At 7 a.m. on May 6, Yu Xuejun received a phone call from the captain of a fishing boat he owns. "I asked him what the problem was," Yu told state broadcaster China Central Television in an interview broadcast Monday, "and he said one of the ships was missing" from off the coast of Liaoning, a Chinese province that borders North Korea.
Thus began the bizarre, opaque, and as-yet unresolved saga of the North Korean kidnapping of 16 Chinese fishermen.
The next day, May 7, Yu received a call on a satellite phone from someone he identified only as "the North Koreans' translator." The mysterious caller asked for $200,000. "Then," Yu told CCTV, "they said we don't want that much, just $130,000." Yu asked, "Why did you take my boat?" He couldn't understand the caller's answer.
"If you pay, we'll release the boat," the translator told Yu. The calls kept coming, from the same number. On the fourth call, Yu says, the captors dropped the number to $100,000 and allowed the captured captain to speak to him. "His voice was trembling. I could feel he was very afraid," Yu wrote on his microblog, where he broke the news of the kidnapping. "I suspected that my crew had been mistreated. I can't imagine what the North Korean side could do."
China remains North Korea's closest ally, yet often gets repaid for its friendship with inexplicable acts of aggression. The kidnapping was probably coordinated by Pyongyang -- as the Chinese newspaper the Global Times wrote on Monday, the kidnappers are "highly likely from the North Korean army." The paper also quoted Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asian Studies Center at northeast China's Yanbian University, speculating that North Korea is "taking revenge on China" for approving the U.N. sanctions that followed its nuclear test in February.
According to Yu, his boat is now by the island of Changyon, which hosts a North Korean military base -- one would guess that the boat would only be allowed to dock at that island with permission from Pyongyang. According to the website for state radio service Chinese Radio International, Kim Jong Un visited Changyon in 2012 and "expressed satisfaction" at the navy's state of readiness.
But if the "pirates" were actually members of the North Korean military acting in concert with Pyongyang, why the laughably small ransom? Yu told a Chinese journalist that he can't pay the "sky-high price" of $100,000 -- that may be true, but the sticker price for international incidents is usually higher than that of a luxury car. (By comparison, in 2010, the average ransom demand from Somali pirates was $5.4 million.)
It's not the first time this has happened. A year ago almost to the day, North Koreans abducted 29 Chinese fishermen; the identity of the North Koreans, or whether they were authorities or autonomous kidnappers, remains unknown. The fishermen were returned and relieved of all their possessions, in some cases even including their clothes and the pencils in their pocket. Is the North Korean army so starved of resources that it would steal writing utensils from Chinese fishermen?
Throughout its history, North Korea has been more on the receiving end of piracy, as its ships have rarely ventured overseas. In the Historical Dictionary of Democratic People's Republic of Korea, former British diplomat James Hoare writes that Japanese pirate attacks in the 16th century are one reason for North Koreans' historical hatred of Japanese.
So far, Beijing's public response to this latest hijacking incident has been muted. The Wall Street Journal reports that "Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China is in close communication with Pyongyang, without offering details," while China's Internet universe is understandably angry. ("Americans say, 'I'll attack whoever I want,'" writes Weibo user Christopher-Columbia in a typical post. "Us Chinese, we say, 'whoever attacks us, we'll just insult them in return,'" he adds.) The Journal also quoted retired general Luo Yuan as writing on his microblog, "North Korea has gone too far. Just because you're poor, that doesn't mean you can cross borders and detain people for ransom." Unless China does something, Pyongyang may prove Luo wrong.
What is happening in this photo that is making these children so emotional?
(Real caption after the jump)
For those born after a certain year, Barbara Walters may be best known for her banter with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on her talk show The View -- or her interviews with the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Michael Jackson. But with the 83-year-old Walters officially retiring next summer, we wanted to remind the whippersnappers among us to show some respect: Before The View, Walters snagged interviews with some of the most defining world leaders of the late 20th century.
Walters, after all, rode in a jeep with Fidel Castro, picking his gun up off the floor when they forded streams so it wouldn't get wet. She sparked a fight between the shah of Iran and his wife over whether women were capable of ruling countries. She asked Jiang Zemin whether he knew what happened to Tiananmen Square's tank man. More recently, she spoke with Bashar al-Assad about the Syrian military's brutal campaign against its own citizens.
Below is a selection of some of Walters's most noteworthy sit-downs with world leaders in the more than 50 years she's been on television.
Walters first met Fidel Castro in 1975, but had to wait two more years before she was able to nab the first American TV interview with the Cuban president. During her time on the island, Castro brought her to the mountains where he had been a guerrilla fighter (Walters and her production team spent the night at his camp). Her interview with him lasted five hours and, "in an unprecedented action," almost all of it aired on Cuban television. "The only part he deleted," Walters wrote, "was my question about whether he is married and his evasive answer. 'Formally, no!'"
Shah Reza Pahlavi
In the interview below, Walters asks the shah about how much support the CIA was providing to the Iranian regime. "Does the CIA play any part in this country today?" she asks. "Sure -- gathering information. We don't mind," the ruler replies.
The interview also included questions about the shah's views on women. "So you don't feel that women are in that sense equal, if they have the same intelligence or ability," Walters inquires. "Not so far," the shah replies. "Maybe you will become in the future. We can always have some exceptions."
"I give the shah credit," Walters later said. "He was certainly not politically correct ... he said what was on his mind."
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin
It was an historic milestone in November 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel since its founding. While he was there, Walters got him to agree to a joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Begin told Walters that he convinced Sadat to do the interview together "for the sake of our friend Barbara"). In the video below, Walters describes how she arranged the interview (footage of the interview itself wasn't available).
Walters later spoke of her admiration for Sadat. "He had such courage," she said.
During his interview with Walters, the new Chinese premier displayed what the New York Times called "a stunning cynicism" about the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square, which had taken place just a year earlier. The army behaved "with great tolerance and restraint," Jiang told Walters. "I don't think any government in the world will permit the occurrence of such an incident as happened in Beijing."
"It takes a lot to stop Barbara Walters in her tracks," New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield wrote. But even she was stunned when Jiang called the incident "much ado about nothing."
"We feel it's a great deal to do about something," she eventually retorted.
As late as 2011, Walters was still going after big names, scoring an exclusive interview with President Bashar al-Assad after the protests in Syria had begun (Walters later took some heat for assisting an aide of Assad's who she admitted helped her get the interview).
"Do you feel guilty?" Walters asks Assad toward the end of the conversation. "I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty, when you do your best," he responds. "You feel sorry for the lives that has been lost, but you don't feel guilty -- when you don't kill people."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a depressing data point about Washington's super-politicized debate over the Benghazi consulate attack: 39 percent of American voters who think the Obama administration's response to the assault represents the biggest political scandal in American history don't know that Benghazi is in Libya, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling. As PPP reports:
One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39% of them don't actually know where it is. 10% think it's in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess.
Overall, 58 percent of respondents knew Benghazi was in Libya, compared with more than 40 percent who chose another location or said they were not sure.
The survey found that just 23 percent of voters felt Benghazi was the worst scandal in U.S. history, and that most Americans think Congress should be paying more attention to issues like immigration reform and gun control than to the attack in Libya. But Republicans were particularly angry about the incident, with 41 percent of GOP respondents labeling Benghazi the country's darkest scandal (compared with only 10 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents). Republicans think Benghazi is even worse than Watergate (by a 74 to 19 margin) and Iran-Contra (by a 70 to 20 margin).
Still, the results aren't as clear cut as you might think. Yes, Republicans are angriest about Benghazi. And yes, more than a third of those who think Benghazi is the worst scandal in American history wouldn't be able to spot it on a map. But those two findings do not add up to Republicans as a whole not knowing where Benghazi is.
In fact, if you dig into the survey's cross tabs, you'll find that it was Democratic respondents who were most likely to say Benghazi was located in a country other than Libya:
You see something similar when you look at ideology, with very conservative respondents the most likely to identify Benghazi's location correctly and somewhat liberal respondents the least likely.
So what gives? Perhaps Republicans in general are actually better informed about Benghazi's geography because right-wing politicians and news outlets have spent more time dissecting the consulate attack and its aftermath.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
"I like Camus, man."
That's how Cody Wilson, the man behind the first fully functional 3-D printed gun, replied when asked by the right-wing radio host Alex Jones to describe his political heroes. This past week, Wilson's company, Defense Distributed, announced that it had created a functioning handgun produced by a 3-D printer -- a device that creates products from electronic blueprints by layering plastic -- and that it planned to make the schematics freely available online.
So far, Wilson's effort has largely been portrayed in the media in two ways: as a dangerous way to circumvent gun-control statutes and as a tech story about how an innovative manufacturing technology is being harnessed for unanticipated ends. But there's a political story here, too. While it's easy to caricature Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, as a right-wing nut hell bent on defending his Second Amendment rights, a common thread of anarchist thinking runs through nearly all Wilson's public statements. This isn't just a guy who loves his guns -- this is a political project. Or at least it purports to be.
"Now that we have a [federal license to manufacture guns] we can ... develop something like a single-shot completely printable plastic gun," he said on Alex Jones's show back in March. "Yes, it's undetectable, but more importantly it's unobservable by institutions and countries and sovereigns.... This might be a politically important object."
Wilson is the rare gun-rights advocate who drops names like Michel Foucault, Albert Camus, and John Milton in his interviews, and the worldview he's selling has more in common with hacktivist collectives like Anonymous than bearded woodsmen preparing for the end times. Here he is diagnosing the current state of American politics in a revealing Vice documentary:
There's this Fukuyamaist idea that like history had ended after the Cold War. Right? And that like if we could just tweak neoliberal democracy, everything's gonna be fine. Forever. You know that like somehow this is like the final political form? I mean this is ridiculous. And like you can see it -- there is no evidence of a political program anymore in the world, in America. There aren't genuine politics. There's the media telling you Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney is like the epic clash of ideology when we both know they're globalist neoliberals. They both exist to preserve like the interests of this relatively autonomous class of Goldman Sachs bankers.
So what exactly is Wilson proposing? Well, like any good leftist he's short on specifics. But consider the following exchange with Glenn Beck -- an appearance, by the way, that had Beck visibly uncomfortable:
GB: Ok, so are you an anarchist?
CW: I guess in a functional sense, sure. But perhaps like a principled one.
GB: I don't know what that means.
CW: Well there's a guy named Michel Foucault. And I'd recommend that you read him some time. Really I see the battle as one of just trying to remain human and against you know massive forces, anonymous forces of discipline and control that we can't really understand. I don't think there's a massive conspiracy. But I do think the self is under siege and I think liberty itself is under siege...
So if we take Wilson seriously, his 3-D gun project is aimed at reclaiming some sense of individual autonomy, which has been stripped away by the regulatory impulses of the state. The project, he claims, is a deeply moral one aimed at forcing individuals to face up to their choices:
Milton's Areopagitica is essentially the spiritual analogue that I'm holding out for people. Which is more to do not about like why guns are good. It's more about why like speech and information is good. Why like you just must reckon with, you must be free to reckon with whatever ideas that you can. It isn't enough that a society can just withhold things. That doesn't befit you as a moral agent. That doesn't allow you to exist or to, that doesn't allow you to fully exercise your capacity as a human being, as a moral agent.
As much as Wilson would like to present himself as a gun sage, he also possesses a deal of old-fashioned anti-establishment anger, and that's a perspective that doesn't quite square with his high-minded invocation of John Milton:
But what this project's really about, fuck your laws, you know what I'm saying? It's stepping up, it's being able to go, you know what, I don't like this legal regime I neatly step outside of it. Now what, you know?
That's a perspective that should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Anonymous. And it's a serious problem when a group aspiring to real political power busies itself instead with cursing off the government. Maybe Milton has something to say about that.
This afternoon, the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime, appeared to briefly hack into the Onion's Twitter feed. Over the course of about an hour, the SEA tweeted seven times from @TheOnion, and claimed responsibility for the attack on the Onion's @ONN account (the satirical newspaper's parody of 24-hour news networks) before the messages were deleted.
You could say the SEA's attacks have been a bit hit or miss over the past several months. The group's members promoted an alternate narrative of the Syrian civil war when they hacked into @60Minutes last month, but also tweeted fat jokes about the emir of Qatar, a backer of the opposition, when they hacked the BBC's weather account ("Earthquake warning for Qatar: Hamad Bin Khalifah about to exit vehicle").
In one of their strangest strikes yet, the SEA broke into the Twitter feed of the television channel E! on Sunday to "out" Justin Bieber and then to tweet, "Angelina Jolie admits, in E! latest issue, that Jordan is to blame for the Syrian refugees' atrocious conditions" -- a sentence that under no circumstances would ever appear on E!
Today, the SEA fell back on fat jokes about Qatar's ruler ("NASA: 9th planet discovered and identified as the Qatari Emir") and also took a few jabs at Israel -- "UN's Ban Ki Moon condemns Syria for being struck by Israel: 'It was in the way of Jewish missiles;'" "The #Onion CEO: 'We regret taking zionist money to defame Syria. now the hackers are up our ass;'" "Poland to double flights from the Middle East, anticipating Israeli mass exodus. 'The bagel bakery ovens are working over time' ~ Larry" -- after the Israelis reportedly launched two airstrikes against weapons depots in Damascus in the past week.
Whoever was behind the hacking demonstrated a fairly proficient knowledge of the Onion's style (for example, attributing a quote without context to "Larry") and included a well-timed "Futurama Fry" meme as Twitter followers wondered if @TheOnion had been hacked, or if the tweets were simply more satire:
Though the Onion is first and foremost a satirical site, it has also hosted some of the most trenchant commentary on the Syrian civil war, leaving little doubt about why it was targeted. Darkly humorous articles from the past year and a half have included titles such as, "'Help Has To Be On The Way Now,' Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed," "Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started," "Target Pulls All Sponsorship From Publicly Ignored Syrian Conflict," "Alien World To Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To," and an op-ed by Bashar al-Assad titled, "Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People."
So perhaps it's not a surprise that when the news outlet finally regained control over its Twitter feed, it had this to say:
Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels onion.com/11ctVJg— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 6, 2013
Europe has a romanticized history of lone figures joining "the cause" in war-torn foreign countries -- from Lord Byron's death fighting for Greek independence to George Orwell's storied participation in the Spanish Civil War. But tales of Europeans joining Syrian rebels on the frontlines haven't exactly been met with enthusiasm.
"Not all of them are radical when they leave, but most likely many of them will be radicalised" in Syria, the EU's anti-terror chief, Gilles de Kerchove, told the BBC on Wednesday, noting that an estimated 500 Europeans are fighting in Syria's civil war, where they could come under the influence of al Qaeda-linked groups like the al-Nusra Front.
Governments from Australia to the United States share these concerns, but the apprehension is less about the impact of this cadre of foreign fighters on Syria's conflict -- who, as we noted recently, form a tiny fraction of the resistance -- and more about what could happen when these citizens return home.
Australia, which has seen around 200 of its residents join the action in Syria, has made it clear that anyone fighting in the conflict is breaking Australian law. The Australian Federal Police have distributed flyers with the following statement:
Australia has imposed an arms embargo on Syria. This means it is illegal for any person in Australia, or any Australian citizen (including dual citizen), anywhere in the world, to provide any kind of support to any armed group in Syria - Government or opposition; Syrian or foreign.
Interestingly enough, another country that has weighed in on the legality of foreign participation is Saudi Arabia. Though the kingdom has a strategic interest in encouraging the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad, it is apparently illegal for Saudi citizens to join in the combat. As NPR reports, the official line may be more diplomatic than dogmatic:
Fighting with the rebels in Syria is illegal, declared Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. "Anybody who wants to travel outside Saudi Arabia in order to get involved in such conflict will be arrested and prosecuted," he said. "But only if we have the evidence before he leaves the country."
NPR goes on to quote Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, a Saudi professor and human rights activist as saying this amounts to a "don't ask, don't tell policy."
The United States is also taking a variety of legal approaches to address the issue. As my colleague Josh Keating noted back when an American joined the Libyan rebels, it's generally legal for Americans to fight in another country's army -- so long as they're not fighting against America:
According to the U.S. code, any citizen who "enlists or enters himself, or hires or retains another to enlist or enter himself, or to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States with intent to be enlisted or entered in the service of any foreign prince, state, colony, district, or people as a soldier or as a marine or seaman ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both." But a court ruling from 1896 involving U.S. citizens who fought with Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule interpreted this to mean that it was only illegal for citizens to be recruited for a foreign army in the United States, not to simply fight in one....
A few caveats: If an American joins an army engaged in hostilities against the United States, that's considered an act of treason and punishable by death. The law also, obviously, doesn't sanction membership in designated terrorist organizations...
Just last Friday, the FBI arrested Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, an 18-year-old from Aurora, Ill., at O'Hare Airport before he boarded a flight to Istanbul. The Chicago Tribune reports that Tounisi told an undercover FBI agent he intended to join the al-Nusra Front. He now faces up to 15 years in federal prison for the felony charge of "attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization."
And in late March, when Eric Harroun, the U.S. citizen who trained and fought with the al-Nusra Front, returned to the United States, he was oddly enough charged for conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction -- specifically rocket-propelled grenades.
The European Union, meanwhile, has yet to make a concerted legal effort to bar citizens from joining the fight in Syria. While one man was detained last week in Belgium for allegedly recruiting residents to go to Syria, efforts have largely focused on curbing the effects of radicalization. As the BBC reports, the EU is "pushing to bring in a Europe-wide passenger database for air-travel which in future could help track individuals down."
It's a thorny problem to solve. As de Kerchove, the EU anti-terror chief, reminds us, "[n]ot all of them are radical when they leave."
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
With Egypt's economy entering crisis mode, you'd think government officials would have their hands full. But Prime Minister Hesham Kandil seems to be finding time for the obscure mobile game Smurfs' Village. Or at least that's how his Twitter account made it seem on Monday, when a tweet that may have been automatically generated by the app appeared on his feed, reading "Doctor Smurf prescribes cakes, pies and smurfberries as part of a healthy diet."
The bizarre tweet has since been deleted from his account, but not quickly enough to prevent an inevitable onslaught of snark. The blog Egyptian Chronicles, for instance, ran with the gleeful headline, "The PM of Smurfs Village!!"
One Twitter user blamed the politician's smurf addiction for Egypt's current state of turmoil:
.@kandilhesham someone's having a VERY productive day at the office. No wonder the country's going down the pooper.— Farah Saafan (@FarahSaafan) April 1, 2013
Another pointed out the tweet's problematic public health implications:
.@kandilhesham should you really be advising people to eat cakes, pies and smurfberries when Egypt is dealing with a diabetes epidemic?— sherief gaber (@cairocitylimits) April 1, 2013
Some people, however, were a bit more understanding:
We've blogged before about politicians whose accounts have accidentally been hijacked by apps after their children used their phones to play games. Our advice still applies: In an age where a stray tweet can provoke an almost automatic backlash, politicians should keep their phones out of the hands of their children. Unless, that is, they're playing the games themselves.
Screenshot of Twitpic
The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.
Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.
Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.
An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."
Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."
Today, North Korea unveiled its "U.S. mainland strike plan" in a map showing Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California as primary targets. The map appeared in a photograph of an "emergency meeting" between Kim Jong Un and his top military advisors, and was broadcast by the country's propaganda arm KCNA.
It's a little difficult to make out because the lines of the continental United States are so light, but the above image shows lines pointing directly to the mainland targets of Los Angeles and Austin (Kim is clearly upset he never got to host a SXSW interactive panel on the future of Logitech hardware.) This expanded image below shows the area of the map more clearly (NK News has a smart overlay here).
Almost as soon as this latest threat surfaced, weapons experts laughed it out of the room given its ambitious assessment of North Korea's weapons capability. "How clumsy of #NKorea to accidentally display their US Mainland Striking Plan -- with ICBMs that don't exist," tweeted Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "If North Korea tried very hard and got lucky, they might be able to develop and ICBM version of the Unha-2 in five years," he later told FP in an e-mail exchange. Speaking to the country's missile range specifically, IHS Jane's Defense Weekly editor James Hardy wrote that "there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed."
Obviously, it's possible that U.S. intelligence and independent analyses underestimate North Korea's capabilities, a concept fleshed out by our own Kevin Baron this week. But for comparison purposes, here's the extent of North Korea's missile range according to Western experts.
First, this map data is from the Federation of American Scientists and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. As you can see, North Korea's operational missile capacity, in green, can't even make it to India.
On the more charitable end, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that the Taepodong-2 rocket could make it to Alaska, but no further.
Bottom line? SXSW appears to be safe ... for now.
Today, North Korea scolded the South for its reported plan to destroy two giant bronze statues in Pyongyang if the North issues any further provocations. Experts on the conflict, speaking with Foreign Policy today, tend to agree with the North: This would be a really bad idea.
The South Korean plan first surfaced yesterday in the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which cited government sources saying a surgical strike on statues of patriarchs Kim Jong il and Kim il Sung would convey an important message to the North Koreans:
The statues are considered sacred in the North, and any damage to them could deliver a huge psychological impact. "If North Korea launches another provocation, our military has developed a plan to respond with air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles to strike not only the source of provocation as well as support and command forces, but also some statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il," a government source here said Sunday.
towering bronze statues deifying the late Korean
leaders reside atop Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang. While the analysts we spoke to noted that South Korea has patiently
endured military bombardments, provocations and insults from the North for
years, they raised a number of concerns about the wisdom of the hypothetical
Technically, this would be difficult to pull off
"It doesn't make sense to me," Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told FP. "The air defenses around Pyongyang are much tougher than around the naval and air installations on the West Sea. I think their general practice in the South will be to hit the regional command HQ responsible for any provocative strike --and the most likely spot for a NK hit would be on the West Sea."
These statues are a non-strategic target. The strike wouldn't be worth it
Wiping out the statues would be gratifying from a nationalistic standpoint, noted Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "I think this stems from a strong South Korean determination to send a message to North Korea that nuclear weapons acquisition has not given North Korea the capacity to use its nuclear status as an instrument of blackmail toward the South," he told FP. But Snyder emphasized that the statues are "non-strategic targets." Not only would they not weaken North Korea's military, but hitting them wouldn't guarantee a proportional response from the North. " The South Korean response places a premium on the North ensuring that it also has a plan for managing escalation control stemming from any conflict." Of course, no one can say for sure what the North would do.
Are you crazy? This would ignite a Second Korean War.
Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-South Korean Institute at Johns Hopkins, said this kind of a strike would almost certainly escalate the conflict beyond anyone's control. "If South Korea were to bomb the statues, this would effectively be the start of the Second Korean War," he said. "Bombing Mansudae Hill would be like the North Koreans bombing the Blue House [the South Korean president's residence]. How can either country stand down from that?"
North Korea issued a new threat to the United States on Tuesday saying its long-range field artillery units are now on the "highest alert" possible. Like turning an amplifier "up to eleven" -- a concept that doesn't actually make a guitar louder -- the move is stylistic rather than substantive.
That's not to say U.S. intelligence officials may not be underestimating the North's capabilities -- a concern that Kevin Baron reported on this morning -- but the new "warning" of an attack on the U.S. homeland isn't substantively different from previous threats against the homeland. "It does seem that the North Koreans are on the verge of running out of threats," Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy earler this month.
To demonstrate this, we've updated our running list of North Korea threats below. But first: This Is Spinal Tap:
And here: The latest threats from North Korea beginning with the warnings that followed the international sanctions over Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February.
On Friday, French President François Hollande defended his plan to supply weapons to Syrian rebels, as part of a British and French effort to lift the EU's arms embargo. If Libya is any example, U.S. thinking may not be far behind -- especially as the conflict's death toll climbs above 70,000.
Clearly, the Obama administration is reluctant to flood the conflict with arms for fear that they could wind up in the hands of extremist groups such as the Nusra Front. But if Barack Obama does buckle under the pressure of Syria hawks, many of whom he personally hired, there are a range of powerful weapons that could potentially turn the tide in the rebels' favor. Which ones? To find out, we talked to top arms expert Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute, and Chris Dougherty, research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Weapon: Anti-aircraft weapons such as the 9K38 Igla -- a Soviet-made, man-portable, infrared-homing surface-to-air missile.
Pros: In many areas of the country, rebels are getting creamed by the regime's arsenal of Soviet- and Russian-made jets, the most advanced being Mig-29 Fulcrums. There are already plenty of MANPADS in the hands of Syrian rebels, but not in some of the most heavily targeted areas, White told Foreign Policy. "Down in Daraa province, we're not seeing a lot of anti-aircraft activity, or in Damascus, which is important," he explained. If the United States wanted to make a big splash, shipping surface-to-air missiles to Daraa province and Damascus via Jordan, where Syrian jets have strafed freely, could have a big impact. They would also be helpful in rebel-held areas like Aleppo that face frequent aerial bombardments.
Cons: Legitimate fears persist that dumping this type of powerful weaponry in the middle of an extremist hotbed could create serious blowback for the United States in ways one can't easily anticipate. This is especially the case with some of the more sophisticated MANPADS such as the SA-24. As Popular Mechanics noted last year, these pack a powerful punch. "The SA-24 missiles, made in Russia, can shoot down an aircraft flying at 11,000 feet," the magazine pointed out. Domestic airliners are particularly vulnerable. After 9/11, Congress poured money into methods of jamming SA-24s. But after 8 years with no success, the White House cut the program last year, meaning commercial airliners remain exposed.
Weapon: Tanks, such as T-62s, T-65s, or T-72s from Warsaw Pact countries.
Pros: Rebels are already
operating all three types of tanks listed above, which they've captured from
regime forces. Handing these off to a preferred rebel group would give those
units a substantial firepower advantage over other rebel units, and open up
opportunities to push back against the regime. Successful attacks by rebels'
armored vehicles against Syrian tanks have already been documented:
Cons: Besides the potential for devastating blowback, there's also a tactical downside. Once you transition the rebels from light infantry forces to heavier forces, they are less nimble and become easier targets for conventional regime forces.
Weapon: Anti-tank guided missiles or rocket-propelled grenade launchers such as RPG 29s.
Pros: Very effective against
T-72 tanks with reactive armor. Though some are in rebel hands, there aren't
many. "The regime relies very heavily on its armored fighting vehicles and the
rebels simply don't have enough of these systems," said White. "Giving the
rebels more anti-tank weapons would significantly cut into their ability to
repel the regime."
Cons: Unless you were living under a rock, you remember what happened last September, when extremists armed with rocket-propelled grenades stormed the U.S. compound in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and four others. Given that this occurred in the aftermath of the Libyan civil war, which saw a flood of foreign weapons enter the country, the parallels couldn't be more relevant.
Weapon: Indirect fire weapons
such as mortars: 122 mm and 120 mm guns.
Pros: Effective against the
regime's field artillery, which includes cannons, mortars, and rocket launchers. "Unless
rebels get more indirect fire weapons, it's really hard to get after the
regime's artillery," said White. "Getting mortars would substantially increase
rebel capability and address the disparity in firepower."
Cons: As with the argument against rocket-propelled grenades, the downsides of these weapons getting into the wrong hands are significant.
Weapon: Guided mortar rounds, which are essentially mortar rounds that are deployed at a ballistic trajectory and use fins to guide them to a desired GPS coordinate.
Pros: The rounds would help the rebels hit fixed Syrian positions -- including barracks, airfields, and roadblocks -- with much more accuracy. "The rebels may now have some mortars, rockets, or recoilless rifles, but those unguided weapons depend on the skill of the user to hit a target," Dougherty told FP. "Given the Assad regime's air superiority and the likely low level of training possessed by the rebels, any successful long-range attacks with unguided weapons are probably the result of sheer, dumb luck. Guided mortars would give the rebels the ability to hit a fixed target accurately and consistently -- regardless of range."
Cons: There's a high risk that such weapons could fall into the hands of U.S. foes, which could result in a high level of destruction. "The United States wouldn't want to lose positive control over these weapons -- one of them fired at a major tactical operations center in Afghanistan could kill a substantial number of personnel," said Dougherty.
Weapon: Training and support from a Special Forces Operational Detachment deployed to Syria or a neighboring country.
Pros: It's not unheard of for U.S. special operations forces to say "humans are more important than hardware," Dougherty notes. "This training and advice doesn't need to mold the rebels into a conventional fighting force -- it needs to make them the most effective guerrilla force they can be," he said. "It may not be 'sexy,' but without proper training and advice, the rebels won't be able to use advanced weapons systems properly, nor will they be likely to wield them to full strategic effect."
Cons: These types of special forces units are still deployed in Afghanistan, so they're in high demand. It also wouldn't be a short deployment. "Building trust with foreign partners takes persistent, long-term engagement," said Dougherty.
North Korea is famous for its lack of Internet access, but that doesn't mean it's pleased when its servers happen to melt down. This morning, after reports of disruptions to its news services, the country lashed out at the United States and South Korea for allegedly shutting off its Internet.
"It is nobody's secret that the U.S. and the South Korean puppet
regime are massively bolstering up cyber forces in a bid to intensify the
subversive activities and sabotages against the DPRK," said KCNA, the
country's chief propaganda outlet. "Intensive and persistent virus attacks
are being made every day on Internet servers operated by the DPRK."
KNCA provided scant details about the allegation, but the Associated Press reports that foreigners in Pyongyang said they could not get online on Wednesday or Thursday. A Bangkok-based company that services North Korea's Internet also acknowledged a cyber attack but noted that servers were recovering on Friday. In any event, given North Korea's reputation for prohibiting and censoring Internet use, how many of its citizens would actually be affected by a cyber blackout?
It turns out, a vanishingly small number. Though the DPRK doesn't publish Internet penetration statistics, the estimates range from "a few hundred people" to "1,000 at most," according to analysts speaking with Agence France Presse. A less generous estimate offered by the BBC in December pinned unrestricted access to "just a few dozen families -- most directly related to Kim Jong-un himself." That's because Internet use is banned for average citizens, though exceptions can be made for other types of people in the country.
For example, last month, foreign residents of Pyongyang were informed that a mobile Internet service would be available March 1, provided by Korean Post and Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt's Orascom Telecom. But sorry locals. "The policy only covers those from outside the country," reported Wired magazine. "Citizens of the country are still barred from making international calls and accessing the internet. As such the move is likely to be entirely centred around generating revenue from tourism and not a result of Eric Schmidt's recent visit to the country."
If you do manage to get online, you probably won't like what you see. That's because instead of the Internet, North Korea has the Intranet, a domestic service built in 2008 that isn't connected to the rest of the world. As the BBC's David Lee discovered while surfing the web in Pyongyang's only cyber cafe, it's a pretty lonely place:
What they see is an internet that is so narrow and lacking in depth it resembles more an extravagant company intranet than the expansive global network those outside the country know it to be.
Typical sites include news services - such as the Voice of Korea - and the official organ of the state, the Rodong Sinmun.
But anyone producing content for this "internet" must be careful.
Reporters Without Borders - an organisation which monitors global press freedom - said some North Korean "journalists" had found themselves sent to "revolutionisation" camps, simply for a typo in their articles.
At last check, the Internet appears to be back up for foreigners. About 48 minutes ago, for example, the AP's chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder uploaded an Instagram photo of a violent propaganda painting inside a Pyongyang kindergarten. Hooray for the .0o1 percent?
We're all familiar with the genre of storytelling in which two characters, usually male, leave home and embark upon a quest. Hilarity and misadventure often ensue, as lessons are learned, mistakes are regretted, and friendships are tested and reaffirmed. It's an old American standard, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the Blues Brothers, but the latest version is more Robot Chicken than Hollywood: Colorful former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman says he plans to vacation with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un this August.
Rodman, who visited Pyongyang in late February, confounding the North Korea-watching world with the access he received, didn't give any more details about their travel plans. Of course, in a world where the best known source for the nuclear-armed leader of a misanthropic state is a basketball player who, in 1996, married himself, the two figures traveling together is not all that surprising.
Still, where will they go?
Rodman has spent a lot of time in Las Vegas, but Kim, considering his country just threatened the United States with a preemptive nuclear strike, probably wouldn't be able to get a visa. If Kim wants to get out of Asia, there's always the Montreux Casino on the shores of Lake Geneva in discreet Switzerland. Kim reportedly spent a few years in state-run school in nearby Berne, where "he was a big fan of the Chicago Bulls," Reuters quoted one of his classmates as saying.
Kim's father and grandfather, North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung respectively, were reportedly afraid of flying. If Kim Jong Un has developed the same phobia or paranoia as his father, who reportedly survived two assassination attempts, his international vacation options are limited.
Harbin, a Chinese city known for its beer, is nearby; it's not the best tourist destination, but they could visit Stalin Park (yes, that Stalin) and Kim could see what Chinese-led development could mean for Pyongyang.
In the end, a domestic holiday is probably the best choice: there's the scenic Mt. Paedku, the mountain that straddles the border between China and North Korea, on which, legend has it, Kim Jong Un's father was born; or a hotel near Mt. Myohyang, featuring fresh air that supposedly cures hangovers. (I stayed there in 2008; if memory serves, we nicknamed it The Overlook and wondered when the blood would rush from the elevators.)
And of course, there's North Korea's rollercoasters.
If you thought 8-bit video games were only fodder for nostalgic Gen X'ers -- think again. A new jihadi game that pits Islamic militants against the French Air Force in Mali is taking Islamic Internet forums by storm.
primitive game, titled "Muslim Mali," simulates aerial combat against French
fighter jets, which have been waging a real-life offensive in Mali since
January, and is designed to inspire fellow extremists to take up arms against the
French. Once a user clicks "play," an Arabic message appears with the words,
"Muslim Brother, go ahead and repel the French invasion against Muslim
If you're curious, or have a latent desire to destroy French airplanes in 2-D, you can play it yourself here. But first, let's explore some of the features. The home screen displaying the words "Muslim Mali" features a poem encouraging jihad against infidels.
After you click "play," the setting changes to an expansive Malian desert. The first-person player appears in a stealth fighter jet draped in a black al Qaeda flag, while oncoming French forces appear in standard fighter jets that our defense procurement expert John Reed identifies as Su-47 Berkuts.
During my "research," I found the game incredibly easy. The French jets are pathetically slow. What's more, the al Qaeda craft can withstand 10 (!) direct missile hits before exploding. But if you're really bad at the game, no worries: Upon dying, a message appears with the words, "Congratulations, you have been martyred."
Perhaps the best feature is a special black button in the bottom-left corner that reads, "There is no God but God. And Mohammad is his messenger." If you click it, it sends a pulverizing black laser of death at the enemy. Spooky, huh?
For a little background, the game first appeared on the Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum, according to the jihadi monitoring service the Middle East Media Research Institute, which is currently hosting the game on its servers. The users who created the game, Ta'ir Al-Nawras 07 and Ghareeb Fi Al-Hayat, have been offering to teach others how to create such games. Impressively, the game uses HTML5 and can be played on a laptop or tablet device. It's a brave new world, isn't it?
Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where to file the lawsuit. She is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
This isn't the first time the Iranian government has complained about the film's portrayal of the Iranian people during the 1979 hostage crisis. In February, the government even organized a conference to highlight the anti-Iranian ideology behind Ben Affleck's film and other movies. The lawsuit was discussed on Monday during yet another conference in Tehran for Iranian cultural officials and movie critics entitled "The Hoax of Hollywood."
While the details of how (and if) Iran will go about suing Hollywood have yet to be released, one can't help but wonder: Does Iran actually have a case?
The short answer? Not really. "The threshold for a defamation suit in this context is pretty steep," Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told FP. To prove defamation, you have to not only establish that what is presented as fact is actually false (a difficult task when dealing with a partially fictionalized movie), but also that the plaintiff's reputation was injured, causing financial damages. "I'm not sure how the current Iranian regime would go about proving damages," Andrews notes. "The film is loosely based on events from 1979, not 2013. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is dead, and as a general rule of law you cannot libel the dead."
Even if Iranian officials choose to pursue a case of group libel -- a controversial legal theory, typically raised in cases of racial hate speech -- they would still have to prove that the regime suffered an injury to reputation and measurable damages as a result of the film.
As for where Iran could file its lawsuit, Noah Feldman, a professor of international and constitutional law at Harvard, tells FP, "The Iranianans could bring suit in any place where the film is shown, I suppose, and rely on anti-defamation laws." Still, he adds, "it seems highly unlikely to go anywhere in any credible jurisdiction."
Then again, Andrews reminds us, "it's the easiest thing in the world to file a suit." So while Iran might have an exceedingly difficult time proving their case, that won't necessarily stop them from giving the makers of Argo a minor headache in the process.
© 2012 - Warner Bros. Pictures
RIA-Novosti wins the prize for the scariest headline of the day (though Kim Jong Un's pledges to obliterate a South Korean island are giving the Russian news agency a run for its money): "Ukrainian Killer Dolphins Deserted to Seek Mates - Expert."
According to the state-owned outlet, the Ukrainian navy took control of a Soviet program to train dolphins for combat purposes after the breakup of the USSR, and has more recently been training the mammals to "attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads."
But before you start having nightmares about dolphins shooting out of the ocean with weapons jutting out of their snouts, consider this: Today's report is based on unconfirmed speculation from one expert -- and there's no indication that the dolphins were armed even if they did escape earlier this month:
Three of the Ukrainian navy's "killer" dolphins that swam away from their handlers during training exercises probably left to look for mates, an expert said on Tuesday.
Ukrainian media reported earlier this month that only two of five military-trained dolphins returned to their base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol after a recent exercise.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry denied the reports, while refusing to confirm the navy makes use of dolphins, despite the frequent appearance in Ukrainian media of photographs of dolphins with military equipment strapped to them.
"Control over dolphins was quite common in the 1980's," said Yury Plyachenko, a former Soviet naval anti-sabotage officer. "If a male dolphin saw a female dolphin during the mating season, then he would immediately set off after her. But they came back in a week or so."
Hysteria about Ukraine's killer dolphins last surfaced in October, when the same Russian news agency -- RIA-Novosti -- reported that the Ukrainian navy had begun training attack dolphins, triggering headlines like, "The Ukrainian Navy Is Strapping Dolphins With Guns To Attack Swimmers." The basis for the report? An anonymous "military source."
U.S. Navy/Getty Images
If you've already threatened nuclear holocaust, shredded a sacrosanct armistice agreement, terminated a military telephone line, invalidated all non-aggression pacts, and declared "all-out-war," what do you do next to show the West you really really mean it this time?
challenge facing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as his regime reaches new
heights of rhetorical belligerence in response to a fresh round of U.N.
sanctions and the start of U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
In a way, it's almost inspiring how many unique and different types of threats the regime has been able to drum up over the last several weeks. But short of actual war, what more can Kim Jong Un do to manifest his rage? (He's already played the Nuke Card, for Pete's sake.) Here are some of the remaining tools in his temper-tantrum toolbox, according to top North Korean experts:
Threaten Internal Instability
It's a little counterintuitive but not out of the question. The threat of internal chaos, if delivered from the highest rungs of power, probably wouldn't intimidate the United States, but it would certainly spook
China, which wants to avoid a flood of North Korean refugees across its border. Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told FP this may be the DPRK's last threat left. "It does
seem that the North Koreans are on the verge of running out of threats," Snyder said. "The last option for North Korea is
to use the prospect of its own internal stability as a threat." When asked how the DPRK might convey such a threat, Snyder
said "probably by making oblique references to factionalism or infighting."
Threaten to Share Nukes
This could get the West's attention. "They could escalate by threatening to 'transfer' their
nuclear deterrent,'" Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told FP. This is "something they threatened in 2003 and carried out in the form of helping Syria with the al-Kibar reactor, which Israel bombed in 2007." Time for a repeat?
That the Armistice Is Over
Short of all-out war, this tactic could manifest itself in the form of a modest conventional military hit on South Korea -- an approach Pyongyang took in 2010. "It's tough to outdo their comments, but I think they will have to follow up with some concrete action before they back down in the name of victory or peace," Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins, told FP. "I don't think they will do anything that will involve South Korean superiority, as in engaging the South Korean navy, but they can score some big hits that have larger political consequences. What if they shelled not some remote island but parts of Ilsan, a major suburb of Seoul just a few kilometers away from the border?" It goes without saying that the move would carry the risk of a South Korean counteroffensive and the end of food aid from the South.
Acts of Terrorism
Short of full-scale war, Paul Pillar, director of graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program, emphasized the potential for some form of international terrorism. "Given that a nuclear strike probably represents the outer limit of threatened misbehavior, any different threats issued now would represent something of a comedown," he said. "But there are other -- more plausible -- things the regime could do that it is not doing now."
He continued. "One type of behavior that comes to mind is a return to international terrorism of the sort that included, in particular, the bombing in Rangoon in 1983 that killed several visiting members of the South Korean cabinet. The sort of threat that could be voiced might refer in some way to holding individual members of the South Korean government responsible for what they do to the North and making them pay." Jae H. Ku also mentioned the potential for acts of terror such as "infiltration, assassination, abduction, and bombing of airliners."
Regardless, it's safe to say that any escalation beyond the current juncture represents a step into unchartered and extremely dangerous territory.
Quietly and without much notice, the Air Force has reversed its policy of publishing statistics on drone strikes in Afghanistan as the debate about drone warfare hits a fever pitch in Washington. In addition, it has erased previously published drone strike statistics from its website.
Since October, the Air Force had been providing monthly updates on drone strikes -- or in its words "weapons releases from remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)." But today, Air Force Times reporters Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta discovered something was amiss: The statistics published for February "contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been." In other words: The drone strike data was gone. But that's not all. The Air Force had also scrubbed drone strike data from earlier monthly reports. In the graphic below, we've provided a before and after of the Air Force reports:
So why the change in policy?
The Pentagon told Air Force Times it had nothing to do with the change, while Air Force Central Command didn't respond to a request for comment. But Everstine and Mehta point out that the timing of the changes is a tad suspicious given recent actions by a certain Kentucky senator:
On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).
That same day, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told a crowd in South Carolina that strikes by American RPAs have killed 4,700 people.
It's been a long hunt, but today U.S. officials confirmed the capture of al Qaeda spokesman and Osama bin Laden son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Beating the FBI and CIA to the announcement, New York Congressman Peter King leaked the news to the press and made a point of referencing Ghaith's infamous post-9/11 propaganda videos.
"The propaganda statements in which Abu Ghaith and his late father-in-law, Osama bin Laden, praised the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are alone enough to merit the most serious punishment," King said.
The congressman's jurisprudence aside, it could certainly be said that Abu Ghaith was at the forefront as al Qaeda agents threw salt in the wounds of a reeling, post-9/11 America. In videos in which he appeared alongside Osama bin Laden, Abu Ghaith praised the attacks, dwelled on the demands of the terrorist network, and promised far more serious attacks in the future.
His most infamous broadcasts were released in 2001 on Oct. 7 (shown above) and 10. "The Americans should know that the storm of plane attacks will not abate," Abu Ghaith said on Oct. 10. "There are thousands of the Islamic nation's youths who are eager to die just as the Americans are eager to live."
"Let the United States know that the battle will continue to be waged on its territory until it leaves our land, stops its support for the Jews, and lifts the unjust embargo on the Iraqi people," he continued. "U.S. interests are spread throughout the world. So, every Muslim should carry out his real role to champion his Islamic nation and religion."
After the release of the videos, the government of Kuwait stripped Abu Ghaith of his citizenship. He then moved to Iran in 2002 and was placed in a loose form of house arrest in 2003, according to reports. He is believed to have then illegally entered Turkey, where he was apprehended several weeks ago, deported to Jordan, and then placed in U.S. custody.
Though much of his rhetoric included empty threats, they were taken seriously by the Bush administration, including a claim that al Qaeda had a "right to kill four million Americans, including one million children, displace double that figure, and injure and cripple hundreds and thousands."
As Long War Journal noted, former CIA director George Tenet wrote in his book that it "would have been easy to dismiss his ranting as the hyperbole of a deranged man," but the government "had to consider the possibility that Abu Ghaith was attempting to justify the future use of weapons of mass destruction that might greatly exceed the death toll of 9/11." From now on, those empty threats will have to come from a prison cell, it seems.
Sure, Senator Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was dramatic in the moment. But in the history of filibusters, it's unexceptional. After all, it was the ninth-longest in U.S. Senate history, according to USA Today -- not exactly a glowing achievement in the practice's millenia-long international history.
The etymology of the term stems from a Dutch word for privateers, and it entered the American lexicon via Spanish as rogue American settlers tried to seize land in Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico in the mid-19th century. Locally, they were called filibusteros -- "free-booters" -- and their populist movement was a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S. government. These expansionist efforts fell apart when the Civil War forced Americans to turn inwards, but the word had already gained its modern meaning when, in 1853, a Democratic senator, Abraham Venable, joined the Whig opposition to block a private expedition of settlers looking to seize Cuba. Despite his opposition to the aggressive expansionism, which he feared would "make the United States the brigands of the world," his own colleagues in the Democratic Party turned the word on him for his own roguish action. The term came to be associated with aggressive minority efforts to delay legislation.
Some historians trace the practice back much further in history -- to ancient Rome and civil libertarian patron saint Cato the Younger, who was known to make lengthy speeches past the Roman Senate's deadline to adjourn at dusk, blocking further business for the day.
The filibuster is truly a performance art, so much so that the most recent one before Paul's yesterday, launched on Dec. 10, 2010 by Bernie Sanders, was accompanied by charts and made into a book and an art installation. The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate is held by Strom Thurmond, who spoke (maybe off and on) for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to block civil rights legislation. At the state level, the record is longer: In 1924, a Rhode Island Senate filibuster extended 42 continuous hours over three days and "began with a mass fistfight over control of the gavel and ended when Republican operatives placed a poison-soaked rag behind [Democratic Lieutenant Governor Felix] Toupin to gas him out of the presiding officer's chair," according to Gregory Koger's Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.
Elsewhere, the filibuster (by its modern, American definition) has different names. In the United Kingdom, the practice is known as being "talked out," and it was employed in January 2012 to stymie legislation that would have adjusted daylight savings time. Since British legislation is allotted only a certain amount of time for discussion and voting before being taken off the table, members of parliament can talk until the subject is shuffled back into the stack of pending bills -- in the case of the daylight savings time legislation, the bill was talked out by Scottish and Welsh legislators who wanted more autonomy and the option to opt out of the U.K. time change.
In the United Kingdom, the tactic has also been an occasional recourse for Irish and Scottish representatives seeking to punch above their administrations' weight. But, as in the United States, it has been used to block civil rights efforts as well, including women's suffrage legislation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most dramatic filibuster, though, occurred in April 1963 in the Philippines. With legislators evenly divided between supporters of the Liberal Party incumbent, Diosdado Macapagal, and Nationalist Party up-and-comer Ferdinand Marcos, it came down to the Senate to decide the presidency. The day before the scheduled vote, Marcos visited Liberal Senator Roseller Lim, offering to pay off his home loans in exchange for a swing vote. Lim refused and Marcos, incensed, swore at him and his family before departing.
The next day, the Liberal senators were a man down -- Senator Alejandro Almendras was still en route, returning from a throat operation in the United States. Lim took the podium and spoke for 18 hours and 30 minutes -- he could not sit or eat, and he urinated in his pants at the podium rather than allow the vote to occur without the Liberals' crucial swing vote. Finally, Lim yielded the floor upon hearing that Almendras's fight had landed, and collapsed onto a waiting stretcher after casting his vote.
Unlike so many other filibusters, it's hard to say that Lim's act was one vanity -- but it was in vain. Lim would learn, upon awaking in the hospital, that Almendras has cast his vote for Marcos.
Paul's stand yesterday for a clarification in Obama's targeted killing policy was dramatic at times, but not that dramatic. Hey, there's always next time.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Vatican's ongoing sexual abuse scandal and the Catholic Church's often stumbling response is expected to play a major role in the coming papal conclave, and today the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) fired a major shot at the cardinals gathered in the Vatican. The group, which has played a major role in exposing abuse and advocating on behalf victims, released a list of 12 papal candidates that it is calling the "dirty dozen" for their alleged roles in sex crimes and cover-ups.
The 12 prelates have all been identified as serious candidates to succeed Pope Benedict XVI and include several of the frontrunners: Angelo Scola, Marc Ouellet, Leonardo Sandri, Peter Turkson, and Timothy Dolan. While it is difficult to predict the dynamics of a papal election, being slapped with membership in the "dirty dozen" doesn't bode well for these cardinals at a time when the church is looking to clean up its image.
Several of the candidates on the list also represent important regional ambitions within the church. Dolan, for example, is the only viable American candidate. The selection of Sandri, an Argentinean, would cater to a growing Catholic population in Latin America. If selected, Turkson, who is from Ghana, would be the church's first black pope. His selection would also acknowledge the church's growing influence in Africa.
SNAP argues that the 12 prelates represent the "worst choices in terms of protecting kids, healing victims, and exposing corruption." Whether the list will have any lasting impact remains to be seen, but efforts by groups like SNAP are important in shaping public perception of the papal candidates and also affect internal jockeying in the lead-up to the conclave.
In the case of Scola, an Italian cardinal who has been called the "crown prince of Catholicism," SNAP argues that he failed to take the sex abuse scandal seriously when, in 2010, during the scandal's peak, he said that media attacks on Benedict were an "iniquitous humiliation." A conservative close to both Benedict and John Paul II, Scola currently serves as the archbishop of Milan, which in the past has served as a stepping stone to the papacy. But at 71, he's far from a model of youth and vigor.
Ouellet, a Canadian, lands on the list because while he issued apologies to many victims of abuse, he reportedly refused to meet with those victims.
Sandri, the Argentinean, comes under criticism from SNAP for his ties to the disgraced Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, who was convicted of a range of sexual abuses. Sandri was asked in 2004 to read a letter from John Paul II in praise of Maciel and, as the National Catholic Reporter puts it, "few cardinals will probably be excited about the prospect of TV packages on the new pope featuring video of him extolling an abuser priest (though admittedly, the words were not his own)."
Turkson, the Ghanaian, finds himself under fire from SNAP for comments he made about the possibility of the church's sex scandal spreading to Africa, which he deemed unlikely since gays are not tolerated in Africa. "African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency,” he said in an interview with Christiane Amanpour. "Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society."
Lastly, SNAP objects to Dolan's candidacy on the grounds that he allegedly paid abusive priests to leave the church in silence, in addition to claims that he kept silent in the case of a teacher at a Catholic school in possession of child pornography.
If these are the top candidates to succeed Benedict, it makes you wonder: Will the church ever find someone clean enough to take over?
VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
There is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the United States had a hand in the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, but that hasn't put a stop to a cascade of conspiracy theories about U.S. agents somehow infecting the charismatic leader with cancer.
evidence the CIA wasn't involved? Logic. "It's just not effective," Kel McClanahan, a D.C.-based
national security lawyer who has studied CIA habits for years, told Foreign
Policy. "While some cancers can be intentionally induced, they take years to
kill you. If an intelligence agency wants you dead, it wants you dead now so that you'll stop
doing whatever it is that you're doing that makes them need to kill you." Still,
keeping all that in mind, it's fair to say one thing about these CIA conspiracy
theories: Crazier assassination attempts have been plotted. Over the years, the CIA has hatched some
pretty creative ways of killing off foreign leaders. Below is a brief list:
The ridiculous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro In 2007, the CIA released hundreds of documents detailing a range of Cold War-era intelligence abuses. Particularly revealing were the various methods drummed up to take out Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including a poisonous wetsuit, a ballpoint hypodermic syringe, an exploding cigar, and a handkerchief loaded with lethal bacteria. Here's one operation highlighted by Greg Miller, then of the Los Angeles Times.
[It] was a plot to enlist known organized-crime figures to assassinate Castro in the early 1960s. According to a five-page memo, a private investigator contracted by the CIA worked directly with Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana to come up with the assassination plan. In an almost comical aside, the CIA realized it was dealing with Giancana after seeing his photo in a most-wanted listing in Parade magazine.
The plot to poison Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba A few years ago, the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus uncovered a particularly interesting CIA memo:
A one-paragraph memo recounts planning for a "project involving the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, then premier of the Republic of Congo. According to [name deleted], poison was to have been the vehicle . . ." A Belgian commission later attributed Lumumba's 1961 death to local rivals who had imprisoned him.
For more on the CIA's involvement with Lumumba, read the Guardian's unpacking of the incident from 2011.
The death of Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo
Minutes obtained by the National Security Archive, an organization within George Washington University, reveal some rather morbid remarks made during a meeting with former CIA chief William Colby and pertaining to the death of Trujillo in 1961.
The minutes state that the CIA "plotted the assassination of some foreign leaders including ... [Rafael] Trujillo [Dominican Republic]." They go on: "With respect to Trujillo's assassination on May 30 1961, the CIA had 'no active part' but had a 'faint connection' with the groups that in fact did it."
Elsewhere in the world of CIA assassination plots, some have alleged the agency had a role in the death of Chilean Gen. René Schneider in 1970, but there has yet to be conclusive proof. It's worth noting that most of these allegations surfaced as a result of the 1975 Church Committee investigation into intelligence abuses. That investigation precipated a ban on CIA assassinations of foreign leaders, which means targeting Chavez would be a major no-no. Still, even if the assassination ban didn't exist today, cancer really isn't the CIA's style.
It's been a long, slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, and the last time the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit the kind of heights it hit today was October 2007. To give you some perspective on the meaning of today's market surge, here's a look at ten ways the world has changed since the fall of 2007:
2. Neither was Lady Gaga.
3. Sarah Palin was an Alaska governor with sky-high approval ratings.
4. Blackberry's (RIM) shares were trading at more than $100/share (today's price: $12.73).
5. The first iPhone had just been introduced in the United States three months earlier.
6. The first Twilight film had yet to be released.
7. Tiger Woods was still just a really great golfer.
8. The U.S. was winding down its surge in Iraq.
9. The world still had less than 7 billion people.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
This week, Catholic Church cardinals are convening the first meetings in the shadowy process that will select the next pope. It's been widely reported that the church is looking to move quickly in replacing Benedict XVI -- who will now take on the title emeritus pope (seriously) -- in order to have a new pope in place by the Easter holidays. With Palm Sunday rapidly approaching on March 24, the next few weeks are going to be busy for Vatican-watchers assigned to read the tea leaves of the upcoming papal conclave.
With mandated vows of silence and the near-total isolation of voting cardinals, the conclave stubbornly retains a degree of secrecy that is proudly out of step with today's emphasis on transparency. The cardinals will huddle behind closed doors, casting ballot after ballot until they reach the two-thirds majority necessary to select God's new representative on earth.
If it all sounds a little outdated ... well, it is. And given the enormous stakes of a papal election, might that not be a serious problem for the church? Just yesterday, an impostor posing as a bishop was stopped trying to crash the pre-conclave meetings.
But the old-fashioned traditions of a papal election mask a more surprising reality: The papal conclave is something of a marvel in election security.
Foreseeing the legion of hackers who would like nothing more than to poke around and maybe even influence a papal election, Bruce Schneier, who blogs about security technology, considered whether it would be possible to "hack" a papal election. The answer is a resounding no. First, the entire process is analog -- no computers involved at any point. So any attempt to influence or tamper with votes would have to happen within the conclave. But the only people allowed inside are voting cardinals and a small group of assistants. As the cardinals all know each other, the likelihood of getting an imposter inside the proceedings is virtually impossible (a too-short cassock gave away yesterday's impostor). Vote tampering, meanwhile, is also seemingly impossible, as the votes and ballots are all checked by randomly selected cardinals prior to each vote. The process is elaborate and, after all, has been refined over millennia.
There are, however, other options for those looking to subvert a papal election.
The first obvious path would be electronic surveillance from within the conclave, which is held in the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo's monumental fresco of the Last Judgment. Here, however, the Vatican is one step ahead of the would-be eavesdroppers. According to the Los Angeles Times, Vatican police had already begun sweeping the chapel for bugging devices as of last Thursday. But even if one managed to get a listening device inside the chapel, it likely wouldn't work anyway. It turns out the Swiss Guards -- the elite force charged with protecting the pope -- had the floor of the chapel raised so that they could install electronic jamming devices.
A more effective way to gain influence at a conclave is to practice some good, old-fashioned vote-buying. But this too has its problems. First, Benedict changed conclave rules to require a two-thirds majority to select a pope. With 117 cardinals expected to vote, the number of votes required to exercise any real influence gets prohibitively high very quickly. The probability of successfully buying the number of votes necessary to swing an election drops even lower when you consider that cardinals come from around the world, speak many different languages, and are, in all likelihood, committed to maintaining the sanctity of the proceedings that select the pope.
That said, a papal election is still an influence game. While no real politicking takes place inside the conclave, the days and weeks ahead of the formal proceedings are when the deals are made and the coalitions built to find a new pope. According to the National Catholic Reporter's excellent primer on conclaves:
Informal meetings also take place around the edges, among cardinals who have been friends over long stretches of time or who share a similar sense of where the church ought to go or who speak the same language (in this case, literally rather than metaphorically; that is, English-speakers often come together with one another, Spanish-speakers meet among themselves, and so on).
Unlike previous conclaves, in 2005 these sessions took place almost entirely in discreet locations, such as the private apartments of curial members, the national colleges where many cardinals were staying prior to moving into the Casa Santa Marta on Vatican grounds, and in the lounges of various ecclesiastical facilities around town. In part because of a desire to shun publicity, cardinals largely stayed away from their favorite Roman restaurants. (For some, this was probably the biggest sacrifice of the interregnum.)
In the initial stages, the most important gatherings tended to take place by language group. One such get-together in April 2005, for example, took place at the end of the first week of the interregnum at the Venerable English College on Via Monserrato, just off Rome's Piazza Farnese, home to seminarians from Great Britain as well as handful of other clergy connected in one way or another to the United Kingdom.
The session was hosted by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, at the time still archbishop of Westminster, who emerged as a key point of reference for the English-speaking cardinals in the run-up to the conclave. In such environments, away from prying eyes and ears, cardinals were able to chat freely about various candidates and to get a sense of what other cardinals were thinking.
As one cardinal put it, "Some were rather uncomfortable with the free-flowing nature of these conversations, but that's what you have to do if you're going to get anywhere."
One wrinkle in all of this: According to the NCR, the building the cardinals are staying in during the deliberations -- Casa Santa Maria -- is Wi-Fi-equipped, meaning a cardinal could, in theory, leak the proceedings from inside the residence. But unless their colleagues are also disobeying the rules against contact with the outside world, any effort to build momentum for or sabotage a candidate in the press is likely to have limited impact. What's more, a cardinal would face enormous penalties if he flouted these rules. Breaking the vow of secrecy now carries the penalty of excommunication -- even for a cardinal.
Mudslinging and strategic leaks to the press are much more likely in the run-up to the conclave. Consider just the following examples compiled by NCR from the 2005 conclave that resulted in Benedict's election:
- The Italian media reported rumors that Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice had been treated for depression, suggesting a sort of psychological instability that might disqualify him for the church's highest office. (That bit of character assassination may make the rounds again this time, since Scola is once again considered a serious runner.)
- Reports that Cardinal Ivan Dias of Mumbai has diabetes, a sign of ill health. In addition, an email campaign allegedly initiated by members of his own flock in India made the rounds, including complaints of an "unapproachable, stubborn and arrogant style."
- Reports about a book in Argentina, given wide attention in the Spanish-language media, alleging that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been unacceptably close to the military junta in the 1970s, even that he was complicit in the persecution of two liberal Argentinian Jesuits, something his defenders stoutly denied. Another email campaign, this one claiming to originate with fellow Jesuits who knew Bergoglio back when he was the provincial of the order in Argentina, claimed "he never smiled."
- Reports surfaced alleging that both Ratzinger and Sodano, considered by some to be leading candidates, were in poor health, raising questions about their physical capacity to be pope.
In short, expect a lot of dirty laundry to be aired in the media in the days ahead. But when the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel, all we can do is wait for the puff of white smoke.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
For the oppressed revolutionary, there are few things more gratifying than the destruction of a dictator's statue. Whether it's Poles tearing down a statue of Lenin in 1990 or Iraqis doing the same to Saddam Hussein in 2003, the symbolism of a despot dismantled creates an indelible moment in history. On Monday, the world watched Syrian rebels relish one of those moments for themselves after the seizure of the northern city of Raqqa -- followed on Tuesday by the capture of the province's loyalist governor. Widely distributed videos captured opposition activists toppling a gold statue of Hafez al-Assad, the late father of President Bashar al-Assad, in the city's main square. The footage is an instant classic, and, depending on how the Syrian conflict turns out, could join the pantheon of demolished dictator statue videos the world over. Here are some of the best of the genre:
Down Goes Stalin
It's difficult to count the number of places where Joseph Stalin's statued form has been desecrated. But Oct. 31, 1956 certainly stands out for residents of Budapest, who toppled this towering statue of Stalin during a short-lived anti-communist uprising.
In 2010, Stalin's statue was removed in the Soviet dictator's hometown of Georgia. The removal followed Georgia's bitter five-day war with Russia in 2008.
But no hard feelings, Joe! The statue was restored in December to recall "happier times."
Down Goes Saddam
This video of Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in 2003 remains a classic of the form, though the media certainly played a role in inflating the myth surrounding it. But it was also a moment of false foreshadowing, as any semblance of Iraqi unity quickly collapsed in the years to come.
Down Goes Lenin
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Lenin statues have been removed in numerous squares and parks around the world .While the production values of these destruction videos are not always great, here's a rather kinetic one from Cherkassy, Urkaine in 2008, replete with flying sparks and crumbling stone.
We'd be remiss if we left out this gem from Ethiopia in 1991. Here, Ethiopians stand by a toppled statue of the Communist leader two days after the exit of Ethiopian pro-communist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Down Goes Mubarak
In 2011, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's face was desecrated in this monument in the 6th of October city, on one of the main roads to Cairo. The monument features Mubarak rather presumptively looming over Egyptian Nobel Prize winners Ahmed Zewail, Anwar Sadat, and Naguib Mahfouz.
Down Goes Qaddafi
One of the most memorable moments from the Libyan civil in 2011 was rebels toppling Muammar al-Qaddafi's golden fist statue, decapitating another Qaddafi statue, and kicking the head like a soccer ball. Cell-phone footage surfaced from every which angle:
Down Goes Assad (the Elder)
That brings us back to this week's news. Here's video of the rebels attacking the monument to Assad's father. But as my colleague David Kenner notes, the euphoria was short-lived, as the square soon came under shelling.
Earlier today, police in the British city of Bradford reported that a man dressed as Batman had walked into a local police station and delivered a wanted man. Ever since, the media has been buzzing with questions: Who is this caped crusader? How did he come across the suspect? And why did the man shun the Dark Knight suit and opt instead for the 1960s-era gray one? (The Telegraph is currently reporting that the mysterious crimefighter is actually a Chinese takeout delivery man who dropped off the suspect, a friend, at the police station after attending a soccer match in his superhero outfit.) It's undoubtedly a fascinating story. But it's also worth noting that the Bradford Batman is not the only superhero living among us.
In December 2011, for instance, Superman made an appearance in Melbourne, Australia when he interrupted his own bachelor party to help a pedestrian who had been hit by a car. Though this Superman was in fact a trained doctor, his attempts to help were initially rebuffed. (Guess these days the suit doesn't actually inspire confidence.) While passersby dismissed the incident as a viral video stunt, the good doctor helped stem the victim's bleeding and kept him stable until the ambulance arrived -- all in time to get married the next day.
Late last year, meanwhile, Spiderman was spotted gallivanting around Warsaw, spraying his web, hanging from ceilings, chilling on the subway -- and proving that even Spiderman needs a day off every now and then.
In 2009, France's own Spiderman scaled a skyscraper in Paris. No ropes, as one would expect:
Not all superhero crusades turn out so well, however. A few years ago, amateur fighter Ben Fodor dressed up as a superhero he named "Phoenix Jones" and assaulted a group of people with pepper spray. Though Fodor/Jones claimed he was breaking up a fight, the only obvious fight in the video he released of the incident was the one that broke out after he doused a bunch of people with pepper spray, and women started throwing their shoes at him.
Almost two months after Barack Obama nominated John Brennan to become his next CIA director, the White House counterterrorism advisor's confirmation remains out of reach. Practically no one doubts Brennan will eventually be confirmed, but a few key actors and a few key issues remain obstacles for the White House and its nominee. Here's what's in the way:
On Sunday, fellow amigos John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to CBS's Face the Nation to renew their months-long quest for more information on the terrorist attack in Benghazi -- and to threaten delays for Brennan's confirmation. One of the key sticking points has been the altered talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on a range of Sunday talk shows to discuss the attacks. Last week, the White House provided the senators access to the e-mails discussing the changes in a classified hearing. But Graham and McCain said portions of the e-mails were too heavily redacted. In addition, they also want access to FBI interviews of the survivors. "John and I are hell bent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi," said Graham.
Today, McCain, Graham, and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte reitereated everything they know and don't know about Benghazi in a joint press release. When reached for comment, the White House pledged to continue to work with members of Congress. "We are having conversations with members of Congress about their requests, and we will continue those conversations," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in an e-mail to FP.
The administration's targeted killing program via drone strikes remains a sticking point for Sen. Rand Paul. The Kentucky lawmaker says a simple "yes" or "no" answer on whether the White House can authorize a drone strike against an American in the United States would satisfy him. But he'll hold up the confirmation until he gets an answer, he told National Journal last week. "I want to hear the answer that they are not assuming the authority, or they don't believe they have the authority, to kill Americans on American soil with a program from the Department of Defense or the CIA," Paul said. "I think there's a certain bit of arrogance that they are not even willing to respond at all to us on this."
Though the president has said, "The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States,” Paul isn't satisfied, calling the language evasive. This "sort of, to me, implies that they are assuming they have some kind of authority inside the United States," he says.
Before ending his interview with CBS, McCain added that he had "some questions about torture" without going into detail. The issue of torture, or enhanced interrogation techniques, is what torpedoed Brennan's consideration for the CIA's top post four years ago. Though McCain has been a steadfast opponent of the practice, the opposition to Brennan at the time was spearheaded by liberals. At his confirmation hearing last month, Brennan denied having a key role in the Bush administration's torture of terror suspects.
Clearly, the White House is not thrilled with what it sees as a distraction from Brennan's inevitable confirmation. In an e-mail to FP, Hayden said as much today. "The confirmation process should be about the nominees and their ability to do the jobs they're nominated for," she said. "As the confirmation hearings clearly showed, John Brennan is extraordinarily qualified to head the CIA, and the President needs him in place now. We face enormous national security and intelligence challenges across the globe, and to hold up these nominees for unrelated reasons is not in our national security interests."
Visitors to the filesharing megasite Pirate Bay today might be surprised to see a North Korean flag on the page's usual Pirate Ship logo. The image links to the following post on the site's blog:
The Pirate Bay has been hunted in many countries around the world. Not for illegal activities but being persecuted for beliefs of freedom of information. Today, a new chapter is written in the history of the movement, as well as the history of the internets.
A week ago we could reveal that The Pirate Bay was accessed via Norway and Catalonya. The move was to ensure that these countries and regions will get attention to the issues at hand. Today we can reveal that we have been invited by the leader of the republic of Korea,[sic] to fight our battles from their network.
This is truly an ironic situation. We have been fighting for a free world, and our opponents are mostly huge corporations from the United States of America, a place where freedom and freedom of speech is said to be held high. At the same time, companies from that country is chasing a competitor from other countries, bribing police and lawmakers, threatening political parties and physically hunting people from our crew. And to our help comes a government famous in our part of the world for locking people up for their thoughts and forbidding access to information.
We believe that being offered our virtual asylum in Korea is a first step of this country's changing view of access to information. It's a country opening up and one thing is sure, they do not care about threats like others do. In that way, TPB and Korea might have a special bond. We will do our best to influence the Korean leaders to also let their own population use our service, and to make sure that we can help improve the situation in any way we can. When someone is reaching out to make things better, it's also ones duty to grab their hand.
The story first appeared a few hours ago on the blog of Swedish Pirate Party founder and chief evangelist Rick Falkvinge. (The Pirate Party and Pirate Bay share political goals and have frequently cooperated but are separate organizations.) Falkvinge writes that the current traceroute for the site can be tracked back to this ISP located in the Potong-gang District of Pyongyang. "North Korea may have the one government on this planet which takes pride in asking Hollywood and United States interests to take a hike in the most public way imaginable," he added.
Pirate Bay lost its hosting from the Swedish Pirate Party last month, after the group faced legal pressure from an alliance of copyright holders. The hosting was moved to Pirate Parties in Norway and Catalonia, but the Norwegian party apparently dropped the site earlier today.
The typically reliable website TorrentFreak quotes at "PirateBay insider," saying “We’ve been in talks with them for about two weeks, since they opened access for foreigners to use 3g in the country... TPB has been invited just like Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman. We’ve declined for now.”
So is this for real, or an elaborate prank? TorrentFreak writes, "While it’s hard to believe everything The Pirate Bay says, the site does indeed route through North Korea at the moment."
I'm still not totally buying it, given that back in 2007, the site posted an April Fool's joke about moving its hosting to the North Korean embassy. "We would like to thank Kim Jong-Il for the opportunity and we would like all of our users to review their current feelings towards this great nation!" they wrote at the time.
In a post last year, the Pirate Bay's blog presented itself as a weapon against North Korean information suppression. "We receive more than 100 visits daily from North Korea and we sure know that they need it," they wrote. "If there's something that will bring peace to this world it is the understanding and appreciation of your fellow man."
Also, if they were really doing business with North Korea, they would probably know that its official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The "Republic of Korea" is the South.
So there's plenty of reason to be suspicious, though after last week, anything seems possible.
Update: The North Korea Tech blog throws some more cold water on the story:
The Pirate Bay needs a significant amount of bandwidth — something North Korea doesn’t have.[...]
When I track Internet traffic from my PC to The Pirate Bay’s website, it does appear to flow to North Korea’s Internet gateway point. What happens after that is unclear.
[The track] shows traffic running from Level 3, an Internet backbone operator in the U.S., onto the network of Intelsat. The international satellite operator is one of North Korea’s two providers of Internet connectivity. From Intelsat is runs onto the North Korean Internet, denoted by the Internet address “22.214.171.124? on line 21. But no more data is returned, so it’s difficult to plot the remainder of the path to The Pirate Bay website.
I e-mailed Falkvinge, who wrote back that the technical reports casting doubt on the story "look credible":
The Pirate Bay is tremendously skilled at two things: keeping their site online, and pranking the establishment. Given that, I lean toward it being a hilarious hoax.
Update 2: The Pirate Bay comes clean. It was a hoax:
We’ve also learned that many of you need to be more critical. Even towards us. You can’t seriously cheer the “fact” that we moved our servers to bloody North Korea. Applauds to you who told us to fuck off. Always stay critical. Towards everyone!
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