North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arriving for a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea threatens Israel with ‘merciless’ punishment

North Korea threatened Israel with “merciless, thousand-fold punishment” and labeled it the only “illegal possessor” of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang issued a statement Saturday blasting Israel after its defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, in an interview with the Hebrew-language news website Walla! called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “madman” who is in charge of a “crazy and radical group” that is “undermining global stability.”

Liberman said that Pyongyang “seems to have crossed the red line with its recent nuclear tests,” according to Walla!.

Also Saturday, North Korea conducted a failed ballistic rocket test, the second test of a long-range Scud-type missile this month, which also failed. The test came as the United States began joint naval exercises with South Korea just after the U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Carl Vinson entered the Sea of Japan.

North Korea could be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test, according to reports.

In its statement slamming Israel, North Korea called Israel the “only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East, under the patronage of the U.S.”

“The reckless remarks of the Israeli defense minister are sordid and wicked behavior and a grave challenge to the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea),” the Foreign Ministry’s statement read.

“This is the cynical ploy to escape the world denunciation and curse as disturber of peace in the Middle East, occupier of the Arab territories and culprit of crimes against humanity.”

The statement threatened Israel and anyone who “dares hurt the dignity of its supreme leadership,” will face “merciless, thousand-fold punishment.”

“Israel would be well advised to think twice about the consequences [of] its smear campaign against the DPRK,” the statement also said.

Over the past few decades, North Korea has armed and trained countries and groups that are hostile to Israel, including Iran. Reports also have surfaced that North Korea  helped Syria build a nuclear reactor that was destroyed in an attack believed to be by Israel in 2007.

North Korea test-fires two missiles, both fail

North Korea test-fired what appeared to be two intermediate range ballistic missiles on Thursday, but both failed, the U.S. military said, in a setback for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of next week's ruling party congress.

The isolated nation has conducted a series of missile launches in violation of U.N. resolutions ahead of the Workers' Party congress which begins on May 6. South Korea also says North is ready to conduct a new nuclear test at any time.

China said the U.N. Security Council was working on a response to North Korea's latest missile tests, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Pyongyang to cease “further provocative actions.”

Thursday's tests looked to have been hurried, according to a defense expert in Seoul, and follow a failed launch of a similar missile earlier this month.

The first launch, at about 6:40 a.m. local time (05:40 p.m. EDT Wednesday) from near the east coast city of Wonsan, appeared to have been of a Musudan missile with a range of more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles) which crashed within seconds, a South Korean defense ministry official said.

Later, at around 7:26 p.m., the North shot a similar intermediate range missile from the same area, but the launch was also understood to have failed, the official added.

The U.S. military's Strategic Command said it tracked two attempted launches, neither of which posed a threat to North America.


“Initial indications reveal the tests were not successful,” said Lieutenant Colonel Martin O'Donnell, a STRATCOM spokesman..

The Musudan missile theoretically has the range to reach any part of Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam. It has never been successfully flight-tested.

A similar missile launched on the April 15 birthday anniversary of Kim's late grandfather, North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung, exploded in what the U.S. Defense Department called a “fiery, catastrophic” failure.

Some experts had predicted that North Korea would wait until it figured out what went wrong in the previous launch before attempting another, a process that could take months.

Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy, said the North Koreans appeared to be in a rush to demonstrate a success head of the party congress.

“They need to succeed but they keep failing,” he said “They didn't have enough time to fix or technically modify the system, but just shot them because they were in a hurry.”

U.S. and South Korean officials have expressed concerns that North Korea could attempt a fifth nuclear test in a show of strength ahead of the congress.

“Signs for an imminent fifth nuclear test are being detected ahead of North Korea's seventh Party Congress,” South Korean President Park Geun-hye said at a national security meeting on Thursday.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council met to discuss the latest missile tests at the request of the United States. China's U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi, president of the council for April, said: “We're looking at a response from the Security Council.”

Diplomats said the council was likely to issue a statement condemning the latest missile tests.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa, also a council member, said that during the closed-door meeting “everybody condemned the latest failed launches.”

Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, called the actions “extremely troubling.”

Yonhap said the first missile was not detected by South Korean military radar because it did not fly above a few hundred meters, and was spotted by a U.S. satellite.

On Saturday, North Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which traveled about 30 km (18 miles) off its east coast.

The tests have come in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions which were strengthened after North Korea's last nuclear test in January and a space rocket launch the following month.

U.S. to eye ‘other’ options if North Korea continues nuclear activity

The U.S. State Department urged North Korea on Tuesday to refrain from actions that destabilize the region and said it would consider “other” options if Pyongyang continued its nuclear and ballistic missile testing.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner made the comment at a briefing after being asked about reports that North Korea may be planning more nuclear or missile tests.

Toner noted the United Nations had recently imposed some of its toughest sanctions on Pyongyang over its testing.

“We're going to look at other options as we move forward if North Korea continues with this kind of behavior,” he said, declining to elaborate on what other steps Washington may be considering.

North Korea leader at drill orders nuclear weapons use at any time: KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the exercise of newly developed multiple rocket launchers and ordered his country to be ready to use nuclear weapons “at any time” in the face of a growing threat from enemies, its official media said on Friday.

Kim also said his country should turn its military posture to a “pre-emptive basis” because enemies are threatening the state's survival, its KCNA news agency said.

Sony Pictures puts ‘The Interview’ back in theaters

Sony Pictures said on Tuesday it will release “The Interview” to a limited number of theaters on Dec. 25, less than a week after it canceled the comedy's release following a devastating cyberattack blamed on North Korea.

[ROB ESHMAN: How to hack the Sony hackers]

The decision comes after hundreds of independent theaters said they wanted to screen the film, about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, which major theater chains backed out of last week owing to security concerns.

“We have never given up on releasing 'The Interview' and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” Sony Pictures Chief Executive Michael Lynton said in a statement.

“At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

Sony Pictures, which had said that a limited release of the $44 million film was out of question, came under pressure to release the movie after President Barack Obama said last Friday that the studio “made a mistake” by bowing to intimidation.

That rare public rebuke of a corporation fueled the debate over freedom of speech and whether Hollywood was engaging in self-censorship. Lynton put the blame on movie theaters and tried to establish his studio' commitment to the First Amendment.

The cyberattack, which began last month, crippled Sony Pictures' computer system and led to an embarrassing leak of internal emails and sensitive documents.

The hackers, operating under the moniker Guardians of Peace, made unspecified threats to theaters planning to show the film, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. They demanded that Sony cancel the film's release.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has pinned the cyberattack on North Korea, which had protested the film as far back as June. North Korea has denied it is behind the attack.

It was unclear how many theaters would be allowed to screen “The Interview” and if major movie chains that had decided not to open the film would join the group of authorized exhibitors.

Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was one of the first to say it was authorized to screen the film. A theater in Atlanta, the Plaza Atlanta, said on social media that it will also show the film.

Media outlets also reported that Sony Pictures had struck a deal for a video-on-demand release of “The Interview” on Dec. 25 as well. Reuters was not able to immediately confirm the reports.

An online petition launched by Art House Convergence, a de facto association of independent cinemas that pledged to screen “The Interview” if Sony chose to release it, had drawn more than 500 signatures from independent theater owners, programmers and operators.

How to hack the Sony hackers

I know what I’m doing on Christmas Day: First Chinese food, then “The Interview.”

I’ll be eating Chinese food on Christmas because I’m a Jew, and that’s tradition.

Then I’m going to go to a theater to watch “The Interview” because I’m an American, and that’s patriotism.

That’s right, patriotism.

Substantial evidence points to the North Korean regime, or people working for the regime, as the ones who attacked Sony’s computer system. North Korea is upset because Sony Pictures Entertainment made the Seth Rogen comedy about two shallow, inexperienced TV journalists who land an interview with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un and are tasked by the CIA with assassinating him. The regime repeatedly warned Sony not to release the movie and has threatened severe consequences if it does. On Dec. 16, the Guardians of Peace hacking group further threatened to carry out 9/11-style attacks on theaters that screen the movie.

In the media’s mostly salacious coverage of the Sony computer hacking, the focus has been on everything but the perpetrators. How can Sony have let this happen? How can producers say such nasty things? Somehow the criminal invasion of people’s private lives and the theft and destruction of their property has morphed into a story about Hollywood’s behavior. A foreign government decides to invade America through its computers and damage the lives and livelihood of thousands of workers, and our response is, “Shame on that Amy Pascal.”  Talk about letting the terrorists win.

I don’t say that glibly. Hacking Sony is an attack on America. If North Korea gets away with it — even the damage already done to the company and private individuals, let alone the threat of what could happen next week — then all the systems and companies we rely upon are vulnerable.

Children photographed in an orphanage in North Korea during the 1997 famine. Photo by Justin Kilcullen, former director of Trócaire.

I can understand why Americans don’t see the story that way, yet. The media instantly made this about money, celebrity and race. Stories about Angelina Jolie get more clicks than those about North Korean death camps. And, anyway, what can we do about a cruel, distant and nuclear-armed regime?

Here’s what we can do: We can make sure the hacking backfires. We can see the movie, and we can shame North Korea. 

Good, bad, stupid, brilliant — I don’t know, and I don’t care — we need to buy tickets and go see “The Interview.” A huge opening-week box office will send just the right message to any regime that thinks hacking is a way to get what it wants. 

Our media also needs to match every bit of information given us by the hackers with massive amounts of information about North Korea. Their hacking moment must become our teaching moment.

How many Americans are aware of the death camps that the regime operates throughout its country?  An estimated 200,000 North Korean political prisoners are imprisoned in the country’s gulag, a system of slave camps of unspeakable cruelty. The Jewish Journal’s Jan. 24, 2014, cover story on these concentration camps had a simple title, “Holocaust in North Korea,” because that’s exactly what Kim Jong-un is perpetrating. Anyone whose words or behavior veers from the supreme leader’s can be a victim. According to dictatorial fiat, inmates aren’t the only ones to suffer — their children and grandchildren born in the camps remain there for their entire lives — punishments are meted out until the third generation.

Meanwhile, starvation is rampant — both inside and outside the camps. A country that spends enough resources to be able to hack into its enemies’ sophisticated computer systems can’t be bothered to provide its children lunch. 

This is what the press needs to disseminate. There are photos to be displayed, as well as links to satellite images of the actual camps. A massive crime is being perpetrated against the people of North Korea, and the hacking scandal is our moment to make sure the world sees it. 

“Those who control the narrative control the nation,” Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist, wrote in his 2013 book, “Radical: My Journal Out of Islamist Extremism” (Lyons Press).

“The Interview” so threatens the North Korean regime because it is well aware of the power of a movie to cement its image. Now Kim Jong-un is lashing out at the people brave enough, and free enough, to tell stories the way they want.   Radio pioneer Howard Stern, who knows a thing or two about free speech, said it most clearly on his Sirius show this week: “The attack on Sony is an attack on Amertica.”

The real focus, the relentless focus, has to be on punishing the perpetrators. The hackers have warned that those who go see “The Interview” will suffer a “bitter fate.”  Unfortunately, at least two theatre chains have already buckled under their threats and have decided not to screen the movie.  But wherever it plays at a theatre near me, I'm going.  It's as true with hacking as it is with any other form of terror:   the most bitter fate awaits those who give into it.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

New York premiere of North Korea comedy canceled after threats

The New York premiere of “The Interview,” a Sony Pictures comedy about the assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-Un, has been canceled and a source said one theatre chain had scrapped plans to show it, after threats from a hacking group.

The hackers, who said they were also responsible for seizing control of Sony Corp's computer system last month, on Tuesday warned people to stay away from cinemas showing the film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, and darkly reminded moviegoers of the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks on the United States in 2001.

“We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” the hackers wrote.

“(If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)”

A spokeswoman for Landmark, which was to have hosted a premiere of the film at its Sunshine Cinema in Lower East Side, New York, on Thursday, said by email that the screening had been canceled, but did not explain why.

A Sony spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the threat.

Sony executives had earlier told theater owners it would not pull the film but added they would not object if they decided to cancel screenings, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Carmike Cinemas, operator of 278 theaters in 41 states, informed Sony late on Tuesday that it would not show the film, the person said. Carmike executives were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday evening, a spokesman said.

An official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and another U.S. security official said investigations had found nothing concrete so far to substantiate the threat.

“At this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States,” the DHS official said.

Police departments in Los Angeles and New York, however, said they were take the warning seriously.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told a news conference that officers would be taking extra precautions to make sure movie theaters were “as safe as we can make them”. He said the threats were “done to put terror” into U.S. audiences.

The North Korean government has denounced the film as “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism, as well as an act of war” in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


Internet news company BuzzFeed reported that Franco and Rogen had canceled all planned media appearances on Tuesday, the day they were scheduled to appear at a BuzzFeed event. Representatives for the actors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. security agencies are investigating a hacking group that carried out the cyber attack in November that severely damaged the movie studio's network and published damaging internal emails, unreleased films and employee data online. The group published what appeared to be more internal emails on Tuesday.

Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm BeyondTrust, said he believed it was the first time a film screening had been pulled in the wake of a high-profile cyber attack.

“If they pulled the premier because of the hacking it's troubling. The moment you start reacting is the moment you give them more power,” said Maiffret.

Sony is already reeling from the disclosures in documents released by the hackers, which have publicly exposed internal discussions important to the company's future.

Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the more than 100 gigabytes of documents that have been distributed via the Internet. The company has confirmed that at least some are authentic, apologizing for the loss of sensitive employee data and some comments made by executives.

The newest file published on Tuesday appeared to be emails from Sony studio chief Michael Lynton. One email showed Lynton consulted with a senior official in the U.S. State Department in June this year, days after North Korea threatened “merciless countermeasures” over the release of the film.

Several rounds of leaks of emails have prompted apologies for disparaging remarks that executives made about celebrities. The leaks have included a James Bond script, high-quality digital copies of films that have yet to be released and private employee data.

Sony has also been sued by self-described former employees who accuse Sony of failing to properly protect their personal data. Sony declined comment on the lawsuit.

Sony Pictures CEO consulted U.S. State Dept on film, leaked emails show

The head of Sony Pictures consulted with a senior U.S. official in June, days after North Korea threatened “merciless countermeasures” over the release of an upcoming film featuring a plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong Un, leaked emails show.

In an internal June 26 email seen by Reuters, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton said he told Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Russel the studio was “concerned for the safety of Americans and American and North Korean relations.”

U.S. officials have cast doubt on a threat against theatres planning to show the film, but police across the United States said they would take extra precautions.

Sony executives told theatres the studio would not pull the comedy. However, top U.S. movie theater chains are delaying plans to show the film following threats by a hacking group that have waged a cyberattack on the Hollywood studio.

The unidentified hackers have exposed thousands of Sony's internal documents and emails to public scrutiny. Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the documents, although Sony has confirmed that at least some are authentic.

“I explained that we wanted to act in a responsible fashion and that the film was designed to entertain and not to make a political statement,” Lynton said, in the June 26 email to Sony General Counsel Nicole Seligman.

“(Russel) said that the North Koreans were going to do whatever they were going to do with or without the film, though they may use it as an excuse (and) it would probably go on the list of complaints they have agains(t) the United States.”

Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, confirmed Russel had met with Sony executives, but declined to speak about the leaked emails.

“Department officials routinely meet and consult informally with a wide range of private groups, certainly including executives from movie studios and a range of private-sector companies and individuals seeking information about U.S. foreign policy and U.S. views on developments around the world,” she said.

“Our message in public and in private is the same: we respect artists' and an entertainer's right to produce content of their choosing; we have no involvement in such decisions.”

Asked at a regular briefing whether Washington considered the movie's content helpful or appropriate, Psaki replied: “It's a fiction movie. It's not a documentary about our relationship with North Korea. It's not something we have backed, supported or necessarily have an opinion on.”

Sony Pictures parent Sony Corp declined to comment on Lynton's exchange with Russel.

North Korean propaganda routinely warns of nuclear war with the United States and South Korea, its enemies during the 1950-53 Korean War which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The film, billed for release on Dec. 25, about journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, prompted Pyongyang to accuse Washington of committing an act of war by allowing its production.

Lynton's mail said Russel planned to designate someone within the State Department to “coordinate” with Sony on the case and suggested Sony contact the North Korean mission at the United Nations to stress that the film was not intentionally disrespectful.

“(Russel) explained that this was not an area the U.S. government would get involved in. It was our right as a private company to make and distribute the film,” Lynton said.

“He felt very strongly that this would not result in a nuclear attack by the Koreans.”

Sony CEO ordered ‘The Interview’ toned down, Rogen objected

Sony Corp. Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai ordered the film “The Interview” to be toned down after Pyongyang denounced it for depicting the assassination of North Korea's leader, according to emails apparently stolen from Sony's Hollywood studio.

The comedy, slated for U.S. release on Dec. 25, is about journalists played by Seth Rogen and James Franco who are hired by the CIA to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

According to emails that span from August through October and were obtained by Reuters, Hirai asked Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, to change a key shot in the film. It depicts Kim struck by a tank shell, causing his head to explode.

Pascal noted to Hirai that she had encountered resistance from the film's creators, including Rogen, who wrote and co-directed it.

Hirai's interest in the film shows the company's leadership was worried about Pyongyang's objections, even before a devastating cyber attack on Sony's Hollywood studio network last month that crippled most of it for more than a week.

A Sony Corp. official told Reuters that Hirai rarely reviews specific scenes in films.

North Korea complained to the United Nations in July, accusing the United States of sponsoring terrorism and committing an act of war by allowing production of the movie.

In an exchange with Rogen, Pascal said she was in a difficult position because Hirai had asked her to make changes in the film.

“And this isn't some flunky. It's the chairman of the entire Sony Corporation who I am dealing (with),” she said.

Rogen responded by promising to remove three of four burn marks on Kim's face, and reduce the “flaming hair” by 50 percent. But he said he could not meet all the demands.

“The head explosion can't be more obscured than it is because we honestly feel that if it's any more obscured, you won't be able to tell it's exploding and the joke won't work,” he said.

Representatives for Rogen declined to comment.

Details of the emails were reported late on Tuesday by Bloomberg News.

More than 100 gigabytes of information purportedly stolen from Sony have been released on the Internet, according to cybersecurity experts, who say the documents appear to be authentic.

Rogen initially told Pascal he objected to requests to modify the death scene, which he said would be viewed as censorship and hurt sales.

“This is now a story of Americans changing their movie to make North Koreans happy,” he said in an Aug. 15 email. “That is a very damning story.”

By October, however, he delivered what he hoped was the final version.

“This is it!!! We removed the fire from the hair and the entire secondary wave of head chunks,” he said. “Please tell us this is over now.”

North Korea slams U.S. movie on leader assassination plot; Un calls it ‘act of war’

North Korea on Wednesday denounced a forthcoming American comedy film featuring a plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong Un as an act of terrorism and threatened to unleash a “merciless counter-measure” if Washington failed to ban the movie.

The movie “The Interview”, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is scheduled for release in October this fall.

“Making and releasing a movie on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated,” the North's official KCNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

The Hollywood movie recounts the story of a talk show host and his producer who land a rare sit-down interview with Kim, the third leader of his family dynasty to rule North Korea.

The Central Intelligence Agency then recruits the pair to assassinate him.

Kim, in his early 30s, has shown no sign of easing the iron grip imposed by his grandfather, state founder Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011. Nor has there been any letup in the personality cult surrounding his leadership.

He has maintained tight control of virtually all aspects of life after ordering the execution of his powerful uncle to crush what was termed an attempt to overthrow the authorities. More than 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps, but Pyongyang rejects as “fabrications” details of mass brutality set out in a U.N.-sponsored report citing escapees and exiles.

The foreign ministry spokesman said North Koreans regarded the life of their leader as “more precious” than their own.

“If the U.S. administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless counter-measure will be taken,” the unnamed spokesman was quoted as saying.

The North currently holds three U.S. nationals, accusing them of various crimes, and remains technically at war with Washington's key Asian ally, South Korea.

North Korea routinely refers to Americans as “imperialist warmongers”, berates American leaders through its media and once called U.S. President Barack Obama a “wicked black monkey”.

But Kim is also believed to be a fan of American culture and oversaw the staging of a show featuring popular U.S. folklore.

He was seen giving a thumbs-up to dancing Disney characters and a performance set to the theme song from the film “Rocky”.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, the most high-profile American to meet Kim, sang “Happy Birthday” to the North Korean leader during his latest visit in January to stage a basketball game.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Ron Popeski

The North Korea Dennis Rodman will never see

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has a problem.
Seems he’s been taking a lot of heat lately for having Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and mentor, arrested, publicly humiliated in front of the country’s ruling elite, called out as a traitor, put on trial and executed – all with the lightening speed of an NBA All-Star fast-break. Suddenly, Kim’s carefully cultivated image of a youthful, vibrant Swiss-educated 21st leader took a beating. To make matters worse, Kim’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. 
How could the young tyrant rebound from the bad PR?
Enter friend Dennis Rodman, an ex-NBA defensive specialist, who these days specializes in helping to whitewash the brutal reality of the world’s most repressive regime.
When he landed at Pyongyang International Airport on December 21st, Rodman wasted no time in redirecting the media’s narrative. He confirmed that he was going to train North Korean basketball players for next month’s exhibition game with 12 as-of-yet unnamed former NBA players. The game will be played on Kim Jong Un’s birthday, January 8.  Rodman said to the Associated Press that if after the 12 former NBA players go home they say,  “some really, really nice things, some really cool things about this country,” then he has done his job.
“North Korea has given me the opportunity to bring these players and their families over here, so people can actually see, so these players can actually see, that this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media,” Rodman added.
So here is a quick primer on the North Korea that Dennis Rodman and company will never see:
For decades, North Korea has been the world's most controlled society and its regime among the most repressive. Taking a page from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Pyongyang maintains a Gulag — a series of punitive forced labor camps. There,  as many as 200,000 “enemies of the state”  languish, accused of criminal activity or merely of having the wrong neighbor or parent. Inmates have virtually no rights, no knowledge of the outside world, and little hope of getting out. Nuclear families are difficult to maintain and some of the few escapees describe a system where the jailers choose which inmates can co-habitate and when or if they can have children who then also live in captivity.

There are also chilling parallels to Nazi Germany. As associate dean of an institution bearing the name of Simon Wiesenthal, an NGO devoted to imparting the lessons of the Holocaust, I was so shocked by reports that innocent people were being murdered in gas chambers anywhere in the world, on our watch, that I traveled to Seoul to personally debrief three North Korean defectors who reportedly admitted involvement in such activities.

The oldest of the three was more interested in touting his skills in forging nearly undetectable $100 U.S. bills. When I pressed him on the human guinea pigs killed in gas chambers, he showed zero remorse, and shrugged, matter-of-factly “…those (political) prisoners were as good as dead anyway.”
I will never forget the anguish of a second defector who years after the fact broke down describing how he supervised the slow killing of parents and their child in a glass-encased chamber. Shocking details of how long the agony went on and the efforts of the doomed parents to breathe air into the lungs of their dying child were duly written down and forwarded for analysis to those in charge of the production and upgrade of North Korean poison gasses. (Some of these gasses constituted Bashar Assad's arsenal which originally threatened Israel, but were ultimately deployed against his own civilian population). The youngest defector carefully described his team’s involvement in experiments carried out on live specimens – animal and human.
Against this background of hidden horrors and public executions, it is no surprise that Kim Jong Un, like his tyrannical father and grandfather before him, takes great pains to shape and control the image projected at home and abroad.
It is interesting to note the many photos of Kim Jong-un in the company of children that have appeared in the tightly controlled State media. They are eerily reminiscent of Hitler's carefully nurtured public image in the 1930s.
And North Korea’s old guard, including now deceased Uncle Jang, may have missed an ominous hint of things to come, when the official newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, published photos of Kim scolding senior officials, all of them old.

On his last birthday, Kim Jong Un reportedly gave out copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf . Other  sources asserted that Kim was heard saying that North Korea's Ministry of Public Security should be a force even stronger than the Korean People's Army, “similar to the Gestapo.”

Whether he uttered those exact words or not, no one should be fooled by the contrived Kodak moments Dennis Rodman provides for his friend Kim Jong Un. The missile-rattling, nuclear-armed novice in Pyongyang– with friends in high places in Tehran and Syria– should make any rational person in South Korea, Japan, China, the U.S., and Israel, very, very worried.

And Dennis Rodman must open his eyes.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Vice Chair of the North Korean Freedom Coalition and member of the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

U.S.: North Korea agrees to nuclear moratorium

The United States said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and to allow nuclear inspectors to visit its Yongbyon nuclear complex to verify a halt to all nuclear activities including uranium enrichment.

The U.S. announcement paves the way for the possible resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang and follows talks between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in Beijing last week.

“To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The DPRK has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities,” it said.

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea’s official name.

The State Department said that in return the United States was ready to finalize details of a proposed food aid package of 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance, and that more aid could be agreed based on continued need.

“The United States still has profound concerns regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas, but today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these,” a State Department statement said.

It said Washington reaffirmed that it did not have hostile intentions toward North Korea and was prepared to take steps to improve bilateral ties and increase people-to-people exchanges.

The announcement followed the sit-down negotiations between the United States and with North Korea last week in Beijing, the first such meeting since the death of its longtime leader Kim Jong-il in December.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Glyn Davies, told reporters those talks made some progress on issues including nuclear non-proliferation, North Korea’s demands for food aid and other issues at the heart of regional tension.

The talks are aimed at laying the groundwork for renewed six-party disarmament negotiations with North Korea, whose ties with South Korea have deteriorated, especially after deadly attacks on the South in 2010.

Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Anthony Boadle

Remembering Kim Jong-Il’s victims

The pictures accompanying the news of the leadership change in North Korea are those of the dead dictator, Kim Jong-Il, and his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-Un.

But there are some other Koreans whose names and photos, though absent from the front pages, tell the real story.

Ri Hyon Ok was a 33-year-old mother of three who was publicly executed by the North Korean government on June 16, 2009, for the crime of giving away Bibles. Her husband and children were banished to North Korea’s vast political prison system the day after she was killed.

Son Jong Nam was tortured by North Korean authorities and imprisoned for three years, from 2001 to 2004. He lost 70 pounds while in captivity and emerged walking with a permanent limp. Arrested again in 2006 after police found Bibles at his home, he was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Soon Ok Lee is a survivor of the Kaechon prison camp. She testified on April 30, 2003, at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Human Rights that women political prisoners in North Korea “were unconditionally forced to abort because the unborn baby was also considered a criminal by law.” She testified, “Women in their eighth or ninth month of pregnancy had salt solutions injected into their wombs to induce abortion. In spite of these brutal efforts, some babies were born alive, in which case the prison guards mercilessly killed the infants by squeezing their necks in front of their mothers. The dead babies were taken away for biological tests. If a mother pleaded for the life of her baby, she was publicly executed under the charge of ‘impure ideology.’ ”

Kang Chol Hwan is another survivor of the North Korean prison camps. He met with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in June 2005. He’s spoken of how when one prisoner was hanged, “Thousands of prisoners were made to form one line and passed by the hanged person and threw stones at the dead body, shouting, ‘Let’s get rid of the people’s traitor.’ And because of throwing so many stones by thousands of prisoners, the faces and muscles were all torn up. Some women with weak heart, they didn’t obey and didn’t throw the stone. Then the officers condemned them, saying your ideology is doubtful. And beat them.”

And those are just a few whose names are known in the West. As the American special envoy for human rights in North Korea stated in a January 2009 report, “The names and stories of most of the approximately 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea are unknown outside of the country.”

President Barack Obama’s press secretary reacted to the news of Kim Jong-Il’s death with a statement about American commitment “to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.” Very nice, but our allies are already free. How about some freedom for the North Koreans, or a recognition that North Korea’s “stability” isn’t much consolation if you are about to be executed for having a Bible in your home? Not to mention that the hundreds of North Korean experts reportedly helping Iran’s nuclear missile program aren’t exactly adding to “stability.”

Jay Lefkowitz, who served from 2005 to 2009 as United States Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea, recommends making future food aid to North Korea conditional on Pyongyang’s first de-nuclearizing and opening up North Korean society. Otherwise, we’d just be feeding the North Korean military and the guards in those political prisons.

Mr. Lefkowitz said to me about Kim Jong-Il’s death: “This is a real opportunity.”

Here’s hoping that America and other powers with influence in the region seize the opportunity. The alternative is who-knows-how-many-more horribly grim tales from the North Korean gulag.