The news in June 2016 about North Korea ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime ought to be taken as an eye-opening warning. Given the extent of Pyongyang’s deep involvement in transnational criminal activity, signing a convention the purpose of which is to eliminate such enterprise was, and still is, outrageous and farcical.
Law enforcement agencies often distinguish between crimes against people, property crimes, and crimes against the state. For example, assault is clearly a crime against a person, arson is termed a property crime, and selling contraband medicines is an offense against society.
CRIMES AGAINST INDIVIDUALS
There have been numerous acts of terrorism committed by North Korea since its founding. For the sake of brevity, let’s look at some of the more recent ones.
In March 2010, a North Korean submarine sank the South Korea navy corvette Cheonan in South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea/West Sea with the loss of 46 sailors. Although the incident has been disputed, evidence convincingly points to Pyongyang.
In November 2010, North Korean artillery killed four and injured 19 South Koreans on Yeonpyeong by intentionally targeting the island in the Yellow Sea/West Sea.
Citizens remaining at home are not exempt from forced slave labor
Throughout recent years, Pyongyang has dispatched laborers abroad to work under harsh conditions for little reward in construction, logging, and mining projects. Injuries are common and little medical treatment is offered. Death during such “assignments” is not unprecedented, and for survivors, most of their paltry wages are expropriated by the state as loyalty funds for the regime.
The young women sent to staff North Korean restaurants in foreign countries must often endure sexual predation in order to (a) get the job, and then (b) keep it. Wages – when paid – are substandard and freedom of movement is highly restricted.
Citizens remaining at home are not exempt from forced slave labor. In recent years, the regime has instituted “loyalty work” projects in which those without the financial means to bribe their way out are forced to work in a number of seemingly endless domestic building “campaigns.”
Ranking party officials, military leaders, and other elites have been killed for having “wrong thoughts” or for not following orders as specifically directed. Need an example? The most egregious was the summary execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Taek in December 2013.
Others find themselves in “re-education camps” toiling under the worst imaginable conditions. In the past, whole families have been punished for merely being related to the offender. Prisoners are thought to number in the tens of thousands, perhaps as many as 150,000 at one point.
North Korea has a long history of trading in materiel and supplying military personnel in various parts of the world. The North sent an entire squadron of fighter pilots and two regiments of anti-aircraft artillery personnel to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. North Korean conventional arms have been found in the Middle East, Iran and Syria in particular.
Throughout the Vietnam War (exact dates are quite unclear using open source material), North Korea sent perhaps as many as 200 pilots to fly against Western air forces. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War with Israel, North Korean pilots flew Egyptian fighter jets. Furthermore, Pyongyang has also been militarily involved in other African countries such as Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Rhodesia, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
North Korea is a major supplier of illicit drugs, mostly methamphetamine in crystal form. The drug is often “exported” by diplomats whose duties are to distribute it in foreign countries. There have been reports that use in North Korea has picked up, where the drug is sometimes given to local officials to be sold for revenue.
In October and December of 2015 and again in February 2016, North Korea was in the news for being behind the rash of bank hackings that resulted in the hijacking of perhaps at least US$81 million in the Philippines, Vietnam, and then Bangladesh. According to reputable cyber sleuths, North Korea’s digital fingerprints were all over those events.
In the past, the Kim dynasty was known to be printing and distribution high-quality counterfeit US$100 notes, though that activity had tapered off as American authorities took measures to combat it. However, there are indications that those super notes are back, likely as a response to UN sanctions that severely restrict North Korea’s ability to generate cash.
In 2016, it was reported that the regime is providing international crime syndicates with the bogus bills at a 50 percent discount off face value. Pyongyang is also producing fake Chinese notes as well.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of North Korean transnational criminal activity is its transfer of its nuclear and missile technologies. Pyongyang was the architect and supplier of know-how for the Syrian nuclear site destroyed out of desperation by the Israelis in 2007. Even now, the regime is suspected of adding to Iran’s nuclear and missile knowledge bases.
CONCLUSION – BUT NOT THE END
As sources of revenue dry up, it is highly probable that North Korea will seek more ways to circumvent sanctions imposed by the UN and other countries. Its need for hard currency is too great and its legitimate sources of revenue are utterly inadequate to expect otherwise.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of North Korean transnational criminal activity is its transfer of its nuclear and missile technologies
As to the news that Pyongyang ratified the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crimes, recall what happened when North Korea was allowed into an international electronic funds transferring group, the Society on Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. The North learned enough about the system that they were able to hack a number of banks and snatch up hefty sums of money.
With access to behind-the-scenes processes and procedures by virtue of being a signatory to this global covenant, the North will likely gain knowledge on the tools and practices used by domestic and international crime fighting agencies in combating the very activities that are significant sources of Pyongyang’s revenue. We should know better, for we have been through this before.
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Featured Image: Juche Tower at Night by Julian_Limes on 2012-04-18 21:54:10