Tag Archives: North Korea sanctions Kim Jong-un

Dennis Rodman steals ball from U.S. govt as N Korea cancels U.S. mission to free prisoner on eve of Rodman visit

30 Aug

Dennis Rodman steals ball from U.S. government as N Korea cancels official U.S. mission to free prisoner on eve of Rodman visit

State: “It was a done deal. King was going to come back with Kenneth Bae. That was the arrangement”
BY NATE THAYER , AUGUST 31, 2013

Former NBA legend Dennis Rodman will return to North Korea soon with a “promise” to gain the release of jailed American proselytizer Kenneth Bae, as Pyongyang abruptly cancelled Friday an invitation to a senior State Dept. official who, according to U.S. officials, had already hammered out an agreement that would have seen the prisoner return with the most senior U.S. official to visit the isolated nation since Kim Jong Un assumed power in December 2011.

Three days ago, on August 27, the U.S. State Department announced that Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King would travel to North Korea to bring home an American Christian missionary doing hard labor in prison for proselytizing Christianity.

What several senior U.S officials involved in the negotiations to release the U.S. prisoner didn’t know, was flamboyant former basketball star Dennis Rodman, is scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang in a few days at the invitation of “my friend” Kim Jong Un with a stated mission to bring about the release of Kenneth Bae. Now, instead of Ambassador King, it appears that the tatood, heavily pierced ‘bad boy’ Rodman will likely be the point man for the release of Bae.

On Thursday, the U.S. announced King “will travel to Pyongyang August 30 on a humanitarian mission focused on securing the release of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae,” according to a State Department spokesperson. “Ambassador King will request the D.P.R.K. pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment.”

But today, as King was en-route to North Korea and on a layover in Japan, Pyongyang cancelled the invitation to talk about the American prisoner “abruptly” and “without explanation,” according to the U.S. State department. The U.S. State Dept. said Friday it was “surprised and disappointed,” adding it had sought “clarification” from Pyongyang about the eleventh-hour decision. Despite having “sought clarification from the DPRK about its decision”, the U.S. announced this morning that  ”Ambassador King intends to return to Washington from Tokyo the afternoon of August 31.”

“King was not going there to negotiate the release of Bae. It was 100% agreed he was bringing Bae home–a done deal,” a U.S. government North Korean specialist who spoke with King Thursday and with years of experience negotiating the release of U.S. citizens jailed previously by Pyongyang told NK News. “He was going there to pick up the package.”

Had Ambassador King made his scheduled trip to Pyongyang, he would have been the highest level U.S. official to have visited the isolated nation since the young leader, Kim Jong Un, took power in December 2011.

Rodman “promised” Thursday that he would raise the issue with Kim Jong Un at a scheduled meeting at the invitation of “my friend” Kim Jong Un, the 29 year old basketball fanatic who leads North Korea and its nuclear weaponized fourth largest standing army in the world.

“I will definitely ask for Kenneth Bae’s release,” Rodman told Huffington’s Live host Marc Lamont Hill.

“I will say, ‘Marshal, why is this guy held hostage?’ I could try and soften it up in that way. If the Marshal says, ‘Dennis, you know, do you want me to let him loose?’ and then if I actually got him loose – and I’m just saying this out the blue – I’d be the most powerful guy in the world.”

See full story on NKNew.org http://www.nknews.org/2013/08/dennis-rodman-assumes-u-s-envoy-to-north-koreas-rescue-mission/

Global Trail of Dead Scientists Price of Illicit Pyongyang-Syria Weapons Collaboration

23 Jun

Global Trail of Dead Scientists Price of Illicit Pyongyang-Syria Weapons Collaboration

Deadly Spy War Erupts When Israel Views the Two Pariah States Have Crossed a ‘Red Line’

BY NATE THAYER

JUNE 20, 2013

NKNews.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. –

In July 2007, an explosion rocked the al-Safir chemical weapons and ballistic missile research  facility buried in cavernous underground tunnels dug under a mountain near Allepo in Northwestern Syria. Under the command of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center,  Syria’s largest and most secret military facility was constructed by North Korean specialists in the 1990’s.

Working in the pre-dawn cool desert temperatures, the blast killed North Korean missile engineers attempting to weaponize North Korean supplied Scud-C missiles with mustard gas chemical warheads  at a North Korean built weapons development base near Allepo.

photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians walk through the rubble at the scene where multiple explosions hit the center of Aleppo, Syria on October 3, 2012.  Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2012/12/13/Scud-attacks-signal-Syrian-regime-alarm/UPI-97451355420939/#ixzz2X0Vgz6Ru

photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians walk through the rubble at the scene where multiple explosions hit the center of Aleppo, Syria on October 3, 2012.

The mysterious explosion released VX and Sarin nerve agents and mustard gas into the atmosphere, killing at least 15 Syrian military and chemical warfare specialists, “dozens” of Iranians engineers, and at least three North Korean ballistic missile experts.

Syrian defense sources told Jane’s Defense Weekly that during a 26 July “test to weaponize a 500 km ‘Scud C’ with a mustard gas warhead, an explosion occurred in a laboratory adjacent to a chemical agent storage facility” at the most heavily gaurded military camp in Syria.

While Syrian investigators privately determined the blast was an act of sabotage, one senior Israeli intelligence official told Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, a top authority on Israeli’s secret services, that it was “a wonderful accident.’

Less than two months later, in September, 2007, Israeli F-16 fighter jets destroyed a North Korean-designed and constructed plutonium nuclear weapons plant in the remote northeastern Syrian Desert. That assault killed an estimated 10 North Korean nuclear scientists working at the secret nuclear facility near the Euphrates river.

North Korean No. 125 Factory, or “Pyongyang Pig Factory” as it is called by North Korea, in Pyongyang, produces surface-to-ship SCUD missiles. This photo was taken by a secret Burmese military delegation. The factory has also hosted missile buyers from the Middle East, including Syria.

North Korean No. 125 Factory, or “Pyongyang Pig Factory” as it is called by North Korea, in Pyongyang, produces surface-to-ship SCUD missiles. This photo was taken by a secret Burmese military delegation. The factory has also hosted missile buyers from the Middle East, including Syria.

But the two incidents were not the first time North Korean and Syrian military scientists had died during the quarter century the two pariah nations have methodically collaborated.

And it would not be the last.

The blast at the al-Safir chemical warfare and ballistic missile development facility which was built with crucial North Korean collaboration in July 2007, and the destruction of the nuclear bomb making plant weeks later by an air assault of Israeli F-16 fighter jets, are just two in a series of occasions when Syrian and North Korean clandestine operatives have died working on Damascus’s illicit WMD arsenal.

The Tirshan military museum in Damascus buily and designed by North Korea. The artist renderings are also created by the North Korean propaganda artists in Pyongyang

The Tirshan military museum in Damascus buily and designed by North Korea. The artist renderings are also created by the North Korean propaganda artists in Pyongyang

The clandestine weapons collaboration between North Korea and Damascus in recent years has left a trail of bodies from Moscow to the Syrian desert to North Korea in a deadly game of spy versus spy hidden in the shadows of the Middle East.

A mysterious blast near the Chinese border in North Korea nine years ago was one of many incidents in which key personnel have met violent ends cooperating with Syria in developing weapons of mass destruction.

SYRIA AND THE RYONGCHON ‘BOMB’

In early 2004, the United States National Security Agency detected a curious, unusually high cluster of sustained electronic communications traffic between a remote location in the northeast Syrian Desert and Pyongyang. The NSA shared the information with Israel’s military signals intelligence and cypher department, Unit 8200, which designated the information for priority monitoring.

A few months later, on April 22, 2004, an explosion destroyed a train and decimated the small northwestern North Korean town of Ryongchon, in the heart of North Korea’s missile, chemical warfare, and nuclear weapons industrial production infrastructure, as the freight train headed to the coastal shipping port of Nampo with its highly secret cargo.

The explosion, measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale and detected at international earthquake monitoring stations in Russia, Japan and the United States, was so devastating that Pyongyang appealed for emergency international humanitarian aid to address the crisis–a highly unusual public action by the secretive regime. The International Committee of the Red Cross was allowed to visit the area and reported 40% of the town had been flattened, more than 160 people killed and 1,300 injured, destroying thousands of buildings and leaving a crater 72 meters deep at the Ryongchon railway station.

Photo of crater after explosion, Ryongchon 2004 | Picture credit: David Hill, ECHO

Photo of crater after explosion, Ryongchon 2004 | Picture credit: David Hill, ECHO

Nine hours earlier, Kim Jong-il, the ruler of the world’s most closed and destabilizing nation, had passed through the station in his private rail-car on the return from a visit to his allies in Beijing.

Pyongyang officially said a train carrying fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate and petroleum accidentally came into contact with electrical wires and exploded, but in the years since a clearer portrait of intrigue has emerged suggesting intentional sabotage was responsible for the massive explosion.

In fact, the train was destroyed by a mobile telephone remote control device activated by unknown persons nearby, intelligence agencies have since concluded.

Never acknowledged is that more than a dozen Syrian ballistic missile weapons scientists and technicians employed by the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, the agency in charge of Syria’s covert weapons of mass destruction development program, were killed in the mysterious blast.

The Syrian weapons specialists were accompanying a highly clandestine cargo of missile and other components to the North Korean port of Nampo, destined for Syria’s weapons of mass destruction development program operated by the SSRC.

Destroyed train where 12 Syrian missile scientists were killed in Ryongchon, North Korea April 22, 2004

Destroyed train where 12 Syrian missile scientists were killed in Ryongchon, North Korea April 22, 2004

North Korean military wearing chemical hazard protective suits removed debris and the Syrian bodies from the scene. Within days, Syrian military aircraft arrived under the auspices of delivering humanitarian aid to the civilian blast victims, and on May 1 departed with the bodies of the dead Syrian SSRC employees.

The approximately one dozen dead Syrians were claimed by the SSRC, and the Syrian and North Korean military personnel who transported the bodies to the Syrian aircraft were also wearing hazardous protective suits.

By mid-May, North Korean security officials had found a damaged cellphone still wrapped in duct tape near the explosion and abruptly halted the countries entire nascent mobile phone system, confiscating the 10,000 mobile devices in use in the first national cellphone network, established only months before.

North Korea did not allow mobile phone use in the country for another five years.

Chemical weapons site in Syria where North Korean technical advisers are based ( Map by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Chemical weapons site in Syria where North Korean technical advisers are based ( Map by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

In the period after the blast, Israeli and other intelligence services noted more than a dozen trips to Pyongyang by senior officials of the SSRC involved in their missile, chemical warfare and nuclear weapons development program.

On May 4, Sankei Sinbun newspaper in Japan first hinted at the blast not being an accident, reporting ten Syrians working for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center were killed “accompanying ‘large equipment’ and that the damage from the explosion was greatest in the portion of the train they occupied.”

The paper reported that North Korean military wearing protective suits responded and “removed material only from the Syrians’ section of the train.”

But the paper offered no speculation as to the cause of the blast, saying it was “not known whether the cargo was the source of the explosion or whether it had exploded following a separate explosion on another section of the train.”

The bodies of the Syrians were “taken home on May 1 by a Syrian aircraft, which had come to Pyongyang to deliver aid supplies.”

Within weeks several foreign governments had privately confirmed the Syrian plane transporting the bodies back to Damascus.

“Syrian and DPRK medical and military personnel who were involved in transporting [the Syrians and other victims] were also reportedly wearing protective suits similar to those worn by the DPRK military personnel who arrived on the scene immediately after the accident.”

According to KCNA “in connection with the explosion at Ryongchon Railway Station…Emergency relief goods came to the DPRK from China, Russia and Syria at the end of April.”

North Korean officers visit Syrian government wounded soldiers in Damascus hospital in 2012 (Photo: SANA/North Korean Leadership Watch/Michael Madden)

North Korean officers visit Syrian government wounded soldiers in Damascus hospital in 2012 (Photo: SANA/North Korean Leadership Watch/Michael Madden)

Three weeks after the accident, North Korea cut all telephone lines to the rest of the world, likely to either to prevent foreign reporting or to shield their own population from learning news about the accident

On May 18, MiddleEastNewsline reported that a “North Korean missile shipment to Syria was halted when a train collision in that Asian country destroyed the missile cargo and killed about a dozen Syrian technicians,” citing U.S. government sources. “The officials said the technicians were accompanying a train car full of missile components and other equipment from a facility near the Chinese border to a North Korea port.”

“The way it was supposed work was that the train car full of missiles and components would have arrived at the port and some would have been shipped to Syria while others would have been transported by air,” an U.S. official was quoted by MiddleEastNewsline.

The source stated that the plane came to bring the relief supply from Syria and returned with the bodies. The bodies were claimed by Syrian Technical Research Center(Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche Scientific: CERS)

The US official said the North Korean train cargo was also believed to have contained tools for the production of ballistic missiles.  North Korea has sold Syria the extended-range Scud C and Scud D missiles, according to reports by Middle East Newsline.

Officials said the North Korean shipment to Syria was not meant to have contained chemical or biological weapons.  Foreign relief workers from the International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations who surveyed the scene at Ryongchon the day after the blast did not report any chemical contamination.

“Syrians were wearing protective suits at the time of the accident and in the middle of transporting large packaged equipment. At the explosion, a lot of N. Korean Scud-D missiles and (rocket) propellant went off.”

Foreign intelligence sources have confirmed to NKNews that the missiles were assembled at ‘Shin-eum-ri Factory’ near Pyongyang, the rocket engines were made at ‘January 8th Factory’ in Kaechon, the missile bodies were manufactured at ‘No. 26 Factory’ in Namchondong, and chemical warheads at ‘Namheung Chemical Factory’. These components were being transported on the train at the time of the explosion.

The Tae-sung Machine Factory (a.k.a., Chamjin Missile Factory) is North Korea's primary manufacturer of ballistic missiles, conducting final assembly of components and sub-systems it has produced or from those supplied to it from other facilities and sources. While the primary responsibility for the development of the Taepodong and Unha systems lies with the No. 7 Factory of the Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), the Tae-sung Machine Factory has been associated with the production phase of these systems. Includes satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe's Analysis Center. (KPA Journal/Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.)

The Tae-sung Machine Factory (a.k.a., Chamjin Missile Factory) is North Korea’s primary manufacturer of ballistic missiles, conducting final assembly of components and sub-systems it has produced or from those supplied to it from other facilities and sources. While the primary responsibility for the development of the Taepodong and Unha systems lies with the No. 7 Factory of the Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), the Tae-sung Machine Factory has been associated with the production phase of these systems. Includes satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center. (KPA Journal/Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.)

But other officials said the North Korean shipment did not include chemical weapons, noting foreign rescue crews and humanitarian aid workers at the train explosion site did not report any chemical contamination.

Japan’s Kyodo News cited diplomatic sources in Vienna saying the explosion measured 3.6 on the Richter scale, a blast equaling about 800 tons of TNT — eight times that announced by North Korea. The blast statistics were compiled by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. Korean Central News Agency had reported that the power of the blast was that of 100 tons of dynamite.

The CTBTO said the explosion was observed using seismological observation stations built to detect nuclear tests in Korea, Japan, the United States and Russia.

On May 19 all cell phones were confiscated in Pyongyang, and the next day the ban was imposed nationwide.

In secret U.S. embassy in Seoul cables from 2009 released by WikiLeaks, U.S. diplomats reported Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who met North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2007, told U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens in 2009, “Kim believed that the explosion at Ryongchon Station was a failed attempt to assassinate him.”

Hyun was quoted in the U.S. embassy documents saying the explosion “was revealed through mobile phones” and “the introduction of mobile phones in the North was markedly delayed.”

The Chinese Chongqing Evening News in Szechuan province reported “analysts believe that the catastrophic consequences of this North Korean train explosion followed from an attempted plan to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for assassination” saying “clues collected along the tracks indicated that unhealthy elements had used mobile phones. For fear that internal information would leak [to the outside], the mobile phone business would be stopped.”

The order to halt mobile phone service came “directly from the Korean National Defense Committee” ordering “that previously held mobile phones confiscated.”

By 2008, diplomats had concluded that the reports of dead Syrian scientists were true. The London Sunday times reported that “Diplomats based in Pyongyang have said they now believe reports that about a dozen Syrian technicians were killed” in the blast.

“Their bodies were flown home by a Syrian military cargo aircraft which was spotted on May 1, 2004 at Pyongyang.”

The Times said “Diplomats said the Sankei Shimbun report was now believed to be accurate.”

Large portrait of founders of Syria and North Korea at the North Korean constructed and designed Tirshan War memorial museum in Damascus

Large portrait of founders of Syria and North Korea at the North Korean constructed and designed Tirshan War memorial museum in Damascus

On May 24, the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo reported that North Korean security police believed the explosion was an assassination attempt against leader Kim Jong Il, quoting a North Korean businessman on a visit to China as saying “The North Korean National Security Agency has investigated the incident since it took place and concluded that rebellious forces had plotted the explosions targeting the exclusive train of Kim Jong-il.  The security agency, in particular, gained evidence that cell phones had been used in triggering the explosion and reported to the North Korean leader that the use of cell phones should be banned for the sake of the leader’s safety.”

The paper quoted a defector in China saying  “It doesn’t seem to be a temporary measure, because even handsets have been conscripted following the cell phone use ban.”

Several years later, British author Gordon Thomas, in a book on the history of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, wrote that Israel was aware “that dozens of Syrian nuclear technicians were in a compartment adjoining a sealed wagon” and that “the Syrians had arrived in North Korea to collect the fissionable material stored in the wagon.”

He wrote that “all of the technicians were killed in the train explosion” and “their bodies were flown to Syria in lead-encased coffins aboard a Syrian military plane” and that Mossad believed that “North Korean soldiers in anti-contamination suits (who) collected wreckage and sprayed the area…were trying to recover weapons-grade plutonium.”

In the wake of the explosion, Thomas wrote, “Mossad tracked about a dozen trips by Syrian military officers and scientists to Pyongyang, where they met with high-ranking North Korean officials.”

Western intelligence officials, who say they do not know what caused the massive blast, do confirm that the Syrian military technicians were working for the SSRC, and were in North Korea carrying out the purchase of ballistic missile systems designed to be equipped with chemical warheads.

“DPRK military-related personnel wearing protective suits arrived on the scene immediately after the explosion and removed debris only from that section of the train where the Syrian group had been aboard,” according to the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun on May 4, 2004.

Syrian military aircraft arrived within days under the auspices of delivering humanitarian aid to the civilian blast victims, but departed on May 1 with the bodies of the dead Syrian SSRC employees. The Syrian and North Korean military and specialists who transported the bodies to the Syrian aircraft also were wearing hazardous protective suits like those of the first North Korean responders to the blast scene.

NUCLEAR COOPERATION

While North Korean-Syrian military cooperation was known to Western intelligence services since the 1990s, North Korean-Syrian nuclear cooperation was not identified until early 2007, only months before an Israeli airstrike destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor in a remote desert region near al-Kibar in northeast Syria.

When Bashar Assad took power in 2000 after his father died, Israel began updating its intelligence file on the young leader who had just assumed power upon the death of his father.

Analysts noted a stream of high-level Syrian and North Korean officials responsible for, according to the Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman.

But the information was dismissed by the Mossad, Israeli’s legendary intelligence service, as implausible.

In the annual CIA briefings to Congress on WMD proliferation, the CIA did not list North Korea as a supplier of nuclear technology between 2001 and 2006.

But intelligence had begun to mount after 2001 that nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria had in fact begun “probably as early as 1997”,according to later CIA conclusions reported to congress.

Mounting evidence in the following years, in addition to the interception of an unusual amount of electronic communication between a remote Syrian desert location and Pyongyang and numerous reciprocal visits of high level nuclear officials and scientists between Syria and North Korea, was a stream of North Korean procurement of nuclear technology which they delivered to Syria, and materials gathered by Israeli intelligence in break-ins to a Syrian official’s London hotel room, where the contents of his computers were seized.

North Korean  Chon Chibu, nuclear engineer in charge of the Yongbyan nuclear processing plant with the head of Syrian Atomic Energy Agency in Syria. Note Syrian license plates on vehicle in background (Photo CIA)

North Korean Chon Chibu, nuclear engineer in charge of the Yongbyan nuclear processing plant with the head of Syrian Atomic Energy Agency in Syria. Note Syrian license plates on vehicle in background (Photo CIA)

This took place in December 2006, when a senior Syrian intelligence official came to London under a false name. Mossad agents broke into his hotel room and copied the contents of his computer.

What they found astonished them.

There were blueprints of a nuclear facility and scores of photographs of the nuclear plant under construction, apparently in the Syrian Desert.

One picture showed North Korea’s top nuclear scientist, Chon Chibu, who was in charge of North Korea’s plutonium nuclear fuel processing site at Yongybon, posing with Syria’s Atomic Energy Agency director, Ibrahim Othman. The license plates of the vehicles in the background of the two men clearly showed the rendezvous took place in Syria.

In February of 2007, a senior Iranian general attached to the Republican Guard Command defected to the west. He proved a goldmine of information. Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Ali-Reza Asgari revealed to the CIA and Mossad agents who debriefed him a bombshell of alarming information: Iran was financing a nuclear facility near completion in Syria that was designed and constructed by North Korea.

The defection was top secret and Asgari soon disappeared. Iran announced he had been “kidnapped by the Mossad and probably killed.” In fact, Asgari was whisked to a U.S. military base in Germany where he provided key details before being given political asylum.

ISRAELI STRIKE

In August 2007, Israeli commandos dressed as Syrian soldiers were inserted by helicopter into the remote northeastern Syrian Desert to the purported nuclear site near the Euphrates River. They collected samples which were brought back to Israel. Tests confirmed not only the presence of nuclear material, but the signature showed that it originated in North Korea.

Both Israel and Washington knew that there were North Korean specialists working at the site. “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that,” U.S. State Department official Andrew Semmel was quoted as saying in the aftermath of the attack.

That September 3, a North Korean ship, the Al Hamed, arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus with a cargo manifest claiming to be carrying cement. An Israeli agent was monitoring the ship and took photographs of the cargo. Israel contends the vessel was delivering key nuclear material for the plutonium weapons plant.

Three days later, and two months after the deadly blast at the Aleppo chemical weapons site, eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets mounted the stealth air strike on a top secret plutonium production nuclear weapons facility being built under contract by North Korea near al-Kibar .

Ten more North Korean nuclear scientists and technicians were killed in the Israeli assault.

The nearly completed North Korean-designed and built nuclear facility was the result of a secret pact signed by senior North Korean government officials with Assad in June 2002.

The estimated $2 billion nuclear weapons facility in Syria was partially financed by Iran.

North Korea was additionally paid with five annual deliveries of 100,000 tons of Syrian wheat, in a $120 million-deal personally signed by Assad, documents in the Syrian president’s handwriting show.

The bodies of the 10 North Korean nuclear advisers killed in the Israeli bombings were returned to North Korea in October.

In a secret April 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, then U.S. Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice wrote to State Department officials that Israel had destroyed the reactor that “Syria was clandestinely constructing, we judge with North Korean assistance.”

 http://www.fas.org/irp/news/2008/04/odni042408.pdf

Rice spoke of the fear that Washington had of publicizing the information: “We have delayed sharing this information with you, because our first concern was to prevent conflict. “We believe -based on strong evidence- that North Korea assisted Syria with the reactor,” Rice wrote. “The U.S. intelligence community conducted an intensive, months-long effort to confirm and corroborate the information Israel provided us on the reactor and to gather more details from our own sources and methods…our intelligence experts are confident that the facility the Israelis targeted was in fact a nuclear reactor of the same type North Korea built indigenously at its Yongbyon nuclear facility” and “we have good reason to believe this reactor was not intended for peaceful purposes.”

 <iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/yj62GRd0Te8?rel=0&#8243; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

OVERCOMING SETBACK

Undeterred by either the military strike on the Syrian nuclear facility in September or the July explosions at the chemical weapons facility, North Korea and Syria exchanged high-level weapons delegations for urgent meetings immediately in September,  October, and November.

On September 10, 2007, four days after the Israeli bombing of the Syrian facility, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sent a message to Assad reaffirming that “the excellent friendly and co-operative relations between the two countries are steadily growing stronger even under the complicated international situation.”€ A more strident message was sent the following day condemning the Israeli air assault as “illegal” and a “very dangerous provocation.”€

North Korean top envoy meeting Syrian head of state Assad in Damascus in 2006

North Korean top envoy meeting Syrian head of state Assad in Damascus in 2006

On September 22 2007, a delegation of Syrian diplomats, led by leading Ba’ath party figure Saaeed Eleia Dawood, was met by Kim Yong Nam, head of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

On September 24 of the same year North Korea’s official party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said, “Israeli warplanes’ intrusion into the territorial airspace of Syria and bomb-dropping are an outright violation of Syria’s sovereignty and a grave crime that destroys regional peace and security,” and that the United States supported this “brazen behavior.”

In November 2007, North Korean ground-to-ground missile engineers secretly returned to Syria to hold talks on how to resume tests to arm with chemical warheads the ballistic missiles Pyongyang provided to Damascus. The objective was to extend the range and accuracy of Syrian missiles to be able to reach the entirety Israeli territory.

ASSASSINATIONS

In February 2008, Hezbollah” chief of security”  Imad Mughniyah was assassinated in downtown Damascus.

He was also Hezbollah’s chief liaison with Pyongyang

Mughniyah had made several trips to Pyongyang and coordinated North Korean assistance to Hezbollah, which included a variety of conventional weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, training by Pyongyang of their guerrilla fighters, and the sophisticated construction of a North Korean-designed and built underground tunnel network in southern Syria along the Lebanese border.

North Korea’s connection to Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah | Picture: Wikipedia

North Korea’s connection to Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah | Picture: Wikipedia

Mughniyah was also one of the most-wanted terrorists and bomb-makers in the Middle East, widely recognized as the mastermind of the bombings at the U.S. Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut that killed hundreds of American troops and diplomats in the 1980s.

Israeli intelligence had information that Mughniyah was plotting a military attack in retaliation for the Israeli strike against the North Korean-built plutonium weapons facility, according to a detailed report by Der Spiegel in 2009.

On the night of February 12, 2008, Imad Mughniyah attended a party at the Iranian embassy in Damascus where other guests included the Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and the Syrian official in charge of coordinating covert weapons projects with Pyongyang, Gen. Mohammed Suleiman. After leaving the reception, Mughniyah was killed when a bomb placed in the headrest of the driver’s seat of his Pajero exploded.

Six months later, on August 2, 2008, on the coast near the Syrian city of Tartus, Suleiman was relaxing at his weekend home. Suleiman was Assad’s top military and security aide in charge of Syria’s covert weapons, including their missile, chemical and nuclear weapons-development program.

Suleiman was also Damascus’s chief liaison with North Korea.

Charged with ensuring the security of the North Korean scientists, military advisors and technicians stationed in and visiting Syria, Suleiman had made numerous trips to North Korea to personally oversee the procurement of nuclear and, chemical weapons, as well as ballistic missile components.

Suleiman was in charge of “development of missiles, chemical and biological weapons and nuclear research and development. He coordinated the transfer of the reactor’s parts to Syria and was in charge of security arrangements for the North Korean scientists and technicians involved in its construction,” wrote Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal in their 2010 book “Mossad:  The Great Operations.”€

After the Israeli bombing destroyed the plutonium production site, Suleiman began plans to build a replacement nuclear facility, but “Suleiman’s new mission was much more complex and difficult than before, since he was now aware that he was on the Israeli and American intelligence agencies radars.”€

Accounts of what happened next vary depending on what sources are cited, but agree that Suleiman was in his vacation home when assassins’  bullets killed him while he was eating at his dinner table with family and friends.

A yacht with Israeli navy scuba divers and snipers was two kilometers off the Syrian coast.

According to the London Sunday Times, two scuba divers with guns in water-proof cases swam to shore, identified Suleiman and both fired one shot, hitting the chief of Syria’s missile, chemical and nuclear weapons program in the head. Other reports suggest Israeli snipers firing from the sea vessel.

Several days after the killing, Syria’s official media released a short statement: “Syria is holding an investigation to find those responsible for this crime.”

Secret U.S. diplomatic documents, released by WikiLeaks, quote U.S. officials saying Syria believed Israel was responsible for the assassination of Suleiman, who “enjoyed a reputation… as having special status and proximity to Assad.”

“As in other recent assassinations in Syria, speculation about who could have done it will likely be rampant,” read the classified August 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Damascus. “The most obvious suspects are the Israelis.”

RUSSIAN CONNECTION

In the 1990s, the commander of the Russian Military Academy for Chemical Warfare, Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, was also the top adviser on chemical weapons disarmament for then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin. But, as the former Soviet Union disintegrated, Kuntsevich secretly took on lucrative freelancing opportunities on the international chemical weapons black market.

In 1993, through a front company Kuntsevich created, he provided Syria 800 kilograms of key chemicals, smuggled from the Russian Military Academy for chemical warfare, to produce a sophisticated version of VX nerve gas which was adapted into chemical warheads.

Kuntsevich worked secretly for Damascus in exchange for large amounts of money to build their chemical weapons programs until 2002, when he was said to have died mysteriously on a flight from Damascus to Moscow. But Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman notes that his headstone in a Moscow cemetery lists his date of death as three days before the flight’s departure.

His death came after several high level demarches from Israel to the Kremlin to force Kuntsevich to cease his chemical weapons activities went unaddressed.

And in 2010, the Russian deputy head of the GRU, the military intelligence agency, died in a purported swimming accident in Damascus.

Israeli agents are suspected of being responsible for both deaths.

HOME TERRITORY

In July 2012, the core leadership of Syria’s military and security services were killed or injured in a bomb attack at the headquarters of the National Security Bureau in Damascus. Asef Shawkat, head of military intelligence; Rajha Daud, Minister of Defence; Hesham Bakhtiar, head of the National Security Service; and Tourkmani Hassan, Chief of Staff, were killed in the blast.

What went largely unnoticed was the assassination four days later of Dr. Nabil Zougheib, Syria’s top missile scientist and head of the missile development program for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center.

A trained missile engineer, Brig. Gen. Nabil Zougheib was a frequent visitor to Pyongyang. He had directly supervised North Korean missile engineers weaponizing North Korean supplied ballistic missile with chemical warheads.

“We have seen assassinations to people who hold key positions in research programs where the aim was to stop these research programs as with Doctor Nabil Zougheib,” Damascus based Syrian journalist Alaa Ebrahim said in media interviews.

Other Syrian scientists assassinated include a nuclear engineer and researcher, Aws Abdel Karim Khalil, and Brigadier General and chemical engineer Na elDakhil from the Department of Chemical Engineering.”

Dr. Ali Mohamad, editor-in-chief of the Syria Tribune, a pro Assad Damascus based media organization, said in a media interview “Let’s remember that the Syrian official who was responsible for all military research projects has been assassinated in Damascus by the rebels,” he said. “Let’s also remember that the person who orchestrated the Syrian long-range missile project colonel Dawoud Rajiha, was also assassinated in Damascus. This is about stopping the Syrian scientific military research projects and is about breaking the link that will help [Israel] overcome the Lebanese resistance and the Palestinians.”€

They were only the latest in a long list of dead scientists who have worked on Syria’s weapons of mass destruction development program over the last decade.

North Korea’s Hall of Mirrors: Fake Global Network of Shell Companies Key to Illicit Arms Exports

31 May

North Korea’s Global Hall of Mirrors: Shadowy front companies crucial to banned Pyongyang arms exports

Investigation reveals complex web of false shell corporations spanning the world enabling DPRK arms exports

By Nate Thayer
NK News
May 30, 2013

(See entire story at NK News http://www.nknews.org/2013/05/the-front-companies-facilitating-north-korean-arms-exports/ )
Four years after an aircraft was seized in Bangkok with a cargo of illicit weapons being sent from North Korea to Iran, the UN and other governments have concluded an investigation revealing new details of a sophisticated worldwide criminal network to circumvent UN sanctions designed to halt the proliferation of nuclear, missile, and other technologies to some of the world’s most volatile conflicts.

Dozens of shell companies involving at least 16 countries were created in the weeks before the aircraft was seized – paper industries designed to disguise the shadowy players behind the 2009 arms shipment that almost evaded international law enforcement.

On the night of December 11, 2009, the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand called the Prime Minister with an important request: U.S. intelligence had information a cargo plane had departed Pyongyang smuggling 35 tons of clandestine arms and was scheduled to land in Bangkok to refuel. The U.S. wanted the Thai army to seize the aircraft and its cargo, banned under international laws mandated by United Nations sanctions.

But when the aircraft was seized at 4.00pm the next day, the international intricate web of shell companies simply vanished into thin air.

In reality, they never existed except on paper.

The companies were all mail drops hurriedly established in obscure offices spanning the globe. They were all creations of other legal companies that exploited loopholes in national laws from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Ukraine to London – established to hide the true identities of the owners.

The officers listed on company registration papers were “nominee” directors with no power or knowledge over company operations. They received their instructions from the real owners whose true identities, nationalities, and locations they did not know.

Like an optical illusion, the complex global network was a hall of mirrors and the real identities of the powers behind the operation vanished immediately when the cargo was seized.

The only people that proved quickly identifiable were the airplane crew:–one Belarusian and four Ukrainians–who had no idea who they were working for, what cargo they were transporting, who their cache of goods was being delivered to, or even to where it was destined.

But the illicit weapons cache did yield a gold mine of documents that paint a vivid portrait of the complex global network used to evade international and national laws.

Leaked UN reports two weeks ago said their four year investigation into the Bangkok seizure had been concluded, and named three individuals who were part of the intricate web of deceit.

AN INTRICATE WEB

The 52-page confidential report by the Panel of Experts on sanctions against the DPRK named two Ukrainian citizens, Yuri Lunov and Igor Karev-Popov, and one citizen of Kazakhstan, Aleksandr Viktorovich Zykov, for their involvement in the North Korea arms cache seized in Bangkok.

Kazakh Aleksandr Viktorovich Zykov was an international arms trafficker whose company, then registered in the United Arab Emirates, owned the Russian made cargo plane until just months prior to it being used to transport the North Korean arms shipment.

Ukrainian Yuriy Lunov owned the Georgian company, Air West, who held the operating license to the aircraft, and hired the crew to fly the cargo plane.

Ukrainian Igor Karev-Popov was the mysterious figure who was “a UK based European” who controlled the New Zealand registered shell company, SP Trading, which from the shadows leased the aircraft from Air West from SP Trading’s shell mail-drop office in Kiev, Ukraine.

Upon leasing the plane, SP Trading signed an agreement with a just created Hong Kong registered front company, Union Top Management (UTM), which chartered the aircraft.

Four days later the aircraft departed Azerbaijan for a circuitous trip around the globe to Pyongyang.

From shell offices that included Kiev, Ukraine, Auckland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and a mysterious company registered in London, SP Trading and UTM choreographed the operation. The cargo, which included 35 surface-to-air missiles that could theoretically shoot down a passenger plane, originated in Pyongyang and were destined for Hezbollah via distributers in Iran and Syria.

The real beneficial owners of the New Zealand shell company, SP Trading, ltd., and the Hong registered UTM were in real control of getting the weapons from North Korea to Tehran, where they would subsequently have gone to the Palestinian guerrilla army, Hezbollah, via Syria.

The four year UN investigation by the Panel of Experts, in cooperation with a number of law enforcement, aviation, and financial investigators and intelligence agencies, notably New Zealand, uncovered a jigsaw puzzle that has revealed remarkable details of how international criminal syndicated transport illicit commodities under the radar of international and national laws.

A PORTRAIT EMERGES

While North Korea can mask operations within its own borders, there are many national and international laws to abide by in order to operate globally – particularly in shipping, international flight operations, financial systems and company registration. This is compounded within the national borders of countries that are more sensitive to operating within the parameters of international laws and regulations.

Aircraft ownership, operator licenses, safety requirements, cargo manifests, international flight plans, etc, all required documentation – documentation that was found aboard the seized aircraft in 2009, and provided a paper trail that sparked 4 years of international investigation.

“New Zealand authorities investigated the beneficiaries of SP Trading and passed information to the (UN) Sanctions committee,” a New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told NK News, confirming their ongoing investigation into who was behind the New Zealand-registered companies linked to the seized plane.

“New Zealand legislation will shortly be passed that will close the loophole for non-resident directors,” the New Zealand government added.

IGOR KAREV-POPOV

The “non-resident director” and beneficiary of SP Trading was Igor Karev-Popov, – the same Igor Karev-Popov identified as sanctioned by the UN Panel of Experts this May, and said to be the most important power behind the network revealed so far.

But while Karev-Popov had never previously been publicly identified by name, the New Zealand government has been aware of his identity since at least 2010.

He is is the mysterious unnamed “UK based client” who was the person behind the creation of the two key paper companies, SP Trading and UTM, who controlled decisions to lease the aircraft, create the flight plan, pay those involved, and, most importantly, approve the cargo manifest that, ultimately contained the 35 tons of proscribed armaments.

The real and beneficial owners of SP Trading and UTM were in control of getting the weapons from North Korea to Iran.

Those involved in the actual transport of the proscribed cargo and who set up the web of front companies, knew very little, if anything, about the scheme they played various compartmentalized roles in. It is routine, in fact, for flight crews to have no knowledge of the specifics of the cargo they are hauling, arms trafficking investigators say…….(See entire story at NK News http://www.nknews.org/2013/05/the-front-companies-facilitating-north-korean-arms-exports/ )

Oops….Sorry About that Austin, Texas

31 Mar

Oops….Sorry About that Austin, Texas: An Otherwise Excellent Example of Great Journalism was Also a Tad Off

The Korean Central News Agency Friday sent out one of the thousands of meticulously staged propaganda photographs they do each year, this one with a caption which included the description of an “urgent operation meeting on the Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force’s performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command in Pyongyang.”

The picture showed Kim Jong Un sitting at a table with military commanders standing behind him. In the upper left, on the wall, was world map obscured in the background with some barely visible Korean language characters and several arrows pointing to different parts of an unmarked global map.

NKNews reporter James Pearson, with the eagle-eyed attention for out of the box details and curiosity which makes for a great reporter, didn’t focus on the staged people in the photo but on the aspects not designed by the propagandists who produced it to draw attention. One was the map in the top left hand portion of the photo. He translated the writing on the map which turned out to read “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan”.

NKNews.org annotated photo titled "U.S. Mainland Strike Plan." Original photo by KCNA. Translations and analysis by James Pearson NKNews.org

NKNews.org annotated photo titled “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan.” Original photo by KCNA. Translations and analysis by James Pearson NKNews.org

While this photo was released on the English language service of KCNA, whose target audience is enemy foreigners, it originally had appeared in the main North Korean Worker’s party organ, Rodong Sinbun, which targets North Korean citizens, and which often includes entirely different messages that the ruling party wants to send to its own population. What propaganda that appears in the North Korean language domestic press is very different than the propaganda meant for foreign consumption. Niether the map nor caption was either translated or highlighted in the KCNA English language broadcast photo.
Pearson said: “Shortly after breakfast, I called my NK NEWS colleague in D.C. to tell him I’d spotted a KCNA picture that showed Kim Jong Un and his generals studying a not-so-subtle map with the title ‘US MAINLAND ATTACK PLAN’ crudely printed on it. It could’ve been satire but, knowing how most (if not all) NK propaganda is very much intended for an internal audience, it made sense given reports on the ground in North Korea that the state was trying to create a ‘war-like’ atmosphere domestically.”

Pearson, who is in Seoul, also noted three blurry arrows pointing to spots on an unmarked outline of a world map. He, in coordination with NKNews journalists in Washington, superimposed a Google map of the U.S. on the KCNA unmarked map and located where exactly the arrows were pointing to. One pointed at Hawaii; one at San Diego, California; one at Washington, D.C.; and one at Austin, Texas.

Original March 29 KCNA official photo where Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals to put its rocket units on standby to attack U.S. military bases and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", the official KCNA news agency said. Note map has no markings or translations

Original March 29 KCNA official photo where Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals to put its rocket units on standby to attack U.S. military bases and “judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation”, the official KCNA news agency said. Note map has no markings or translations

Austin Texas? The home of Willie Nelson, hipsters, the South by Southwest music and cultural festival, and great barbecue?

Yep, that Austin. Continue reading

25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip and history of U.S.-North Korean basketball diplomacy

5 Mar

25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip comes after decades of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea as a central tool in nuclear bomb negotiations

by Nate Thayer , March 4, 2013
Dennis Rodman Tweeting From Pyongyang

Dennis Rodman Tweeting From Pyongyang

 NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman’s circus troupe delegation to North Korea was greeted by ridicule by most of the world. But does the Kim dynasty’s longtime basketball obsession hold the seed that will open North Korea to the world?

U.S. diplomatic insiders were dismissive of the Rodman meeting last week, describing it as “goofball diplomacy”. But basketball has played a very real role in the often bizarre, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up backroom antics of U.S.-Pyongyang diplomatic negotiations for 25 years.

A love of the game shared by Kim Jong Il and his successor, current North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, has on occasion put basketball on the same bench as nuclear warfare in top level talks between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Rodman’s visit is just the latest wacky chapter in a diplomatic story that has seen the hoop dreams of Kim Jong Il become an unlikely pawn in nuclear negotiations with the U.S.

North Korean Top Nuclear Negotiator, Head of the North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry, and Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and Scotty Pippin Fanatic, Ri Gun, with U.S. North Korean Top Envoy Christopher Hill

North Korean Top Nuclear Negotiator, Head of the North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry, and Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and Scotty Pippin Fanatic, Ri Gun, with U.S. North Korean Top Envoy Christopher Hill

The Bulls fanatic from North Korea

In 1991, at a low point of relations between North Korea and the United States, Washington invited three North Koreans to a conference at George Washington University about peace on the Korean peninsula. At the time, the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the DPRK, so the delegation from Pyongyang was attending in an “unofficial” capacity.

According to Gene Schmiel, then in charge of the Korea desk at the U.S. State Department, the “unofficial” North Korean delegation was led by a man in the Pyongyang “America department who spoke good English, was said to have an intelligence background, and close ties to the Dear Leader.”

That man was Ri Gun, a senior Pyongyang figure known to be close to Kim Jong Il and a lead member involved in every diplomatic exchange and nuclear and ballistic missile negotiations for the previous 25 years. Schmiel’s most vivid memory about the conference came when Gun revealed his passion for a very American pastime:

“After dinner, we went to their hotel room in Washington and [Gun] said ‘Oh My God! It’s eight o’clock! The Chicago Bulls are on TNT! Be quiet, we can talk during the commercials. Stop. No more talking! Michael [Jordan] and the Bulls are on TNT, and I’ve got to see if Scotty [Pippen] has gotten over his latest injury!’”

Ri Gun “then moved to the TV, turned it on and stared transfixed at the opening jump ball of the NBA basketball between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Schmiel recalled in an interview this week. “Ri Gun headed the delegation and talked about an interest in basketball and Michael Jordan…Scotty Pippen this and Michael Jordan that, the triangle defense this, three points shots. They cared more about the NBA than I did”.

“We spent the rest of our time together that evening debating not high policy, but high quality basketball shooting and such arcana as whether the NBA should permit use of the zone defense. It was clear from our discussions that he had watched the NBA for many years. They cared more about the NBA than I did”, Schmiel added.

Gun was a fanatic for American basketball, particularly for the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons, the latter known as the NBA’s bad boys for their dirty play and habitual disregard for the rules of the game (of which Dennis Rodman was the poster-boy). Gun knew the nicknames of players, NBA history, and statistics. And he knew it because, Gun told Schmiel, “he got to watch games with the boss”. That ‘boss’ would have been the then North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Continue reading

Frequent Flyer’s Guide to North Korean Air: a Review of World’s Only One Star Airline

26 Jan

Frequent Flyer’s Guide to North Korean Air: a Review of World’s Only One Star Airline

By Nate Thayer

Air Koryo, North Korea’s official airline, is rated the world’s only one star air carrier. But it is improving. In August, Pyongyang’s promise of being global technological leaders achieved a key milestone, when the national airline announced it would offer online reservations with “convenient reservations day and night”.

The official airline of North Korea now allows international travelers to book one of their eight weekly international flights, which accommodate the global hubs between Pyongyang and Beijing, Pyongyang and Shenyang, China, or Pyongyang and Vladivostok.

Air Koryo says customers can purchase additional room for their “black box” or for their “fat”, according to the Air Koryo website, which is inexplicably down at the moment

There is a hitch though; the airline doesn’t accept credit cards, so one has to use PayPal.

Air Koryo website for revolutionary new online bookings for reservations. Unfortunately they don't accept credit cards

Air Koryo website for revolutionary new online bookings for reservations. Unfortunately they don’t accept credit cards

Air Koryo offers scheduled flights from Pyongyang to Beijing and Shenyang in China and Vladivostok in Russia.

There are a number of independent air travel rating services that rate the service. Skytrax, a company that ranks global air transport gives Air Koryo the only airline on earth a one-star rating that represents “very poor quality performance”.

AirKoryo-620x410 air-koryo-is-not-quality-approved-and-has-1-star-general-ratings-almost-across-the-board-from-skytrax.jpg air-koryos-webpage-is-part-of-the-governments-site-and-theres-not-much-you-can-do-on-it-you-have-to-call-or-email-a-hotmail-address skytrax not quality approved

Air Koryo’s website offers a one way business class fare from Pyongyang to Beijing, if you book online, of $374, which would seem prohibitive to most citizens of the isolated nation where per capita income is estimated at $1,800.

The website Terminal U, which offers “Air travel news & views” recently wrote a detailed pictorial story titled “Flying on North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo: “The zero star airline” by “Our writer, Gunnar Garfors” who “ shares his experiences on board North Korea’s Air Koryo, where he inadvertently discovers the world’s smallest beef burger patty.”

The World's Smallest Hamburger

The World’s Smallest Hamburger

Their crack correspondent Gunner writes: “My favorite airlines are all based in Asia. It just so happens that my least favorite airline is also Asian. North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo offers you nothing that resembles quality on its flights to or from its hub in Pyongyang – but the experience is certainly worth writing home about.”

He continues that “Strange sounds and seat configurations are all part of the experience, as well as the revolutionary-like propaganda music played before and during take-off” and offers a colorful portrait where the stewardesses “wear white gloves and uniforms that must have won fashion awards in the 60s make on board announcements in a formal manner along the lines of: ‘The beverage service is about to commence, thanks to our Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.’”

Reviewers nearly unanimously say that the flight attendants are friendly and efficient, but perfunctory. They earned a 3 star rating for Grooming and Presentation

Gunner then offers his assessment of in flight service, saying he “was given a complimentary copy of “The Pyongyang Times,” North Korea’s only English speaking newspaper. I should point out that in no other country would it be called a “newspaper.”

koryo inflight reading

He then quoted from a story on the World Cup qualifying match between North Korea and South Korea in Seoul. “The match turned into a mess of tricks and swindles. It is as clear as day that this was the product of the Lee Myung Bak [the President of South Korea] clan’s moves of confrontation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the deliberate behavior of the dishonest forces instigated by the clan. We sternly condemn the behavior of the Lee clan, which misbehaves itself in every way in disregard of the nation and the idea of sport, as the anti-reunification and anti-national moves of confrontation with the DPRK and strongly urge the South Korean authorities to bear full responsibility and immediately apologies for the serious incident.”

he attendants pass out a propaganda paper before getting off the ground. Guess who's on the front page

Regarding the meal service, Gunner writes “You will get a tray with calories on it, but whether what’s on the tray can be called ‘food’ is debatable.”

skytrax-rates-the-food-at-1-star-for-economy-and-2-star-for-business-class-most-reviewers-say-that-its-edible-but-nothing-special

Gunner notes correctly that Air Koryo is largely banned from flying to Europe because it doesn’t meet international safety standards, but the Norwegian, whose bio says he “visits over 50 countries a year and is on a mission to visit all 198 countries in the world” and “his wildest journey so far was a trip to five countries on five continents in a single day – a world record” ends on a high note concluding “you won’t find a more unique in-flight experience anywhere else in the world.”

Flipdown TV screens with homages to Kim (Sr) (Jr) )3rd) for passenger entertainment

Flipdown TV screens with homages to Kim (Sr) (Jr) )3rd) for passenger entertainment

In August, 2011, the official state Korean Central News Agency announced that there would be a scheduled Shanghai-Pyongyang air service available on Tuesday and Friday every week, but it turned out the scheduled route was limited to “Chinese volunteers” who wanted to visit North Korea for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

Air Koryo operates round trip flights between Pyongyang and Beijing on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  It operates round trip flights between Pyongyang and Shenyang on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The flights always originate in Pyongyang and return the same day.

Terminal 2 is nothing special and get's a lot of flights to obscure places, including 2 Air Koryo flights to FNJ (Air China flies to FNJ from Terminal 2 by the way)

Business Insider magazine reported last year in a story headlined “On North Korea’s 1-Star Airline, You’ll Be Served One Sad-Looking Hamburger” that Japanese news website RocketNews24 offered a pictorial food review of Air Koryo’s service on Japanese news website and its correspondent, who was travelling economy, was served a hamburger and a cup of juice which “looks totally gross. The worst part? The burger was served cold. RocketNews24 surmises that the microwave is reserved for first-class customers only.”

screenshot via YouTube RocketNews24

RocketNews24 wrote “On our Japanese site, we run a regular column where we review the in-flight meals of airlines around the world. While we’ve yet to bring any of these to our English site, our latest review was just too good to keep to our Japanese readers. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the in-flight meal of North Korea’s state-owned carrier, Air Koryo. The meal under review was served to our correspondent during an economy class flight from North Korea’s Sunan International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport. The contents of the meal included a hamburger and a cup of juice – nothing more, nothing less. The hamburger was topped with 2 thin onion slices and mayonnaise and came in wrapping with Chinese writing on it, suggesting it was made in China. The juice was available in either apple or orange. Regarding the taste of the hamburger, our correspondent tells us that both the buns and hamburger patty were incredibly dry, though this may partly be due to the fact that the hamburger was served to him cold. Our guess is that the microwave is reserved for first-class passengers only.”

hamburger4

Business Insider Magazine wrote in 2011 in a story titled” “North Korea’s Air Koryo Is The Worst Airline In The World” that “there’s only one airline in the world that has been deemed horrible enough to earn a dismal 1-star rating from leading airline reviewer SkyTrax. It’s North Korea’s state-owned airline: Air Koryo.”

In the business magazines airline review it asked: “In an industry already suffering from widespread negative perception, what makes Air Koryo stand out as the very worst? Customer service, food, safety or a little bit of everything?”

They then posted photographs from recent passenger Australian biomedical engineer Mark Fahey on his flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

It gets so bad that they have to wipe the cabin down so that droplets dont bother the passengers a process that Joseph Ferris caught on camera on his flight.

It gets so bad that they have to wipe the cabin down so that droplets dont bother the passengers a process that Joseph Ferris caught on camera on his flight.

For your refuses vomit bag

For your refuses vomit bag

The website airlinemeals.com, a service devoted to rating in flight food quality on every commercial air carrier on earth, devotes a whole section to passenger reviews of Air Koryo’s cuisine.

Route:         Beijing to Pyongyang, 2005-08-12

Flight duration:    1h 30m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:         n/a

Aircraft:      IL

Meal:          lunch – See the pic. No products are of any known brand or known style: it’s all ‘North Korean’ in style.

Drink:         Water approved by the Great Leader

Comments:           Large portions. The sausages did have hard parts in it (bone?).

Rating (1-10):       5 stars

koryo5meal

In another review the meals slightly improved it seems.

Route: Beijing to Pyongyang, 2005-10-01
Flight duration: 1h 30m
Flight class: economy
Ticket price: USD 332.00 (roundtrip)
Aircraft: TU-154
Meal: Lunch – Rice with chicken, potatoes and some orange sauce without much flavor. Also salad, fruit, hardboiled egg, cake, processed cold meat, and bread.
Drink: North Korean orange-like fizzy drink
Comments: This was much more fulfilling than the return flight’s offering. Quality-wise, it’s not bad relatively speaking — typical economy class airline stuff.
Rating (1-10): 7 starskoryo1

In a review a few years later the Pyongyang authorities probably were pleased in the conclusion that the food “was better than you get on any American airliner.”

Route:         Pyongyang to Beijing, 2005-10-04

Date added:          2008-05-21

Flight duration:    1h 30m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:         USD 332.00 (roundtrip)

Aircraft:      IL-62

Meal:          Breakfast – Some hamburger with a mystery chicken-type meat in the middle, and some overcooked lettuce, as if it had been frozen and microwaved.

Drink:         North Korean draft beer

Comments:           Doesn’t fill you up much. Still better than what you would get on any US airline, though.

Rating (1-10): 5 stars

Although a review the next year fared decidedly worse:

Route:         Beijing to Pyongyang, 2009-10-01

Date added:          2010-03-12

Flight duration:    2h 0m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:

Aircraft:      TU-154

Meal:          Hot lunch – mystery chicken, canned fruit, nothing special.

Drink:         I had decent bottled water

Comments:           Since this flight originated in Beijing, the food was at least identifiable. On the return flight which originated in Pyongyang, it was quite different and even more of a mystery… it was a roll with some kind of mystery pate on it

 

Air Koryo's Ilyushin Il-62

B y 2010, it appeared airline frequent flyers were getting used to bland fare:

Route:         Pyongyang to Beijing, 2009-09-10

Date added:          2010-05-08

Flight duration:    2h 0m

Flight class:          business

Ticket price:

Aircraft:      TU154

Meal:          Airkoryo.jpg Typical Korean (North) meal…

Drink:         “Orange Drink with Pulp” (their words)

Comments:           Airkoryo3.jpg – Blanched peanuts and “Orange Drink with Pulp”

On the aviation forum airliners.net, which bills itself as the wings of the web”, Gialloboy from Ireland posted on September 3, 2012 on his trip from Beijing to Pyongyang. “Woke up Tuesday morning with a rather bad hangover but managed to drag myself in the shower and ultimately into a cab to Beijing airport. Traffic was not too bad for a change and I arrived in Terminal 2 within 30 minutes. Did some last minute email (no Internet in the DPRK!) and drank some Isotonic drinks which made me feel a lot better.” The Irish lad offered copious detail for the frequent Pyongyang flyers that were to follow him. “Terminal 2 is nothing special and get’s a lot of flights to obscure places, including 2 Air Koryo flights to FNJ (Air China flies to FNJ from Terminal 2 by the way)”

koryo4

“At 11 am I made my way past security and on towards Air Koryo’s check in. They actually have a separate J checkin and I had my boarding card and lounge pass within 60 seconds. Funny thing is that Korean Air operates check in desks for their flight to Seoul in the very next row of desks! Check in desk (used for J PAX). Went past immigration and visited the lounge. Air Koryo uses the Air China lounge which is again used by Korean Air! ”

“Boarded quickly and settled into my comfy J seat. There are three rows in a 2-2 configuration; I was in row 2 and next to a quite friendly Danish businessman. We had some good conversation about his frequent trips to Pyongyang.

the-seatbelt-sign-is-old-school

Unfortunately photos are not allowed inside Air Koryo planes so all shots are “sneaked”, the Danish businessman acted as my “wingman” and kept an eye on the FAs. There had been cases of travelers made to delete all of their pictures so I was extra careful. Air Koryo J class snaps, rather stylish and nice. I have no idea why they score only 1 star on Skytrax, I thought they were rather adequate for a 2 hour flight and probably offered more comfort than some US airlines.”

but-see-all-that-smoke-its-water-vapor-coming-from-the-air-conditioning-outlets-explained-fahey-on-flickr-it-was-as-if-they-had-a-fog-machine-running-in-the-cabin

“Despite the flight being only 120 minutes we got a full meal, consisting of cold cuts and curry. Not bad at all! drinks were served also with a choice of water, soft drink and beer. Meal was followed by coffee. Note there was no milk, as everywhere in North Korea. Only powdered cream. FA consisted of a patriotic North Korean film: Thanks were paid to the Great Leader when we entered DPRK airspace and shortly after we touched down in FNJ. Surely this airport has one of the longest taxies anywhere in the world.

The TU204 at home base in FNJ”

Then the Irishman landed in Pyongyang.

1-6

“Arrivals is pretty new, the old Soviet style terminal has been bulldozed to the ground. We were in within 30 minutes and they had our mobile phonesJ.”

Busy day in FNJ!

Busy day in FNJ!

Into town and first stop Arch of Triumph: People were training for the upcoming torch parade on Kim Il Sung square

air-koryo-actually-hasnt-had-an-incident-since-2006-when-a-plane-ran-off-a-runway-and-hasnt-had-any-fatalities-since-1983

The Irishman had a few comments on the discussion board: “Quoting theobcman (Reply 5):

“Also when you say they took your mobile phones at the airport, then what happens? Do they keep them until your return flight?”

He replied “You get the phone back when you are about to leave the country.”

Another intrepid traveler inquired “Is milk is not available in DPRK at all?”

139287-north-korea-s-flagship-airline-air-koryo-to-pyongyang

Our Celtic correspondent helpfully explained “Not really, if anything else most Asians are lactose intolerant so there is not much of a demand for milk to begin with. Second dairy is very resource intensive to make, something the DPRK does not have a lot of.”

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