or encoding method, perhaps, the “wise” FBI, too, could not but admit that it would be hard to decisively assert that the attack was done by the U.S.

Moreover, the DPRK has never attempted nor made a “cyber-attack” on south Korea. The rumor about “cyber-attack” by the DPRK was a concoction made by the south Korean puppet regime and its plot.

After all, the grounds cited by the FBI in its announcement were all based on obscure sci-tech data and false story and, accordingly, the announcement itself is another fabrication. This is the DPRK’s stand on the U.S. gangster-like behavior against it.

What is grave is that U.S. President Obama is recklessly making the rumor about “DPRK’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures” a fait accompli while crying out for symmetric counteraction, strict calculation and additionally retaliatory sanctions.

This is like beating air after being hit hard. A saying goes every sin brings its punishment with it. It is best for the guilty to repent of its evil doings and draw a lesson when forced to pay dearly for them.

The DPRK has clear evidence that the U.S. administration was deeply involved in the making of such dishonest reactionary movie.

It is said that the movie was conceived and produced according to the “guidelines” of the U.S. authorities who contended that such movies hurting the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership and inciting terrorism against it would be used in an effective way as “propaganda against north Korea”.

The U.S. Department of State’s special human rights envoy went the lengths of urging the movie makers to keep all scenes insulting the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership in the movie, saying it is needed to “vex the north Korean government”.

The facts glaringly show that the U.S. is the chief culprit of terrorism as it has loudly called for combating terrorism everywhere in the world but schemed behind the scene to produce and distribute movies inciting it in various countries of the world.

It is not exaggeration to say in the light of the prevailing situation that the U.S. administration and President Obama looking after the overall state affairs of the U.S. have been behind the case.

Can he really cover up the crimes he has committed by trying so hard to falsify the truth and turn white to black.

So we watched with unusual attention what had been done by the “guardians of peace” to avert terrorism and defend justice.

Yet, we do not know who or where they are but we can surely say that they are supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK.

The army and people of the DPRK who aspire after justice and truth and value conscience have hundreds of millions of supporters and sympathizers, known or unknown, who have turned out in the sacred war against terrorism and the U.S. imperialists, the chieftain of aggression, to accomplish the just cause.

Obama personally declared in public the “symmetric counteraction”, a disgraceful behavior.

There is no need to guess what kind of thing the “symmetric counteraction” is like but the army and people of the DPRK will never be browbeaten by such a thing.

The DPRK has already launched the toughest counteraction. Nothing is more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction. Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans.

The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels.

Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the “symmetric counteraction” declared by Obama.

This is the invariable toughest stand of the army and people of the DPRK.

Fighters for justice including “guardians of peace” who turned out in the sacred drive for cooperation in the fight against the U.S. to defend human justice and conscience and to dismember the U.S. imperialists, the root cause of all sorts of evils and kingpin of injustice, are sharpening bayonets not only in the U.S. mainland but in all other parts of the world.

The just struggle to be waged by them across the world will bring achievements thousands of times greater than the hacking attack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment.

It is the truth and inevitability of the historical development that justice prevails over injustice.

Whoever challenges justice by toeing the line of the biggest criminal U.S. will never be able to escape merciless punishment as it is the target of the sacred drive for cooperation in the fight against the U.S.

The U.S. should reflect on its evil doings that put itself in such a trouble, apologize to the Koreans and other people of the world and should not dare pull up others.

UPDATE 12 (2014-12-21): Obama states he will consider adding the DPRK back to the list of state sponsors of terror. According to the New York Times:

As the United States moves closer to taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Obama said he would “review” whether to return North Korea to the list, part of a broader government response to a damaging cyberattack on Sony’s Hollywood studio.

“We have got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism, and we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day,” Mr. Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast Sunday. “We look systematically at what’s been done.”

North Korea was removed from the list six years ago, but the government has again prompted the ire of the United States after the F.B.I. said it had extensive evidence that linked the North Korean government to a cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

UPDATE 11 (2014-12-21): Media reports indicate the US will seek Chinese support to resolve North Korean hacks. According to the New York Times:

The Obama administration has sought China’s help in recent days in blocking North Korea’s ability to launch cyberattacks, the first steps toward the “proportional response” President Obama vowed to make the North pay for the assault on Sony Pictures — and as part of a campaign to issue a broader warning against future hacking, according to senior administration officials.

“What we are looking for is a blocking action, something that would cripple their efforts to carry out attacks,” one official said.

So far, the Chinese have not responded. Their cooperation would be critical, since virtually all of North Korea’s telecommunications run through Chinese-operated networks.

It is unclear that China would choose to help, given tensions over computer security between Washington and Beijing since the Justice Department in May indicted five hackers working for the Chinese military on charges of stealing sensitive information from American companies.

The secret approach to China comes as American officials, convening a half-dozen meetings in the White House Situation Room last week, including one of the top national security team on Thursday night, have been developing options to give to the president during his vacation in Hawaii. They include new economic sanctions, mirroring those recently placed on Russian oligarchs and officials close to President Vladimir V. Putin, which would cut off their access to cash — the one perk that allows the elite surrounding Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to live lifestyles their starving countrymen can barely imagine.

The sessions also included discussions of “information operations” directed at the North Korean people, officials said, but similar efforts by South Korea to sway opinion in the North have often created a furious backlash.

This was also covered by the Wall Street Journal.

Although China has made no public response to the request, a separate report in the New York Times indicates that frustration with the DPRK among China’s leadership is as an all time high.

UPDATE 10 (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 9 (2014-12-19): Some technology writers still believe the the DPRK was not behind the attack. And here. And here.

UPDATE 8 (2014-12-19): US Department of State on the hacking.

UPDATE 7 (2014-12-19): President Obama makes remarks on the hackingMore politics here.

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.


Recent CRS reports on the DPRK

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

The Congressional Research Service “recently” published two reports which relate to the DPRK:

The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation
September 16, 2014: 2014-9-16-KORUS-Kaesong
June 2, 2011: Imports-from-North-Korea-2011

(Although this report focuses mostly on US-ROK issues, there is detailed discussion of the complex negotiations around the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).)

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation 
April 16, 2014: 2014-4-16-Iran-Syria-Missile

You can download most former CRS reports dealing with the DPRK here.



US federal court rules against DPRK

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

In July 2014 a US federal court found the DPRK guilty of proliferating weapons and providing training to Hezbollah.

Here is the ruling (PDF).



North Koreans attend Russian arms expo

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea sent a delegation to a Russian arms exposition last week, a news report said Tuesday, in an apparent sign of Pyongyang’s continuing interest in trading arms despite U.N. sanctions.

North Korean government officials attended this year’s Oboronexpo held in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, from Aug. 13-17, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, quoting the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

The annual arms show puts missile systems, tanks, artillery, and other advanced weapons and relevant technologies on display.

More than 300 defense firms from 11 nations took part in the event.

The RFA, a Washington-based network, said it is possible that the North’s participation was aimed at purchasing weapons.

It has not confirmed whether Pyongyang signed any contracts during the expo, however.

The isolated nation is prohibited from weapons trading under U.N. sanctions imposed in response to long-range rocket and nuclear tests.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea joins Russian arms expo despite sanctions