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South Korean Documentary “Spy Nation” alleges Mistreatment of North Korean Asylum Seekers

The threat of espionage has become even more dangerous to national security in this era of cyber-terrorism

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FILE - A North Korean defector living in South Korea uses her mobile phone during an interview at her office in Seoul.
  • In South Korea, a new documentary is attempting to make the case that the Seoul government’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is engaging in abusive and coercive techniques
  • The threat of espionage has become even more dangerous to national security in this era of cyber-terrorism.
  • The North Korean intelligence service reportedly uses threats of punishment and imprisonment against the families of defectors to force their compliance.

Seoul, September 15, 2016: In South Korea, a new documentary is attempting to make the case that the Seoul government’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is engaging in abusive and coercive techniques to falsely uncover North Korean spies posing as defectors.

The film Spy Nation focuses on one case, in particular, involving North Korean defector Yu Woo-sung, who was arrested in 2014 on charges of espionage but was acquitted a year later after it was discovered that incriminating documents in the case were fabricated, allegedly by the NIS.

Yu’s case became a widely reported scandal that forced the NIS director Nam Jae-Joon to apologize and a high-ranking official with the intelligence service to resign.

The director of Spy Nation, Choi Seung-ho, uses Yu’s case and others documented in the film to argue the NIS’s over-zealous pursuit of spies is a symptom of a powerful and secretive agency reporting only to the president, that operates with little outside oversight or control.

The Trailer: Spy Nation

“We need to change legal system so that the NIS is prevented to be involved in all these political things and allow the National Assembly total control over the NIS,” said Choi.

Coercion

Part of Yu’s case also involves allegations of physical and psychological coercion during the NIS interrogation process.

Prior to his arrest, Yu worked for the Seoul city government assisting recently arrived defectors.

The NIS suspected he was also sending back to North Korea lists of defector names and other sensitive information.

When Yu’s sister, Yu Garyeo, arrived in South Korea to request asylum, she was interrogated by the NIS about her brother’s activities.

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Director Choi conducted an interview with Yu Garyeo in which she claimed that the NIS kept her in isolation for weeks at a time, with only her interrogator to talk to, and hit, threatened and harassed her until she agreed to make a false confession implicating herself and her brother in spying for North Korea.

Yu Garyeo was deported and though her brother was acquitted of spying, he lost all claims to government aid for North Korean defectors, after it was discovered that he lived in China and became a Chinese national before attempting to defect.

Over 1,000 North Koreans defect to South Korea every year. They all must undergo debriefings at NIS facilities to weed out potential spies and to gather information on the situation inside the secretive and authoritarian Kim Jong Un government.

North Korean defector and analyst Ahn Chan-il, with the World Institute for North Korean Studies, said the debriefing process can at times be harsh but it is overstated to imply that abuse is both widespread and a generally accepted practice.

“It is true that (NIS officials) may talk in loud voices during the process of checking the status of defectors, and they may use some coercive action if (the defectors) seem suspicious, but this applies only to some specific defectors,” said Ahn.

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Real threat

The threat of espionage has become even more dangerous to national security in this era of cyber-terrorism.

Earlier this year, South Korea’s police cyber investigation unit reported that the North had hacked thousands of computers at South Korean firms and government agencies.

There have been cases of North Korean spies posing as defectors. The North Korean intelligence service reportedly uses threats of punishment and imprisonment against the families of defectors to force their compliance.

Independent journalism

Choi, the film’s director, is also affiliated with the Korean Center for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization funded by small donations from 350,000 people.

The group stresses its journalistic independence to stand up against political pressure, in contrast to established news organizations that he claims have not held government officials accountable for abuses of power.

The Spy Nation director is also featured in the film as he questions defectors and relentlessly badgers government officials on the street and on one occasion at a crowded airport.

The NIS, Choi said, tried unsuccessfully to level both criminal and civil defamation charges against him for his reporting of the case.

“We completely won the civil charge and they sent us a subpoena once for criminal charge but did not send it anymore, so we were acquitted,” Choi said.

Choi expects Spy Nation to be released to a number of South Korean theaters in September.

Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report. (VOA)

  • Antara

    The documentary presents the issue in concern subtly and wonderfully!

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North Korea Hackers Target Think Tanks, Activists; Reveals Microsoft

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim's account password is updated

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microsoft, xbox
FILE - A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 18, 2017. VOA

Microsoft has revealed that a North Korea-linked hacker group has stolen the sensitive personal information of government employees, think tanks, university staff members, members of organizations focused on world peace and human rights, as well as individuals who work on nuclear proliferation-related issues.

Microsoft has now gained control of 50 domains that the group uses to conduct its operations, the company said on Monday.

With this action, the sites can no longer be used to execute attacks.

A court case against the hacker group, called Thallium, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, resulted in a court order enabling Microsoft to take control of the web domains, Microsoft Customer Security and Trust Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) has been tracking and gathering information on Thallium, monitoring the group’s activities to establish and operate a network of websites, domains and Internet-connected computers.

This network was used to target victims and then compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information.

Most targets were based in the US, as well as Japan and South Korea, Burt said.

Like many cybercriminals and threat actors, Thallium typically attempts to trick victims through a technique known as spear phishing.

FILE - Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash.
FILE – Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash. VOA

By gathering information about the targeted individuals from social media, public personnel directories from organizations the individual is involved with and other public sources, Thallium is able to craft a personalized spear-phishing email in a way that gives the email credibility to the target.

The link in the email redirects the user to a website requesting the user’s account credentials.

By tricking victims into clicking on the fraudulent links and providing their credentials, Thallium is then able to log into the victim’s account.

Upon successful compromise of a victim account, Thallium can review emails, contact lists, calendar appointments and anything else of interest in the compromised account.

The hackers often also creates a new mail forwarding rule in the victim’s account settings. This mail forwarding rule will forward all new emails received by the victim to Thallium-controlled accounts.

Also Read: Actor Pankaj Tripathi Likes to Put Work Before Vacay Plans

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim’s account password is updated.

“You can protect yourself from these types of attacks in at least three ways. We recommend, first, that you enable two-factor authentication on all business and personal email accounts,” Burt said.

“Second, learn how to spot phishing schemes and protect yourself from them. Third, enable security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites and carefully check your email forwarding rules for any suspicious activity,” he added. (IANS)

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Survey: More Than Half of the Indians Believe Smart Devices Record Personal Information without their Knowledge

"Cyber terrorism (53 per cent) is the second-biggest fear," the company said in a statement

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personal information, smart devices
While 85 per cent of people own a smartphone, 54 per cent believe the technology is spying on them. Pixabay

As many as 52 per cent or more than half of the Indians believe their smart devices record personal information without their knowledge, a survey by YouGov said on Tuesday.

YouGov — an Internet-based market research and data analytics firm — stated that the most commonly used devices are also the ones people are most likely to think are monitoring them.

“People have concerns about their online privacy and losing private data (such as photos, mails, financial information) is people’s biggest tech-related fear (with 55 per cent saying it).

smart devices, personal information
“Cyber terrorism (53 per cent) is the second-biggest fear,” the company said in a statement. Pixabay

ALSO READ: India Sold Over 204 mn WiFi Devices in 2018: Report

“Cyber terrorism (53 per cent) is the second-biggest fear,” the company said in a statement. While 85 per cent of people own a smartphone, 54 per cent believe the technology is spying on them.

According to the survey, around a third fear that with the rapid advancement of technology either they would be socially isolated (34 per cent), human interactions would be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (34 per cent) or there would be excessive dependence on technology (32 per cent). (IANS)

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North Korea Bans Imports of Chinese Pork on Fears of African Swine Fever Epidemic

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source

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chinese pork, african swine fever
The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in. Wikimedia Commons

North Korean authorities have banned imports of Chinese pork as an African swine fever (ASF) epidemic rages north of the Yalu River border between the two countries.

According to the latest update from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, China has seen 138 ASF outbreaks since August 2018 and more than a million pigs have been culled since the initial outbreak in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea.

North Korea’s ministry of agriculture confirmed the country’s first ASF outbreak in Chagang province on May 23 and South Korea’s ministry of unification has proposed discussions on how the two Koreas can work together to stop the further spread of the disease.

But RFA sources in North Korea say Chinese pork is still being sold in local markets. “A few days ago I heard from a customs official that North Korea has completely blocked all imports of pork and beef from China to prevent the spread of African swine fever,” said a source from North Hamgyong province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on June 2.

chinese pork, african swine fever
Pigs stand in a barn at a pig farm in Jiangjiaqiao village in northern China’s Hebei province on May 8, 2019. Pork lovers worldwide are wincing at prices that have jumped by up to 40 percent as China’s struggle to stamp out African swine fever in its vast pig herds sends shockwaves through global meat markets. RFA

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. “I heard that in some areas, including Pyongyang and Sinuiju, they are trying to control pork sales, but no action has been taken yet in North Hamgyong,” said the source. The source said that the ban is quite rare, especially since diseases among livestock are common during this part of the year.

“There have been infectious swine diseases in the past, but they never banned the import of pork from China. At this time of year, we are usually hit with infectious swine diseases and many pigs are culled, but none of the residents bury the dead pigs,” the source said. The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in.

“The price of pork is between 14 and 15 Chinese Yuan (slightly more than $2) per kilogram, which is the same as before the authorities banned Chinese pork. Even though customs authorities are blocking pork imports from China, there is so much pork being smuggled in,” the source said. Another source, also from North Hamgyong, said the ban is strange, given that North Korean customs officials generally follow the lead of their Chinese counterparts.

“On the first of the month, pork that was to be brought in from China was quarantined at North Korean customs and sent back. It is unusual for our customs office to block this pork shipment because it didn’t have any problem going through Chinese customs,” said the second source.

“That [particular] pork shipment was to be brought in by a Chinese citizen of Korean descent who is a restaurant owner in Rason,” the second source said. “He thought there would be no problem going through customs because he regularly brings in pork from China. But the Wonjong customs office did not let it pass through on orders from the Central Committee,” the second source said.

chinese pork, african swine fever
“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. Wikimedia Commons

The second source said the restaurant owner was surprised his shipment was held back. “He has had no problem bringing in pork from China for several years now. Even when swine fever [started] spreading in China, he kept bringing it in. It’s the first time he has been stopped and he’s totally bewildered,” the second source said.

The second source said that the price of pork remains stable despite the ban, and no cases of ASF have been reported in Rason. Even so, residents have become fearful of the disease.

ALSO READ: Asian Nations Pledge to Tackle Statelessness, With Atleast 1 Million are Rohingya Muslims

“[They think] African swine fever is highly contagious and has a fatality rate of 100%, but Chinese pork is still being sold at the local markets and no restrictions have been announced,” said the second source. According to a USDA fact sheet, ASF is deadly only to domestic and feral pigs and does not affect humans. People can, however, spread the virus by coming in contact with the bodily fluids of infected livestock.

According to a source in South Pyongan province, North Korea has not culled pigs in any of its state-run farms where an ASF outbreak has occurred. The pigs instead were supplied to sausage factories at low cost. This has caused a flood of sausages to enter the market, cutting the price of sausage in half. (RFA)

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.