The Facts of North Korea Nuclear and WMD Program

Professionals at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge Laboratories estimate it would take up to ten years to dismantle all programs and operations in North Korea. Further, Tehran, Moscow and Beijing will work hard to delay what they can due to eliminating evidence of their respective involvement for decades in North Korea.

NYT’s: The vast scope of North Korea’s atomic program means ending it would be the most challenging case of nuclear disarmament in history. Here’s what has to be done to achieve — and verify — the removal of the nuclear arms, the dismantlement of the atomic complex and the elimination of the North’s other weapons of mass destruction.

Nuclear Capabilities

  • Dismantle and remove
    nuclear weapons

    Take apart every nuclear weapon in the North’s arsenal and ship the parts out of the country.

  • Halt uranium enrichment

    Dismantle the plants where centrifuges make fuel for nuclear reactors and atom bombs.

  • Disable reactors

    Shutter the nuclear reactors that turn uranium into plutonium, a second bomb fuel.

  • Close nuclear test sites

    Confirm that the North’s recent, staged explosions actually destroyed the complex.

  • End H-bomb fuel production

    Close exotic fuel plants that can make atom bombs hundreds of times more destructive.

  • Inspect anywhere, forever

    Give international inspectors the freedom to roam and inspect anywhere.

Non-Nuclear Capabilities

  • Destroy germ weapons

    Eliminate anthrax and other deadly biological arms, under constant inspection.

  • Destroy chemical weapons

    Eliminate sarin, VX and other lethal agents the North has used on enemies.

  • Curb missile program

    Eliminate missile threats to the U.S., Japan and South Korea.

President Trump says he is meeting Kim Jong-un in Singapore because the North Korean leader has signaled a willingness to “denuclearize.’’

But that word means very different things in Pyongyang and Washington, and in recent weeks Mr. Trump has appeared to back away from his earlier insistence on a rapid dismantlement of all things nuclear — weapons and production facilities — before the North receives any sanctions relief.

Whether it happens quickly or slowly, the task of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization’’ — the phrase that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo keeps repeating — will be enormous. Since 1992, the country has repeatedly vowed never to test, manufacture, produce, store or deploy nuclear arms. It has broken all those promises and built a sprawling nuclear complex.

North Korea has 141 sites devoted to the production and use of weapons of mass destruction, according to a 2014 Rand Corporation report. Just one of them — Yongbyon, the nation’s main atomic complex — covers more than three square miles. Recently, the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, inspected satellite images of Yongbyon and counted 663 buildings.

North Korea is the size of Pennsylvania. The disarmament challenge is made worse by uncertainty about how many nuclear weapons the North possesses — estimates range from 20 to 60 — and whether tunnels deep inside the North’s mountains hide plants and mobile missiles.

The process of unwinding more than 50 years of North Korean open and covert developments, therefore, would need to start with the North’s declaration of all its facilities and weapons, which intelligence agencies would then compare with their own lists and information.


Nuclear experts like David A. Kay, who led the largely futile American hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, argue that the North Korean arms complex is too large for outsiders to dismantle. The best approach, he contends, is for Western inspectors to monitor North Korean disarmament. The time estimates range from a few years to a decade and a half — long after Mr. Trump leaves office.

The magnitude of the North Korean challenge becomes clearer when compared with past efforts to disarm other nations. For instance, Libya’s nuclear program was so undeveloped that the centrifuges it turned over had never been unpacked from their original shipping crates. Infrastructure in Syria, Iraq, Iran and South Africa was much smaller. Even so, Israel saw the stakes as so high that it bombed an Iraqi reactor in 1981, and a Syrian reactor in 2007.

Undoing weapons of mass destruction

Full elimination Partial elimination
Steps North Korea Libya Syria Iraq Iran South Africa
Dismantle nuclear arms X X
Halt uranium enrichment X X X / X
Disable reactors X X X X
Close nuclear test sites X X
End H-bomb fuel production X
Destroy germ arms X X
Destroy chemical arms X X / X
Curb missile program X X

Here’s what is involved in each of the major disarmament steps:

Dismantle and remove
nuclear weapons

Under the eye of a declared nuclear state — like
the United States, China or Russia — take apart
every nuclear weapon in the North Korean arsenal
and safely ship the components out of the country.


North Korea released a photograph of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, center, inspecting what it said was a hydrogen bomb that could be fitted atop a long-range missile. Korean Central News Agency

John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, has argued that before any sanctions are lifted, the North should deliver all its nuclear arms to the United States, shipping them to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where inspectors sent Libya’s uranium gear.

It’s almost unimaginable that the North would simply ship out its weapons — or that the rest of the world would be convinced that it had turned over all of them.

Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who formerly headed the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, argues that the only safe way to dismantle the North’s nuclear arsenal is to put the job, under inspection, in the hands of the same North Korean engineers who built the weapons. Otherwise, he said, outsiders unfamiliar with the intricacies might accidently detonate the nuclear arms.

Halt uranium enrichment

Dismantle the plants where centrifuges
spin at supersonic speeds to make fuel
for nuclear reactors and atom bombs.

Factories holding hundreds of centrifuges spin gaseous uranium until it is enriched in a rare form of the element that can fuel reactors — or, with more enrichment, nuclear arms.

It’s easy to shut down such plants and dismantle them. The problem is that they’re relatively simple to hide underground. North Korea has shown off one such plant, at Yongbyon, but intelligence agencies say there must be others. The 2014 Rand report put the number of enrichment plants at five.

Because uranium can be used to fuel reactors that make electricity, North Korea is almost certain to argue it needs to keep some enrichment plants open for peaceful purposes. That poses a dilemma for the Trump administration.

In the case of Iran, it has insisted that all such plants be shut down permanently. After arguing that the Obama administration made a “terrible deal” by allowing modest enrichment to continue in Iran, it is hard to imagine how Mr. Trump could insist on less than a total shutdown in North Korea.

Disable reactors

Shutter nuclear reactors that turn uranium
into plutonium, a second bomb fuel.

Inside a reactor, some of the uranium in the fuel rods is turned into plutonium, which makes a very attractive bomb fuel. Pound for pound, plutonium produces far more powerful nuclear blasts than does uranium. In 1986, at Yongbyon, North Korea began operating a five-megawatt reactor, which analysts say produced the plutonium fuel for the nation’s first atom bombs. Today, the North is commissioning a second reactor that is much larger.

Jan. 17, 2018 image from DigitalGlobe via Institute for Science and International Security

Reactors are hard to hide: They generate vast amounts of heat, making them extremely easy to identify by satellite.

But reactors that produce large amounts of electricity — such as the new one being readied in North Korea — pose a dilemma, because the North can legitimately argue it needs electric power. It seems likely that the Trump administration will come down hard on the North’s new reactor, but might ultimately permit its operation if the North agrees for the bomb-usable waste products to be shipped out of the country.

Close nuclear test sites

Confirm that the North’s recent, staged
explosions actually destroyed the deep
tunnels and infrastructure, or take additional
steps to make the complex unusable.

Atom and hydrogen bombs need repeated testing to check their performance. Since 2006, the North has detonated nuclear devices at least six times in tunnels dug deep inside Mount Mantap, a mile-high peak in the North’s mountainous wilds.

Last month, the North blew up test-tunnel portals at Mount Mantap as a conciliatory gesture before the planned denuclearization talks. Experts say the thick clouds of rising smoke and debris, while impressive for television cameras, leave open the question of whether the damage is irreversible. Presumably, the North could also dig new test sites beneath other mountains. The Trump administration has called for an end to all explosive testing.

End H-bomb fuel production

Close exotic fuel plants that can make atom
bombs hundreds of times more destructive.

At the heart of a missile warhead, an exploding atom bomb can act as a superhot match that ignites thermonuclear fuel, also known as hydrogen fuel. The resulting blast can be 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. North Korea is suspected of having at least two sites for different aspects of H-bomb fuel production — one at Yongbyon, and one near Hamhung, on the country’s east coast.

The exotic fuels also have civilian uses for the manufacture of glow-in-the-dark lighting, exit signs and runway lights. The Trump administration stance is unclear. Atomic experts say the military threat can be reduced by shuttering large plants, building smaller factories and carefully regulating their products.

Inspect anywhere, forever

In a mountainous country, give
international inspectors the freedom
to roam and inspect anywhere — with
automated monitoring of key sites.

Under past nuclear agreements, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have lived in North Korea, but their movements were limited to small parts of the giant Yongbyon facility, where the nation’s nuclear reactors are located. For inspections to be effective, they must cover the whole country — including military facilities. (One of Mr. Trump’s complaints about the Iran agreement was that inspectors were inhibited from going anywhere.)

But inspecting all of North Korea — land of underground tunnels — would be an enormous job. American intelligence agencies have spent billions of dollars watching missiles move, mapping likely facilities, and using spy satellites and cyber reconnaissance to track the arms. But they have surely made mistakes, and missed some facilities. The problem gets larger if the inspectors are seeking out underground bunkers that hide missiles for quick strikes.

Destroy germ weapons

Eliminate anthrax and other deadly biological
weapons, under constant inspection.

Biological weapons can be more destructive than nuclear arms. A single gallon of concentrated anthrax is said to have enough spores to kill every person on Earth. The challenge is how to deliver the living weapons. The anthrax attacks of 2001 relied on letters, killing five people, sickening 17 others and frightening the nation.

North Korea is suspected of having a large complex for making germ weapons. The problem is learning its true dimensions, and verifying its dismantlement. While nuclear and missile tests advertise their developmental strides openly, the production and testing of deadly pathogens can be done behind closed doors.

Moreover, experts argue that the gear for producing germ weapons is often identical or similar to that of medicine and agriculture, making it extremely hard if not impossible for outsiders to verify that germ-weapon work has ended. The Trump administration’s stance is unknown other than it wants the North to end all work on biological weapons.

Destroy chemical weapons

Eliminate sarin, VX and other lethal
agents the North has used on enemies.

Last year, the deadly nerve agent VX was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of the North’s leader. The killing cast light on the North’s long pursuit of chemical weapons. Although the North denies having any, experts rank the nation as among the world’s top possessors, saying it harbors thousands of tons of the banned armaments.

The Trump administration’s negotiating list with the North includes chemical disarmament. Syria is a reminder of the difficulty. President Barack Obama cut a deal with Damascus to destroy its chemical arsenal. This year, the United States accused the Syrian government of using the banned weapons at least 50 times since the civil war began, topping previous official estimates. The attacks have maimed and killed hundreds of Syrians, including many children.

Curb missile program

Eliminate the long-range threat to the U.S. and
mid-range missile threat to Japan and South Korea.

In November, the North tested a greatly improved intercontinental ballistic missile that flew farther than any other — far enough to threaten all of the United States. It was a remarkable achievement that brought the current, long-escalating crisis to a head. While experts say the North still needs to do more testing to ensure that the missile’s warheads can survive fiery re-entry, the test flight showed that Mr. Kim had come remarkably close to perfecting a weapon that could threaten American cities.

Curbing the North’s missile program is high on the Trump administration’s negotiation list. A simple precaution is to limit the range of test flights — a fairly easily thing to monitor. A key question is whether arms negotiators will also try to redirect the North’s large corps of rocket designers and engineers into peaceful activities, such as making and lofting civilian satellites.

Rogue Meets Rogue, Obama and Iran

While the United States has terminated it’s role in the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal, Europe appears to be dedicated to remain. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is traveling in Europe meeting with leaders on the sole topic of Iran. As this item is published he is meeting with Theresa May of Britain.


On May 8, 2018, the President announced his decision to cease the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and to begin re-imposing the U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted to effectuate the JCPOA sanctions relief, following a wind-down period.  In conjunction with this announcement, the President issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) directing the U.S. Department of the Treasury and other Departments and Agencies to take the actions necessary to implement his decision.
Consistent with the President’s guidance, Departments and Agencies will begin the process of  implementing 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods for activities involving Iran that were consistent with the U.S. sanctions relief specified in the JCPOA.  To effectuate the wind-down periods, today the State Department issued the necessary statutory sanctions waivers to provide for a wind-down period and plans to take appropriate action to keep such waivers in place for the duration of the relevant wind-down periods.  As soon as is administratively feasible, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) expects to revoke, or amend, as appropriate, general and specific licenses issued in connection with the JCPOA.  At that time, OFAC will issue new authorizations to allow the wind down of transactions and activities that were authorized pursuant to the revoked or amended general and specific licenses.  At the end of the 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods, the applicable sanctions will come back into full effect.
OFAC posted today to its website additional frequently asked questions (FAQs) that provide guidance on the sanctions that are to be re-imposed and the relevant wind-down periods.
*** Iranian banks must comply with rules on money laundering ... photo

Why the big push on all of this? Iran has launched new uranium enrichment plans with meet the red line. But, could that enrichment exceed agreed limits? Yes and no one would know due in part to refused access by IAEA officials for inspection.

(Reuters) – Iran’s declaration that it could increase its uranium enrichment capacity if a nuclear deal with world powers falls apart risks sailing close to the “red line”, France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said on Monday he had ordered preparations to increase uranium enrichment capacity if the nuclear agreement collapsed after the United States withdrew from the deal last month.

It also informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog of “tentative” plans to produce the feedstock for centrifuges, which are the machines that enrich uranium.

“This initiative is unwelcome. It shows a sort of irritation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. “It is always dangerous to flirt with the red lines, but the initiative taken … remains totally within the framework of the Vienna (nuclear) deal.”

Tensions between Iran and the West have surged since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran last month, calling it deeply flawed and reimposing unilateral sanctions.

European powers are scrambling to save the deal – under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for a lifting of international sanctions – as they regard it as the best chance to stop Tehran developing an atomic bomb.

However, they have warned Iran that if it were not to abide by the terms of the deal, then they would also be forced to pull out and reimpose sanctions as Washington has done.

“If they go to a higher level then yes the agreement would be violated, but they need to realize that if they do then they will expose themselves to new sanctions and the Europeans will not remain passive.”

Le Drian, who said Iran was for now still abiding by its commitments, was speaking a day after Israel’s leader urged France to turn its attention to tackling Iran’s “regional aggression”, saying he no longer needed to convince Paris to quit a 2015 nuclear deal between various world powers with Tehran as economic pressure would kill it anyway.

MSNBC Hires the Organizer of Obama's Iran Echo Chamber as ... photo

** There is yet another item that has bubbled to the surface. Enter Barack Obama.

(AP) — The Obama administration secretly sought to give Iran access — albeit briefly — to the U.S. financial system by sidestepping sanctions kept in place after the 2015 nuclear deal, despite repeatedly telling Congress and the public it had no plans to do so.

An investigation by Senate Republicans released Wednesday sheds light on the delicate balance the Obama administration sought to strike after the deal, as it worked to ensure Iran received its promised benefits without playing into the hands of the deal’s opponents. Amid a tense political climate, Iran hawks in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere argued that the United States was giving far too much to Tehran and that the windfall would be used to fund extremism and other troubling Iranian activity.

The report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that under President Barack Obama, the Treasury Department issued a license in February 2016, never previously disclosed, that would have allowed Iran to convert $5.7 billion it held at a bank in Oman from Omani rials into euros by exchanging them first into U.S. dollars. If the Omani bank had allowed the exchange without such a license, it would have violated sanctions that bar Iran from transactions that touch the U.S. financial system.

The effort was unsuccessful because American banks — themselves afraid of running afoul of U.S. sanctions — declined to participate. The Obama administration approached two U.S. banks to facilitate the conversion, the report said, but both refused, citing the reputational risk of doing business with or for Iran.

“The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the subcommittee’s chairman.

Issuing the license was not illegal. Still, it went above and beyond what the Obama administration was required to do under the terms of the nuclear agreement. Under that deal, the U.S. and world powers gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. Last month, President Donald Trump declared the U.S. was pulling out of what he described as a “disastrous deal.”

The license issued to Bank Muscat stood in stark contrast to repeated public statements from the Obama White House, the Treasury and the State Department, all of which denied that the administration was contemplating allowing Iran access to the U.S. financial system.

Shortly after the nuclear deal was sealed in July 2015, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified that even with the sanctions relief, Iran “will continue to be denied access to the world’s largest financial and commercial market.” A month later, one of Lew’s top deputies, Adam Szubin, testified that despite the nuclear deal “Iran will be denied access to the world’s most important market and unable to deal in the world’s most important currency.”

Yet almost immediately after the sanctions relief took effect in January 2016, Iran began to complain that it wasn’t reaping the benefits it had envisioned. Iran argued that other sanctions — such as those linked to human rights, terrorism and missile development — were scaring off potential investors and banks who feared any business with Iran would lead to punishment. The global financial system is heavily intertwined with U.S. banks, making it nearly impossible to conduct many international transactions without touching New York in one way or another.

Former Obama administration officials declined to comment for the record.

However, they said the decision to grant the license had been made in line with the spirit of the deal, which included allowing Iran to regain access to foreign reserves that had been off-limits because of the sanctions. They said public comments made by the Obama administration at the time were intended to dispel incorrect reports about nonexistent proposals that would have gone much farther by letting Iran actually buy or sell things in dollars.

The former officials spoke on condition of anonymity because many are still involved in national security issues.

As the Obama administration pondered how to address Iran’s complaints in 2016, reports in The Associated Press and other media outlets revealed that the U.S. was considering additional sanctions relief, including issuing licenses that would allow Iran limited transactions in dollars. Democratic and Republican lawmakers argued against it throughout the late winter, spring and summer of 2016. They warned that unless Tehran was willing to give up more, the U.S. shouldn’t give Iran anything more than it already had.

At the time, the Obama administration downplayed those concerns while speaking in general terms about the need for the U.S. to live up to its part of the deal. Secretary of State John Kerry and other top aides fanned out across Europe, Asia and the Middle East trying to convince banks and businesses they could do business with Iran without violating sanctions and facing steep fines.

“Since Iran has kept its end of the deal, it is our responsibility to uphold ours, in both letter and spirit,” Lew said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in March 2016, without offering details.

That same week, the AP reported that the Treasury had prepared a draft of a license that would have given Iran much broader permission to convert its assets from foreign currencies into easier-to-spend currencies like euros, yen or rupees, by first exchanging them for dollars at offshore financial institutions.

The draft involved a general license, a blanket go-ahead that allows all transactions of a certain type, rather than a specific license like the one given to Oman’s Bank Muscat, which only covers specific transactions and institutions. The proposal would have allowed dollars to be used in currency exchanges provided that no Iranian banks, no Iranian rials and no sanctioned Iranian individuals or businesses were involved, and that the transaction did not begin or end in U.S. dollars.

Obama administration officials at the time assured concerned lawmakers that a general license wouldn’t be coming. But the report from the Republican members of the Senate panel showed that a draft of the license was indeed prepared, though it was never published.

And when questioned by lawmakers about the possibility of granting Iran any kind of access to the U.S. financial system, Obama-era officials never volunteered that the specific license for Bank Muscat in Oman had been issued two months earlier.

According to the report, Iran is believed to have found other ways to access its money, possibly by exchanging it in smaller quantities through another currency.

The situation resulted from the fact that Iran had stored billions in Omani rials, a currency that’s notoriously hard to convert. The U.S. dollar is the world’s dominant currency, so allowing it to be used as a conversion instrument for Iranian assets was the easiest and most efficient way to speed up Iran’s access to its own funds.

For example: If the Iranians want to sell oil to India, they would likely want to be paid in euros instead of rupees, so they could more easily use the proceeds to purchase European goods. That process commonly starts with the rupees being converted into dollars, just for a moment, before being converted once again into euros.

U.S. sanctions block Iran from exchanging the money on its own. And Asian and European banks are wary because U.S. regulators have levied billions of dollars in fines in recent years and threatened transgressors with a cutoff from the far more lucrative American market.

List of Issues for Talks Between Trump and Kim Jung Un

North Korea is holding up to 120,000 political prisoners in “horrific conditions” in camps across the country, according to estimates from a newly released State Department report.

The department on Tuesday issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, which covers 200 countries and territories, documenting religious freedom and human rights abuses.

The findings on North Korea come as the Trump administration is working to engage the isolated regime. The White House says the administration continues to “actively prepare” for a possible summit with Kim Jong Un.

The report, though, addressed the brutal conditions festering inside Kim’s kingdom. It revealed 1,304 cases of alleged religious freedom violations in the country last year, while detailing the harsh treatment of political and religious prisoners — and persecution of Christians.

Secretary of States Mike Pompeo is meeting with 4 Star General and head of the military intelligence, Kim Yong Chol is a longtime spy chief and vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party was responsible for hacking Sony. More here.

North Korea Releases 3 US Citizens Ahead of Trump-Kim ... photo

Then North Korea has 2 satellites in orbit and more planned in 2018-2019.

“The Unha launcher can put maybe 100 kilograms [220 lbs.] into a pretty low orbit, maybe 400 or 500 kilometers [250 to 310 miles]” above the Earth’s surface, Wright said. “By increasing the thrust, it allows North Korea to lift satellites to higher altitudes, or to carry a greater payload to longer distances if it is a ballistic missile.”

Wright noted that the earlier, Nodong engine was essentially a scaled-up version of the one in the Scud, the Soviet missile that Iraq often used during the Gulf War of the 1990s. Whereas the Nodong used Scud-level propellants instead of ones used in more modern rockets, Wright noted that the color of the flame coming from the new engine in photos of the test suggest that this missile uses more advanced propellants that can generate higher thrust. [Top 10 Space Weapons]

“The surprise has been why North Korea has stuck with Scud propellants for so long,” Wright said. “There have been reports for 15 years now that North Korea had bought some submarine-launched missiles from the Soviet Union after it collapsed that used more advanced propellants, yet in all this time, we didn’t see them launch missiles with anything but Scud propellant.

In 2016, At United States Strategic Command, controllers likely had a high-workload evening as STRATCOM monitored the launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome just eight minutes prior to North Korea’s launch, as is typical for launches from Russia’s military launch site. The ascending Unha rocket was tracked using the Space-Based Infrared System in Geostationary Orbit, capable of detecting the infrared signature of ascending rockets from ground level all the way into orbit. This allows the U.S. military to track the vehicle’s trajectory in real time before relying on ground-based radars to track any objects that entered orbit. More here .

Ah but there is but one more issue at least. Yes, North Korea imploded their nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. But…there are 4 more locations.

nk map amanda photo

The most important is Yongbyon, while the other locations appear to have slight or no activity.

Further, North Korea maintains a rather advanced air defense system, listed among the top in the world.

However, while North Korean technology is relatively primitive—the nation’s air defenses are coordinated.

“They do have an old Soviet computerized anti-aircraft command and control system. Most of the radars are old, but they did receive some newer Iranian phased array radars,” Kashin said. “This is what I know, the anti-aircraft units are extensively using underground shelters for cover—not easy to destroy.”

Thus, while generally primitive, North Korean defenses might be a tougher nut to crack than many might expect. Moreover, while their technology is old, North Korea’s philosophy of self-reliance means it can produce most of its own military hardware. More here.

North Korea has a fairly robust chemical and biological weapons program. The 46 page report is found here.

Lastly but hardly finally is the cyber weapons produced and applied by North Korea.

Most recently is: May 29, 2018, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a joint Technical Alert (TA) that identifies two families of malware—referred to as Joanap and Brambul—used by the North Korean government. The U.S. Government refers to malicious cyber activity by the North Korean government as HIDDEN COBRA.

In conjunction with the release of this TA, NCCIC has released a Malware Analysis Report (MAR) that provides analysis on samples of Joanap and Brambul malware.

NCCIC encourages users and administrators to review TA18-149A: HIDDEN COBRA – Joanap Backdoor Trojan and Brambul Server Message Block Worm and MAR-10135536-3 – RAT/Worm.

While there has been recent discussions about applying the Libya model to North Korea for removing nuclear weapons, you can bet Kim Jung Un is going to demand the Pakistan model.



China Annexed the DPRK, C’mon Admit it, China is an Adversary

Primer: The Fiscal 2019 NDAA includes impose a ban on technology products from Chinese firms such as ZTE and Huawei. Yet, North Korea has it courtesy of China.


The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is issued this advisory to further alert financial institutions to North Korean schemes being used to evade U.S. and United Nations (UN) sanctions, launder funds, and finance the North Korean regime’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic
missile programs.

Private companies in China are not private at all. The Chinese state holds at least some stock and often a larger voting block. Private Chinese companies invests all over the world including Venezuela, United States, Britain as well as regions such as Latin America and Africa.

You can bet most of those companies in North Korea are actually owned by the Chinese State.

China does bad things and yet no world leader publicly states that fact nor declares China is an adversary while China has declared the United States as an adversary. President Xi, the now eternal ruler quotes a dynasty cliche ‘Tǒngzhì yīqiè zài yángguāng xià’, translation is rule everything under the sun.

So now we have ZTE: ZTE, once the scourge of U.S. authorities for its violations of Iran sanctions, has become a key source of evidence about North Korea’s use of the American financial system to launder money, said the people, who gave details about the confidential investigations on the condition of anonymity. Federal investigators have been poring through data supplied by ZTE to find links to companies that North Korea has used to tap into the U.S. banking system, the people said.

Using evidence from ZTE, prosecutors on June 14 filed a case seeking $1.9 million held in six U.S. bank accounts in the name of China’s Mingzheng International Trading Limited. Prosecutors allege that Mingzheng is a front company for a covert Chinese branch of North Korea’s state-run Foreign Trade Bank. Between October and November 2015, Mingzheng was a counterparty to 20 illicit wire transfers in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, according to prosecutors.

On Aug. 22, prosecutors in Washington filed a lawsuit seeking more than $4 million in funds tied to China’s Dandong Chengtai Trading Limited and a network of companies owned by Chi Yupeng, a Chinese national with close ties to North Korea’s military. That same day, the Treasury Department added Dandong Chengtai Trading and several of its business affiliates, as well as Mingzheng, to the sanctions list. More here.

During the negotiations for the talks between Kim Jung Un and President Trump, ZTE was thrown in the mix. Why? China made some demands during recent trade talks. It was just announced that Trump imposed a $1.5 billion fine on ZTE and relayed that to President Xi. More negotiations and the final fine was $1.3 billion and alter the Board members of ZTE, which means that China state cannot have any management or vote. China will skirt that too. How so?

AEI explained it for us and quite well.

One of the substantial challenges in curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program is preventing Chinese companies from doing business with their pals in Pyongyang. Usually, Chinese companies in North Korea operate through networks of shell companies to avoid falling afoul of US and international sanctions. And most of these companies are small in scope and can easily rebrand themselves if caught. Enter Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE), not a small, expendable subsidiary, but instead a large PRC state-owned enterprise (SOE) with over 74,000 employees.

ZTE has transferred US technology to North Korea, supplying the Kim regime with US telecommunications tech that strengthens its defense capabilities by allowing it indirect access to US semiconductors (dual use technology for communications).  For that and other transgressions — including violating US Iran sanctions — ZTE paid a monster fine and entered into an agreement with the US to cease and desist. It was caught violating that agreement and banned from business with the United States as a result.

But President Trump offered China’s state-owned ZTE a lifeline via a May 13 tweet. Apparently, all that it took was for Chinese President Xi to dangle access for US agriculture exports to China in exchange for allowing ZTE to continue to do business with American firms. For what it’s worth, the president denied intending to lift the sales ban, but then followed up to describe a punishment that includes lifting the sales ban.

What’s Donald Trump’s message to Beijing (and Pyongyang and Tehran)? Companies that matter to China’s top leadership can violate US sanctions with impunity. All it takes is the will to blackmail the US and large Chinese SOEs will have carte blanche to supply the rogue regimes of the world.

Remember, Chinese SOEs that do business with North Korea are not motivated merely by profit. Instead, they are motivated by policy directives that originate in the Chinese Communist Party. Historically, China’s position on North Korea has been fairly opaque, yet its continued trade with the regime indicates Beijing has an interest in its wellbeing, in direct opposition to US interests and overall security in Asia.

At the end of the day, President Trump says he wants to cripple North Korea’s nuclear program. If North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un won’t denuclearize voluntarily, the US will have to rely on “maximum pressure,” including aggressive sanctions. Forgiving ZTE for violating US law is yet another example of the US shooting itself in the foot in dealing with North Korea. And probably not the last.

Meanwhile, as North Korea blew up the tunnels leading to the already destroyed nuclear test site, no one has asked where are those nuclear weapons now? No one has mentioned other possible military dimension sites or missile locations. Just as a reminder:



President Trump Withdraws from North Korea Nuclear Summit

A letter from President Donald Trump to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un canceling their planned meeting.  There are several things in play. China, Iran and Russia and North Korea are watching all U.S. positions and it began with the Pompeo demands announced of Iran since exiting the JCPOA, nuclear deal. Iran has not only responded with several nasty grams but Iran is putting threats towards Europe on many of their demands to stay in the deal.

National Security Counsel chair John Bolton is also being blamed by North Korea for the breakdowns due to the reference of the Libya model. That is an excuse as the Libya model for removing the nuclear program was far in advance of the removal of Maummar Gaddafi and his eventual death.

Further, there is the matter of China injecting itself into the preparations and talks between North Korea and the United States. North Korea follows all advise and leads from President Xi. Now, where are those pesky nuclear weapons in North Korea since the nuclear test site collapsed and was further blown up in a gesture move for selected outside media?

There is also the issue of the other locations of interest in North Korea that the United States is well aware of that proves China has aided and assisted in the military sites and nuclear program as had Iran and Russia. China does not want to be confronted with that proof.

Further, there is the matter of the ‘nuclear umbrella’.  Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella

In this book, Terence Roehrig provides a detailed and comprehensive look at the nuclear umbrella in northeast Asia in the broader context of deterrence theory and U.S. strategy. He examines the role of the nuclear umbrella in Japanese and South Korean defense planning and security calculations, including the likelihood that either will develop its own nuclear weapons. Roehrig argues that the nuclear umbrella is most important as a political signal demonstrating commitment to the defense of allies and as a tool to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the region. While the role of the nuclear umbrella is often discussed in military terms, this book provides an important glimpse into the political dimensions of the nuclear security guarantee. As the security environment in East Asia changes with the growth of North Korea’s capabilities and China’s military modernization, as well as Donald Trump’s early pronouncements that cast doubt on traditional commitments to allies, the credibility and resolve of U.S. alliances will take on renewed importance for the region and the world.

The U.S. nuclear umbrella in the region is not focused on North Korea but also incorporates planning against potential Chinese aggression. Nullifying or weakening the umbrella over the Peninsula, some would argue, might leave South Korea open to potential Chinese coercion and send the wrong signal at a time when China is seem by some as trying to pressure Taiwan and reassert its influence in the region.

Related reading: Japan Under the US Nuclear Umbrella

Related reading: The US Nuclear Umbrella Over South Korea