Archive for the ‘Arms shipment’ Category

DPRK “Centrifuge Rods” seized from Singapore ship

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2013-3-27): Myanmar leader denies the materials were bound for his country. According to Yonhap:

Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political advisor to Myanmar President Thein Sein, explicitly denied the allegations, reaffirming his government has no intention of building nuclear weapons.

“We have no great interest to broker such items like aluminium alloy rods,” Ko Ko Hlaing told Yonhap News Agency in an interview in Seoul on the sidelines of a forum on Myanmar’s reform and its implications on North Korea.

“We understand that the result of clandestine arms trafficking is quite treacherous,” he said. “So the reported destination may be elsewhere and the real destination will be in another position. So we can confirm that the real destination is not Myanmar.”

Mynamar had been suspected of pursuing nuclear cooperation with North Korea during decades of its military junta rule that ended in 2011.


Ko Ko Hlaing, a former army officer, said Myanmar has no interest in expanding military ties with other nations, including North Korea.

“With the new government, we have opened to the international communities and also we have achieved a very encouraging peace process,” he said.

“So, we are trying to reduce our defense expenditure and focus our resources on economic and social development rather than army and military development,” he said. “There is no potential to expand military cooperation with North Korea or any other countries.”

UPDATE 3 (2013-3-19): The Japan Times press follows up on the aluminum rods:

Japan has seized aluminium alloy rods that can be used to make nuclear centrifuges from a Singapore-flagged ship found to be carrying cargo from North Korea, the government said Monday.

The five rods were discovered on the ship during its call at Tokyo port last August and were confirmed to be aluminium alloy through tests conducted over the past six months, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

“The aluminium alloy is extremely strong and can be used in centrifuges, which are products related to nuclear development,” Suga said at a regular news briefing.

The rods were being stored at a private warehouse and the government on Monday ordered the firm to hand them over.

The items are the first to be confiscated under a special law passed in 2010 that allows Tokyo to inspect North Korea-related ships suspected of carrying materials that can be used in nuclear and missile programs.

The ship was reportedly on its way to Myanmar when it arrived in Tokyo via the Chinese port of Dalian. Suga confirmed the ship arrived via Dalian but said its cargo was bound for a “third country.”

UPDATE 2 (2012-11-26): Sen. Lugar has written a letter to the Burmese government regarding the shipment.  Read more here.

UPDATE 1 (2012-11-26): More information at the Wall Street Journal.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-11-26): According to the Choson Ilbo:

The Japanese government confiscated what appeared to be North Korean aluminum alloy bars from a Singaporean cargo ship at the end of August, the Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday. They were apparently bound for Burma and could have been used in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

The Wan Hai 313 belonging to a Taiwanese shipping company docked in Tokyo Port. The paper said authorities confiscated 50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars marked “DPRK” for North Korea, “at least some of them offering the high strength needed in centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program.”

Prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma on Nov. 19, the Burmese government pledged to sever military ties with North Korea and open up for nuclear inspection. North Korea makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year by exporting armaments.

The cargo was initially on a different ship in Dalian, China on July 27 and moved to the Wan Hai 313 in Shekou, China on Aug. 9. It was to reach Burma via Malaysia on Aug 15, but the ship entered Tokyo Port on Aug. 22 at the request of the U.S. government.

The aluminum alloy bars were exported by a company based in Dalian, which said it did so at the request of another company. The newspaper wrote, “Authorities concluded that the shipment originated in North Korea because the bars were found to be inscribed ‘DPRK,’ although investigators were unable to confirm the origin from cargo documents or from the ship’s crew, the sources said.”

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Aluminum Shipment to Burma Foiled
Choson Ilbo


Kiribati issued passports to North Korean

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Kiribati issued passports to North Korean businessmen until 2004 as a “means of generating revenue,” its president has admitted.

There had been speculation for some time that North Koreans engaged in illicit activities such as arms deals were illegally obtaining passports from small countries.

Appearing recently on Australian radio, Kiribati President Anote Tong said he was embarrassed that the passports were reportedly related to international crime. “I can assure you that we had corrected that situation in 2004 when we stopped issuing these passports,” he said.

Late last year, a Japanese activist group said two agents from North Korea, Han Chol [한철] and Ju Ok-hui [주억희), used passports issued by Kiribati and the Seychelles.

They are board members of North Korea’s Tongsin International Trading Corporation, an agency suspected of illegally exporting weapons to Burma and other countries, the group added.

Both Han and Ju were given passports by the Kiribati government in 1996 and by the Seychelles in 2007. The countries reportedly sold passports to foreign businessmen but abandoned the practice due to mounting worries about illicit activities.

A Foreign Ministry official in Seoul said, “Kiribati has been neutral since it won independence from the U.K. in 1979. “It would have been easier for the North Korean agents to travel with those passports rather than with North Korean ones.”

Read the full story here:
South Pacific Island Admits Selling Passports to N.Koreans
Choson Ilbo


DPRK illicit trade activities

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Marcus Noland offers a new estimate of the DPRK’s illicit trade activities:


According to Marcus Noland:

The chart above shows our estimates of illicit revenues (inclusive of arms sales) as a share of merchandise exports. These are admittedly highly speculative and as a consequence we include high and low estimates as well as a best guess. As one can see, this share has been drifting down for more than a decade as both legitimate trade has expanded, and intensified interdiction efforts have crimped criminal activities. We estimate that in 2011, the illicit share of exports was in the range of 5-20 percent, with our best guess at roughly 10 percent. During the hearings, one of the witnesses, Professor Sung-yoon Lee, claimed that illicit activities account for up to 40 percent of the country’s trade; that statement was probably true in the past, but on our calculation, probably no longer true—though again, all this is highly speculative and anyone who claims that they know the real answer is, in the words of former Vice President Mondale, “a liar or a fool.”

A related issue is the degree to which central authorities exercise control over these activities. Some activities are almost surely subject to central control; some are probably conducted by state entities but without direction from central authorities (or perhaps without even their specific knowledge); some of these activities may well be conducted by what amount to local criminal gangs (which may include state, military, or party officials as participants); some of these activities may be organized by Chinese or other foreign gangs with the acquiesence of North Korea officials. Several years ago, for instance, when their was a crackdown no intellectual property rights theft in China, some of the counterfeiting activity allegedly moved across the border into North Korea where control was more lax.

The message is not that we should slack off in our attempts to eradicate these activities. Even they account for a declining share of the North Korean economy, they are still objectionable. But by the same token, we should not make the analytical mistake of thinking that shutting down these activities will halt the North Korean nuclear program or bring down the regime. The real message here is that the expansion of legitimate trade in recent years has made North Korea less dependent on criminal activities and less vulnerable to their disruption.


DPRK ships missile parts to Syria

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

According to the Korea Herald:

A shipment of graphite cylinders usable in a missile program and suspected to have come from North Korea was found in May aboard a Chinese ship en route to Syria in what appears to have been a violation of U.N. sanctions, diplomats said Tuesday.

South Korean officials seized the shipment of 445 graphite cylinders, which had been declared as lead piping, from a Chinese vessel called the Xin Yan Tai, U.N. Security Council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

South Korean authorities stopped the ship at the South Korean port of Busan, the envoys said, adding that the cylinders were intended for a Syrian company called Electric Parts.

South Korean officials informed the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee about the seizure on Oct. 24, the envoys said, adding that China had offered to help investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.

“It appears the cylinders were intended for Syria’s missile program,” a diplomat said.

“China assured us they will investigate what looks like a violation of U.N. sanctions.” Diplomats said the graphite cylinders appeared to be consistent with material usable in a ballistic missile program and that South Korea would investigate the case with China.

The shipment to Syria was arranged by a North Korean trading company, diplomats said. One diplomat said the Syrian company that was to have received the cylinders may be a subsidiary of the North Korean trading firm.

North Korea is barred from importing or exporting nuclear and missile technology under U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Pyongyang because of its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Read previous posts about the DPRK and Syria here.

Read the full story here:
Suspected N.K. missile parts seized en route to Syria
Korea Herald


North Korea aiding Syria to upgrade Scud D capability

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

According to IHS Janes:

In marked disregard of UN sanctions (Resolutions 1718 from 2006 and 1874 from 2009 both prohibit North Korea from conducting security-related exports), North Korean technicians and engineers stationed in Syria are working with specialists from Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) to develop an arsenal of advanced SSMs. Co-operation between Pyongyang and Damascus also constitutes a Syrian violation of the same two resolutions, which, among other sanctions, include “an arms embargo, which also encompasses a ban on technical training or services”.

Nevertheless, IHS Jane’s has learned that engineers from North Korea’s Tangun Trading Corporation are working with engineers from the SSRC’s Project 99 in a compound located in Jabal Taqsis, near the city of Hama, to advance the Scud D development programme.

Read the full story here:

North Korea aiding Syria to upgrade Scud D capability
IHS Janes
Robin Hughes


122 ROK ships affected by GPS jamming

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

UPDATE 4 (2012-5-31): Three arrested in South Korea over GPS jamming. According to the Choson Ilbo:

Spies in South Korea were involved in North Korea’s recent jamming of GPS signals, police said Wednesday. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said it booked or arrested three men on espionage charges of collecting confidential military information to help the North.

They include a businessman identified only by his surname Lee who was formerly a prisoner of war from North Korea, a Korean-New Zealander identified as Kim, and another man who formerly worked for a defense contractor.

Export of electronic jamming devices to some countries including the North is banned.

Lee and Kim, who are engaged in trade activities in Nampo, North Korea and New Zealand, are suspected of attempting to hand over GPS jamming devices and radar systems to Pyongyang at the direction of a North Korean agent.

Police say they have footage of their meeting with the agent and a statement from Kim saying he received an order from the North.

Read previous posts on this topic below:



Myanmar promises halt to DPRK weapons purchases

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

According to the AP (via Washington Post):

Myanmar’s president has confirmed that his country bought weapons from North Korea during the past 20 years and assured his South Korean counterpart that it will no longer do so.

In a meeting with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Myanmar President Thein Sein said his country never had nuclear cooperation with North Korea but did have deals for conventional weapons, Lee’s presidential Blue House said in an announcement Tuesday.

Thein Sein told Lee that Myanmar will no longer buy weapons from North Korea, honoring a U.N. ban, South Korean presidential official Kim Tae-hyo told reporters traveling with Lee, according to Blue House officials in Seoul.

Lee is on an official visit to Myanmar, the first by a South Korean president since North Korean commandos staged a bloody 1983 attack on visiting South Korean dignitaries.

Myanmar cut off diplomatic relations with North Korea after the attack, but restored them in 2007 as it sought allies in the face of international sanctions over its human rights record and failure to install a democratic government. Myanmar also began buying weapons from North Korea, and was suspected of obtaining nuclear weapons technology as well.

Myanmar is taking steps to emerge from international isolation after decades of military rule ended last year. Those changes were highlighted Tuesday when Lee met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held for years under house arrest but is now a member of Parliament.

Suu Kyi said after the 45-minute meeting that South Korea and Myanmar have much in common in having had to “take the hard road to democratic leadership.”

Lee, speaking through an interpreter, said he and Suu Kyi had agreed that “democracy, human rights and freedom must never be sacrificed because of development.”

He said he had praised Thein Sein’s contribution to democratization when he met the Myanmar president on Monday.

He also said he told Thein Sein that he hoped his government “will refrain from any activities” with North Korea that could be considered in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He described this as a formal request.

A U.N. resolution bars countries from obtaining all but small arms and light weapons from North Korea.

Lee on Tuesday made a brief visit to the site of the 1983 bombing, Martyr’s Mausoleum, a monument to Suu Kyi’s father, Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San. The attack left 21 dead, 17 of them South Korean, but failed to kill its target, then-President Chun Doo-hwan, who arrived late and was not harmed.

A statement from Lee’s office said he also agreed to expand South Korean financial assistance to Myanmar.

It said South Korea agreed to help Myanmar develop human resources, build a think tank and invite Myanmar students to South Korea in an effort to share its successful experience in economic development.

Previous posts involving Myanmar here. Recent highlights include the M/V Light Saga and articles by Bertil Linter.

Read the full story here:
South Korea says Myanmar has promised to stop buying arms from North Korea
AP via Washington Post


A North Korean Corleone

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Sheena Chestnut Greitens writes in the New York Times:

What kind of deal do you make with a 20-something who just inherited not only a country, but also the mantle of one of the world’s most sophisticated crime families? When Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be 28 or 29, became North Korea’s leader in December after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, he became the de facto head of a mafia state.



Syrian missile factory built with DPRK cooperation

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The German newspaper Die Welt published a story which claims North Korea supplied Syria with a maraging steel and technical support which it has used to upgrade an underground missile factory that produces M-600 missiles.

Maraging steel is on the the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) monitoring lists, and its export is prohibited to sanctioned countries. North Korea is also prohibited from such activities under UNSC resolutions 1718 and 1874.

The Syrian missile factory, as identified in Haaretz,  can be seen on Google Earth at 35.006089°,  36.827331°, Google Maps, and Wikimapia, but below I have posted a couple of screen shots:


Above (left) is an overhead shot of the underground facility. Above (right) is a closeup of the facility entrance. Assuming the floor plan of the factory is a simple square, it could be 1,000m x 1,000m in area–and that is just one floor! The oldest Google Earth imagery of the facility is from 2003-7-12.

Additional information:
1. Joshua Pollack recently published a paper on the demand for conventional North Korean military output.  If you have not read it, you should. Click here for a link to the paper.

2. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published North Korean Security Challenges: A Net Assessment. It presents a thorough analysis of the range of threats emanating from the DPRK. In addition to an assessment of military hardware and posture, the 216-page book looks at state criminality and behaviour relating to human security.

3. Joeseph Bermudez wrote about a North Korean missile factory here.

4. Previous posts on the DPRK and Syria are here, including nuclear proliferation.

Read the full stories below:
Syrien rüstet Raketen mit Nordkoreas Hilfe auf
Die Welt

North Korea supplying Syria, Iran with prohibited nuclear technology, report says
Yossi Melman


DPRK-South Sudan diplomatic ties established

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Pyongyang, November 18 (KCNA) — The governments of the DPRK and South Sudan established diplomatic ties at an ambassadorial level.

A joint communique on the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations was made public in Ethiopia on Nov. 16.

The communique was signed by Kim Hyok Chol and Arop Kuol Deng, ambassadors of the DPRK and South Sudan to Ethiopia, upon authorization of the governments of their countries.

The two countries agreed to open their diplomatic ties from the very day of their signature to the joint communique, on the basis of the principle of respect for sovereignty, equality, reciprocity and non-interference and in line with the April 18, 1961, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Since all North Korean embassies must self-finance their operations, it is not likely that they will open an embassy in South Sudan until there are sufficient business contracts to maintain the office overhead. In the meantime, many of their diplomatic and consular functions will probably be held out of the Ethiopian embassy.

What kind of business opportunities await the DPRK in South Sudan? South Sudan is the world’s newest oil-producing nation, so it is likely that the DPRK will try to pursue oil contracts there. As a new nation, South Sudan also has an interest in building up its military capabilities. The DPRK has long supplied military equipment to the African continent, so they will probably look for opportunities in this new nation as well.

To date, the DPRK maintains embassies in the following African countries: Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.