ROK-U.S. News

On the three-year anniversary of WannaCry, US exposes new North Korean malware

By Catalin Cimpanu for Zero Day

US cyber-security officials expose today three new North Korean malware strains named COPPERHEDGE, TAINTEDSCRIBE, and PEBBLEDASH

Today, US cyber-security officials have published details about three malware strains that have been used by North Korea’s government-sponsored hackers to attack targets all over the world.

The announcement coincided with the three-year anniversary of the WannaCry ransomware outbreak, which US officials have formally blamed on the Pyongyang regime, and have even gone as far as to press charges against one of the hackers.

The three malware strains exposed today are named:

COPPERHEDGE – a remote access trojan (RAT) capable of running arbitrary commands, performing system reconnaissance, and exfiltrating data. Six different variants identified.

TAINTEDSCRIBE – a malware implant (trojan) that’s installed on hacked systems to receive and execute the attacker’s commands. These samples use FakeTLS for session authentication and for network encryption utilizing a Linear Feedback Shift Register (LFSR) algorithm. The main executable disguises itself as Microsoft’s Narrator.

PEBBLEDASH – another implant. This one has the capability to download, upload, delete, and execute files; enable Windows CLI access; create and terminate processes; and perform target system enumeration.

The Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (DHS CISA) published official advisories for the three malware strains on its website.

US Cyber Command has also uploaded samples for the three malware strains on its VirusTotal account.

Costin Raiu, a malware analyst for Kaspersky’s GReAT, confirmed that the three malware strains were linked to known North Korean threat groups. Per Raiu, the samples contained code similarities with Manuscrypt, a known North Korean malware family, which Kaspersky had discovered in 2017.

But besides the WannaCry three-year anniversary, today is also the three-year anniversary since the US government has started publishing alerts on North Korean malware and hacking activity on its website.

Since May 12, 2017, the DHS has published reports on 28 malware samples on its website.

The general train of thought was that by publishing easily available information on these malware strains, the public and private sector could deploy detection rules to block attacks involving these tools, forcing North Korean hackers to regularly work on new versions that can bypass security checks, instead of reaping the rewards from their hacking operations.


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Republic of Korea plane lands at Joint Base Andrews with 500,000 protective masks


JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (May 12, 2020) – A Republic of Korea military transport aircraft landed at Joint Base Andrews this morning with 500,000 protective masks for donation to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to use in its response to COVID-19.

South Korea donated the masks in honor of Korean war veterans and the long-standing alliance between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War.

This gift of protective masks “is a sign that the deep and ongoing respect our two nations have for each other that we cemented nearly 70 years ago in a time of war and great crisis,” said VA Secretary Robert L. Wilkie, according to a VA statement. “So many years later, we are joined in another just and noble cause of containing a pandemic that threatens our citizens’ lives and livelihoods and poses a grave threat to the Veterans we have both pledged to protect.”

“This gift from the Republic of Korea is possible thanks to the noble sacrifice made 70 years ago by the American veterans of the Korean War,” said South Korea’s Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Sam-duck Park, according to a statement sent from South Korea. “These masks symbolize our countries’ alliance and the appreciation of the Korean people who have never forgotten the American veterans’ service and sacrifice. We are always grateful for them.”

Officials from the Republic of Korea embassy, including the Defense Attaché Maj. Gen. Se Woo Pyo, the Air Attaché and the Marine Corps Attaché, greeted the arriving Korean military air crew when the C-130 aircraft landed on base. Additionally, VA officials attended to thank the Republic of Korea representatives and to transport away the face masks for use nationally in VA medical facilities.

The materials were offloaded by Airmen assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing.

A Republic of Korea C-130 military transport aircraft carrying protective masks arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on May 12, 2020. South Korea donated the masks in honor of Korean War veterans and the long-standing alliance between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum)
Airmen assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing and South Korean aircrew unload a Republic of Korea C-130 aircraft carrying protective masks at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on May 12, 2020. The masks are being donated in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950 and ended on July 27, 1953. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum)
A South Korean aircrew member directs an unloading truck to the back of a Republic of Korea C-130 aircraft at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on May 12, 2020. Airmen assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing and Korean aircrew offloaded protective masks from the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum) 
U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and South Korean representatives pose for a photo at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on May 12, 2020. Officials from the Embassy of the Republic of Korea greeted the arriving Korean military aircrew when the C-130 aircraft landed on Joint Base Andrews. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum)
U.S. Air Force and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs leadership speak with South Korean representatives at Joint Base Andrews, Md., May 12, 2020. South Korea donated protective masks to the VA in support of COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum)
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S. Korea at critical juncture for virus containment amid rising Itaewon-linked infections


SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s coronavirus containment capability is again put to the test after successfully controlling new infections for weeks, as the country braces for a sharp rise in new virus cases linked to clubs and bars in Seoul.

The country reported 35 more cases of the new coronavirus Monday, the biggest single day spike since April 9, bringing the nation’s total infections to 10,909, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The country had been adding fewer than 15 cases of COVID-19 since mid-April, with the number of domestic infections even falling to zero at some points, before rebounding to 18 and 34 cases over the weekend.

Six of the newly added cases Monday were imported, while the remaining 29 cases were link to clubbers.

Quarantine workers carry out a disinfection operation in Seoul's popular multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon on May 11, 2020. (Yonhap)

Quarantine workers carry out a disinfection operation in Seoul’s popular multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon on May 11, 2020. (Yonhap)

The hike in new virus cases came after a man in his 20s who tested positive for COVID-19 visited clubs and bars in Seoul’s popular multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon on May 1. More than 1,500 people were believed to have visited those places during the time with the virus patient.

The number of virus infections linked to the places totaled 86 nationally as of noon, according to health authorities. Of the figure, 23 patients were families or acquaintances of those who visited the places.

By region, Seoul accounted for a large share at 51, followed by the surrounding Gyeonggi Province with 21 cases. The number of related cases from Incheon, west of Seoul, came to seven.

Patients in their 20s came to 58, followed by those in 30s with 18.

The Seoul government has secured a list of more than 5,500 people who have visited clubs in Itaewon from April 24 through Wednesday, and have made contact with more than 2,400 of them so far. Some 3,000 people, however, are still out of contact.

Health authorities said people who have visited Itaewon over the period should be tested for COVID-19, even if they do not show symptoms. Health authorities said more than a third of the confirmed patients from night clubs and bars in Itaewon did not show symptoms.

After keeping local infections at zero for a few days, South Korea saw an unexpected spike in cases coming from entertainment facilities in the popular area, with infections reported not only in Seoul but across the country.

The surge in new virus cases came as the country eased social distancing guidelines last week, and schools are set to gradually open.

Imported cases, which used to be the biggest threat for South Korea’s quarantine operations over recent days, are now less of a concern.

The total number of imported cases came to 1,133.

The nation’s death toll remained unchanged at 256, the KCDC said.

It marked the fourth consecutive day for South Korea to add no additional virus deaths. The mortality rate stood at 2.35 percent.

In total, 9,632 people in South Korea have recovered from the virus, up 22 from a day earlier. The figure translates into 88 percent of patients here being fully cured of the disease.

The country has carried out tests on 668,492 people since Jan. 3, including 4,606 from a day earlier.

The number of patients who were tested positive again after having recovered from the disease came to 393.

South Korea gave the go-ahead to the normalization of public facilities and other business establishments under the condition that they start following basic sanitation measures Wednesday. Schools will also open in phases soon.

The country vowed to maintain most of the eased regulations despite the new cluster infections for the time being, although it plans to apply tougher restrictions on entertainment facilities.

Authorities also plan to decide later in the day whether the country should have students go back to schools as originally planned.

Seoul, the most populous city, imposed an administrative order to effectively suspend business at clubs, bars and other nightlife establishments Saturday. The precautionary measure will remain in place until further notice, without specifying a date.

The country remains vigilant over more cluster infections from the previous holiday that ran from April 30 through May 5, as many South Koreans made short trips across the nation. The incubation period of the COVID-19 virus is roughly two weeks.

South Korea, which started to use electronic wristbands equipped with a location-tracking system on people who violate self-isolation rules in late April, said 14 bands have been applied so far.

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Inter-Korean summit still possible within this year: Cheong Wa Dae


SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) — President Moon Jae-in remains committed to pushing for another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at an early date, Cheong Wa Dae said on Monday.

Speaking in an interview with Yonhap News TV, presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok stressed it’s too early to rule out the possibility of the two holding their fourth summit within this year.

“Truly, it seems difficult at the moment, but we do not know what the variables will be in South-North relations. So we need to watch (what will happen),” he said.

The all-news cable channel is an affiliate of Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s key wire service.

Kang said Cheong Wa Dae will strive to create conditions for the summit by exploring inter-Korean cooperation projects “beginning from what’s possible.”

The government will continue relevant efforts “with patience,” he added.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok in a file photo (Yonhap)

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok in a file photo (Yonhap)

The previous day, Moon again expressed hope for quarantine cooperation between the two Koreas as a catalyst for various other joint projects, which are either immune from U.N.-led sanctions on Pyongyang or possible to get sanctions waivers for.

South Korea, in particular, is seeking to reconnect railways across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and enable its citizens to make individual tours of the communist neighbor.

Marking the third anniversary of his inauguration, Moon told reporters that Seoul’s related offers are still valid but that there’s been no response from Pyongyang yet.

Moon and Kim had three rounds of summit talks in 2018, once in Pyongyang and twice at the border village of Panmunjom.

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Why media get North Korea wrong

Reports of Kim Jong Un’s demise proved premature – but world demands information about him and his opaque state
A picture released by North Korean state media shows an apparently living Kim Jong Un. Photo: AFP / STR / KCNA VIA KNS


There were red faces in newsrooms across the world when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared, in conditions of apparently robust health and considerable jollity, in film and images put out by Pyongyang’s state-run news organization Korean Central News Agency on May 2.

Why the red faces?

Because, multiple reports, as well as a multitude of reports of reports, had alleged that, amid a three-week absence in the midst of a global pandemic, Kim, the leader of a nuclear armed state that is at odds with  much of the world, was incapacitated, brain dead – or plain dead.

Clearly – unless North Korea is engaged in a truly in-depth (and unlikely) disinformation campaign involving a body double or the release of old film and photos – he was not.

How could so many media get such a big story so very wrong?

After op-tier international outlet CNN reported that Kim was gravely ill, an explosion of reports was ignited. So were predictions as regards who would take over, with most speculation focusing on his younger sister and close aide, Kim Yo Jong.

It was not just media. Two prominent North Korean defectors, Ji Sung-ho and Thae Young-ho, both elected to the South Korean parliament in April, bullishly told media that they were convinced Kim was in poor health or worse.

“What I can say 99% for sure is that he died after undergoing heart surgery over the weekend,” Ji said in an interview in South Korea.

It was not the first time a North Korean leader’s condition had been misreported.

Fake news

The Tokyo correspondent of the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s best-selling newspaper, reported the murder of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, in November 1986. It detailed how a group of North Korean troops had fled to China after their failure to kill Kim, but that other members of their group had succeeded in the assassination plot.

It also cited a report in a North Korean propaganda village near the border with the South that Kim had been shot to death. None of this would prove to be true.

Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un, was rumored to have been shot dead by several local media reports in November 2004. Untrue.

In August 2008, South Korean media cited a book entitled The True Character of Kim Jong Il, written by Toshimitsu Shigemura, a former professor at Waseda University. The book alleged that Kim Jong-il died in 2003 and that the man running the country was a stand in.

If so, he did a good job, as Kim did not officially pass until 2011.

CNN cited a senior North Korean defector who reported that Kim Jong Un had poisoned Kim Kyung Hee, his aunt. Kim Kyung Hee was married to Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who Kim Jong Un had ordered executed in 2013.

However, Kim Kyung Hee reappeared – very much alive – in a KCNA report in January 2020.

Indeed, reports of the executions, imprisonment or exile of North Korean officials are frequently reported in both South Korean and global outlets. Almost as frequently, these reports prove wrong when the subjects resurface subsequently.

Biased beliefs?

Defectors who had said Kim was gravely did so on the basis that he did not appear at the country’s most important national event – his grandfather’s birthday. Kim had also failed to appear at a missile test, and on the founding date of the North Korean armed forces.

“I think it was premature to judge Kim Jong-un dead just because he didn’t attend the event for celebrating his grandfather’s birth,” said Baek Jin-kyung, a researcher at Seoul’s East Asia Institute – albeit, with the benefit of hindsight.

North Korean defectors have detailed knowledge about the country and many maintain sources north of the border via clandestine sources. But they are often highly critical of their former home, which may inculcate bias, with wishful thinking affecting analyses.

Defectors use their backgrounds to dazzle South Koreans into believing fake news, alleged the leftist Democratic Party, which demanded the rightist United Future Party punish the two lawmakers.

“North Korea will laugh at their remarks. How shameful is this?” asked Jeong Se-hyung, executive vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council.

Explosive rumors

CNN quoted an anonymous US government official as the source for its story, which appeared days after Daily NK, a website based in Seoul that covers North Korea issues by garnering comments from anonymous sources in North Korea, had reported that Kim had undergone heart treatment.

The report, due to CNN’s high visibility, was picked up by media around the world – including Asia Times – sparking waves of speculation. The response from US President Donald Trump was muddled, while the South Korean government’s repeatedly stated position was that that it “had not detected suspicious movements” in North Korea.

Seoul’s response, of course, assumed that such movements would be visible if Kim, indeed, had been ill, despite the opacity of the North Korean state. Seoul subsequently rolled out a big gun – Moon Chung-in, a special adviser for South Korean President Moon Jae-in with extensive experience in North Korea.

“Kim Jong-un is alive and well,” Moon said in an interview with Fox News – Trump’s favored television channel, and a key rival to CNN.

Some experts opined that Kim may have been evacuated from the capital due to the novel coronavirus and stated that it was too much to speculate that Kim could have heart problems simply because he was obese and had a family history of similar issues.

Also, some research institutes and media outlets noted that Kim’s personal train was in the east coast seaside resort of Wonsan – a favored location of Kim for years, where he has been overseeing development.

Still, the rumor mill was spinning.

“More responsible media express North Korea in terms that they don’t know what is going on,” said Michael Breen, an ex-reporter and one of the few Westerners ever to meet the late Kim Il Sung. “But the more excitable media runs with confident sources that don’t know what they are talking about and people have to follow that need.”

Big story…

Despite the red faces in global media following Kim’s reappearance, misreporting of North Korea may very well repeat itself.

“I think it will happen again, it is where the nature of media meets the nature of North Korea, and North Korea is very mysterious and does not feel the need to explain what it is doing,” said Breen, who is also the author of The New Koreans. “At one point the world did not care what North Korea was doing, but now, as it is a nuclear state, it does.”

Firstly, North Korea – a nuclear-armed dictatorship and potential casus belli at the heart of one of the world’s most prosperous economic regions, Northeast Asia – is of interest to both policy makers and globally and strategically minded news consumers.

Moreover, the country’s ruling Kims, their governing practices and even their idiosyncratic personal appearance, are a source of considerable curiosity. And with North Korea being one of the most isolated states on earth, there is natural human curiosity to know more.

All this makes a small country of virtually zero economic or cultural significance to the wider world, and one which has a tiny amount of intercourse with the wider world, a frequent front-page story in outlets ranging from high-brow global affairs magazines to tabloid gossip sheets.

…media blackout

Secondly, the country is notoriously opaque. Despite being a member of various international organizations it disseminates virtually zero data. Its various arms of government do not have PR departments which respond to media enquiries.

This makes information extremely hard to come by. State media, for example, was silence throughout Kim’s still-unexplained, three-week long absence from public duties.

While China’s Xinhua and Russia’s Tass staff bureaus in Pyongyang, no Western reporters are based, full-time, in North Korea. A former Tass reporter who spent years in the country and spoke the language told Asia Times how extraordinarily difficult it was to source stories inside the country.

And indeed, a number of recent reports about Kim – that a medical team had been sent to monitor him; and that he was in a vegetative state – in fact, originated from Chinese, not Western or South Korean, sources.

Two Western agencies – US-based AP and France-based AFP – maintain bureaus in Pyongyang, but their offices are staffed by local reporters. Senior Western journalists infrequently fly in to oversee the bureaus and report.

But Western reporters’ activities on the ground are limited. Official interviews are hardly ever granted, and visiting reporters are not allowed to report independently – indeed, their itineraries are often confined to tourist schedules, overseen by state minders. Public contact is possible, but can be forbidden, depending upon the political situation and the preferences of individual minders.

In South Korea, media coverage of the North often depends upon political orientation.

“Conservatives tend to overstate North Korean issues, and progressives tend to respond too passively to them,” said Jo Dong-joon, a professor of political science and international relations at Seoul National University.

He told Asia Times that some media outlets have been overly speculative over Kim’s health – but added that Seoul’s theoretical stance on the issue, encouraged media speculation.

Black hole

While multiple countries maintain embassies inside North Korea, their access to information – such as about the Kims’ health – is also limited.

Pyongyangologists scan North Korean news: State media is famous for “burying the lede” – ie not reporting key data prominently. Open-source intelligence, such as commercial satellite footage, is a trustworthy, but is limited in what it can convey.

Organizations such as South Korea-based Daily NK and Japan-based Rimjin Gang, source information from on the ground via smuggled Chinese cell phones. However, some are suspicious of Daily NK, which receives funding from right-wing US organizations.

As many sources are defectors or retired military, diplomatic or intelligence officials who don’t want to compromise their contacts, they often speak anonymously, adding a further veil of opacity.

And named experts – ie members of the community of North Korea watchers, largely clustered in Seoul, but also in Washington DC, and at universities around the world – often offer differing views.

As a result of this confusion, there are few sources of clear and verifiable information.

Demand vs supply

North Korea is often top-tier news, so reporting only matters confirmed by official sources in North Korea is not feasible: official sources are often late, or simply don’t comment on issues that interest the wider world. Much news, therefore, relies upon incomplete information, and related interpretation.

Given the public demand for news outstripping the minimal supply of information, media often gets it wrong – yet is sometimes, ahead of the curve.

For example, news about Kim Jong Un being chosen as likely successor to his father circulated in South Korean media before it did in North Korean media.

And false reports can even presage actual events.

On September 17, 2004, Yonhap, South Korea’s partly-state funded news agency, reported a massive explosion, related seismic activity and a “mushroom-shaped cloud” near an underground military base in northeastern North Korea. That sparked a global diplomatic uproar amid fears that North Korea had detonated a nuclear device.

North Korea responded that it was carrying out conventional explosive detonations as part of a dam-building project, and with no radioactive indicators becoming apparent, the scare subsided.

Less than two years later, on October 4, 2016, North Korea detonated its first nuclear device in the northeast.


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Trust, but verify: what the media got right about Kim Jong Un’s health

NK News  |  Peter Ward 

Criticism of recent coverage fails to appreciate the day-to-day realities of reporting on North Korea

Views expressed in Opinion articles are exclusively the authors’ own and do not represent those of NK News.

So what just happened? Kim Jong Un is dead, buried, oh wait, no, he’s just fine!

The media is at fault, some say. They don’t speak Korean or they spread scurrilous fake news even if they do.

Either way, critics of recent media coverage of Kim’s disappearance argue we should have just said nothing, and waited for the twenty days that Kim Jong Un was absent. Move along, nothing to see here.

There was no particularly important reason, clearly, why he missed his own grandfather’s birthday commemorations — something that the Sejong Institute’s Cheong Seong-chang, a world-renowned expert, said was “the closest thing to blasphemy in the North.”

We might criticize the rookie mistakes of new refugee politicos, one of whom recklessly claimed that he knew Kim had already kicked the bucket.

Some in the media were certainly too trigger happy, too quick to pronounce Kim dead in absentia.

But the speculation machine wasn’t just driven by a lack of linguistic abilities, or ideological fervor; there was plenty of rational, and considered interest from Korean and non-Korean speakers. Kim’s health is a big deal, and we shouldn’t just pretend it’s not a problem — despite what the South Korean government may insist.


Let’s look at the original source of the rumors. Daily NK (DNK) is a media organization set up in 2004 by former pro-North Korean activists who realized their mistake after seeing the famine of the 1990s. They use methods that are common to all media companies who try to report from inside the country: they often have to rely on single sources and report on rumors that are circulating.

They do their best to avoid single-source claims utilizing a network of multiple informants in the country and cross-reference with other media reports and South Korean academic work.

While some have cast doubt on DNK’s sources generally, others have said that it’s only reliable as a source for information in the regions far away from Pyongyang. But institutions matter: Party officials far from Pyongyang are likely to know far more about what is happening inside the state than factory workers in the capital’s industrial district.

What’s more, these people clearly have not read DNK’s market data over the past 10+ years.

We now have corroboration of them as a reliable source on the market situation in Pyongyang. Data by NK News‘s sister site NK Pro on North Korean market exchange rates confirms Daily NK reporting on Pyongyang exchange rates.

And analysis by this site also confirmed with photographic evidence a story first published by Daily NK about the Ministry of State Security covering windows on high-floor apartments near sensitive political locations in Pyongyang. This gives credence to Daily NK claims of having sources in the capital.

News from North Korea is notoriously hard to come by, but that doesn’t mean some outlets aren’t trying | Photo: NK News


We do not know how DNK’s source got the information they published on Kim Jong Un’s health. The website reported in Korean that he had a procedure (not surgery, less invasive; ‘시술’ in Korean) in layman’s terms on his heart’s blood vessels (a ‘cardiovascular procedure’).

This terminology can include the insertion of a coronary stent, and one can usually be back on one’s feet after a couple of days recovery from such an operation, at least this is what I have heard from South Korean clinicians and from a friend of mine who actually had such an operation.

This means that Daily NK’s report may well have been right, even though Kim has since reemerged in public. They may have received this information second or third-hand, and in Korean they are careful to report that ‘their sources told them’ that ‘x has happened’, rather than ‘we are certain that’. Their choice of headline, which gives a false impression of certainty, was unfortunate, but headlines are often problematic in any language.

Plenty of speculation followed this initial report. Some Western journalists prematurely reported the demise of the Great Leader, but there was also just a great deal of talk about who would take over should Kim die.

Speculation was not confined to the non-Korean speaking world, however — there was plenty of speculation in the South Korean media as well.

And why not? If Kim had died and no one had not talked about what might happen next, then the alternative accusations of criminal ignorance would have been lobbed.

A morbidly obese, chain smoking, and nuclear-armed dictator’s health is of great importance to the region. The South Korean government can pretend otherwise, but it doesn’t mean that the South Korean and Western media should be censured for discussing such an important issue when they have plausible reports emerge from a generally reliable outlet like Daily NK. Some speculation went too far, but it doesn’t mean the issue should not have been broached.

There’s also the fact that Kim has, indeed, been missing in action for much of the year. Yonhap – the South Korean government-run wire agency – calculated that Kim has only appeared 17 times in public this year compared to an average of 50 times by this point in the year since 2012.

This might just be some random fluke, but his long absence around a sacred day gives credence to the view that all is not right with the Great Marshal’s health.

Of course, mistakes will happen, but we do not know if this was even a mistake. All we know is that Kim has reemerged and much of the Western media hype about his imminent demise was just speculation.

And as with all things North Korean, best to keep an open mind until significant amounts of evidence becomes available – just as Daily NK tries to.

Reports from Daily NK should be taken seriously, but they are not iron-clad | Photo: NK News


Reports from Daily NK should be taken seriously, but they are not iron-clad. Multiple reports from different sources would be needed to confirm the veracity of the first report, but this first report can be a useful leading indicator, a signal of something to be aware of and to be on the eye out for. Daily NK is not infallible, but its track record indicates that it must be taken seriously as a credible source.

Daily NK actually adopts such practices internally too. Chris Green — a former Manager of International Affairs at the website — tells me that the editors asked every refugee reporter to contact their sources in-country back in 2009 to cross-check reports about the country’s disastrous currency reform that year.

As Chris put it, “they were always desperate to reconfirm information. That is why in 2009 it took longer than it could have taken to release news of the currency reform.”

The same goes for North Korean refugees. Some misspeak, say stupid things, or even mix fact with fiction. Fame can get too much for some people, especially North Korean refugees. They’re human after all.

But when you ask people about things that they experienced directly or are likely to be able to offer informed speculation about, their answers are likely to be more accurate. At the same time, when multiple sources from different parts of the country describe a similar phenomenon, then it is difficult to dismiss.

It’s not rude to ask people how they know what they say they know. It’s a common sense question that media outlets should not be shy about asking people, including refugees like Ji Seong-ho, when they confidently assert that Kim Jong Un is already dead and soon to be buried.

We can and should ask Daily NK how they know their source is reliable. We should not doubt their integrity though when they make mistakes, but I do not think we should try to convince ourselves that this was a mistake: the jury is still out on Kim’s health. As for Daily NK, they have proven track record, and shouldn’t be casually trashed.

We do ourselves a great disservice if we shoot the messengers of the valuable information that we need so badly.

Edited by Oliver Hotham


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S. Korea has no room for more flexibility in defense cost-sharing talks with U.S.: source

YONHAP NEWS  |  By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) — South Korea has no room for additional flexibility in its deadlocked defense cost-sharing talks, a diplomatic source said Friday, renewing Seoul’s calls for Washington to agree to a “reasonable” deal.

The remarks came after a senior Trump administration official confirmed Thursday the United States has asked South Korea to pay US$1.3 billion a year — an increase of about 50 percent from the previous year — for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).

“No. We have already done our best within our capacity,” the source told Yonhap News Agency when asked if Seoul has any room for flexibility to go beyond its latest offer of a 13 percent increase in the cost-sharing deal, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA).

“Our position remains the same: If they are willing to reach an agreement at a reasonable level, we are ready anytime,” the source added.

The U.S. official told Yonhap that Washington’s demand for $1.3 billion was its “final offer” and “quite reasonable,” as it represents a cutback from its initial demand of $5 billion. The remarks followed repeated claims by Washington that it has been flexible.

Seoul officials have doubted the claims of flexibility, as they believe the U.S. pared down its demand from an amount that it viewed as “unrealistically high.”

“They are talking about flexibility on their side, asking a question of what South Korea has done. But that is dismissive of the trajectory of the negotiation,” the source said.

“We have been consistent under our principles that the negotiations should proceed within the reasonable, ‘common-sense’ scope, and our stance remains unchanged,” the source added.

Last week, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told parliament that a 13 percent increase from last year’s deal was the highest offer Seoul can make. Under the 2019 SMA, Seoul agreed to pay about $870 million.

Trump has already rejected South Korea’s latest proposal, saying Seoul should pay “for a big percentage of what we’re doing” there. Despite the ongoing negotiations, Trump also said Thursday that Seoul has agreed to pay “substantial money.”

As both Seoul and Washington appear to have drawn battle lines, casting their latest proposals as the final ones, concerns are growing that the impasse could be prolonged despite its potential impact on the allies’ security operations.

Due to the absence of a deal to fund wages for thousands of South Korean USFK employees in nonessential positions, they were forced to go on unpaid leave last month, apparently hampering the USFK’s day-to-day operations.

Seoul’s top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, last met for face-to-face negotiations in Los Angeles in March, but they failed to seal a deal. They have since communicated by email and phone due in part to the logistical challenges stemming from the new coronavirus.

Jeong Eun-bo (L), South Korea's chief negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the United States, poses for a photo with his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, at their latest round of negotiations in Los Angeles on March 17, 2020, in this photo provided by the foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Jeong Eun-bo (L), South Korea’s chief negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the United States, poses for a photo with his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, at their latest round of negotiations in Los Angeles on March 17, 2020, in this photo provided by the foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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N. Korea slams S. Korea for recent military drill


SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) — North Korea lashed out at South Korea on Friday for conducting military exercises in and above the Yellow Sea, calling it a “total denial” of an inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement.

In a statement carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the spokesperson for the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces denounced the joint Navy-Air Force drills as “the height of the military confrontation.”

“The recent joint drill was staged in the air and sea in the biggest hotspot area in the West Sea of Korea in which military conflicts occurred between the North and the South in the past, and it was openly launched, assuming there were a ‘strange sign’ and ‘provocation’ from us,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the recent exercises are bringing the inter-Korean relationship back to where it was before the reconciliatory summit between the two Koreas in 2018.

“What merits more attention is that the South Korean military staged the said military drill while calling us their ‘enemy,'” the spokesperson said, warning that the “grave provocation” cannot be overlooked and will be met with “a necessary reaction from us.”

South Korea’s defense ministry denied any violation of the military agreement.

“The joint exercise was a defense training conducted in the western waters off Gunsan. It was carried out in compliance with the Sept. 19 agreement,” a ministry official said, referring to the inter-Korean deal reached in 2018. Gunsan is located some 270 kilometers south of Seoul.

Under the deal, the two Koreas set a maritime buffer zone spanning around 80 km in the East Sea and 135 km in the West Sea to prevent unintended naval clashes, and agreed to suspend artillery firing and naval drills in the area.

In a rare move, the statement was also carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party intended for the North’s domestic audience.

North Korea usually publishes its statements criticizing South Korea through media outlets directed toward the foreign audience, such as KCNA.

“It is rare for a statement to be published in the Rodong Sinmun. It appears to be an emphasis on (their) message,” Yoh Sang-key, the unification ministry’s spokesperson, said in a press briefing Friday.

South Korea staged a joint military drill in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday with the Navy’s 2nd Fleet. Some 20 fighter jets, including the F-15K, KF-16, F-4E and FA-50, took part in the exercise.

(2nd LD) N. Korea slams S. Korea for recent military drill - 1

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Virus infections in S. Korea under control amid eased social distancing


SEOUL, May 7 (Yonhap) — South Korea reported four more cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, including the first local case in four days, amid relaxed social distancing.

The new infections detected on Wednesday brought the nation’s total cases of COVID-19 to 10,810, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The new local COVID-19 case came from Gyeonggi Province, surrounding Seoul, with the other three new cases having been imported, the KCDC said.

The KCDC said a total of 57 people had contacts with the confirmed patient from Gyeonggi Province, leading to one more confirmed patient later on Thursday.

The number of daily new confirmed cases has stayed below 20 for 20 consecutive days, and under 5 since Tuesday, the KCDC said.

The country decided to lift its strict social distancing scheme, which had been in force since early March, starting Wednesday, amid a slowdown in the number of new infections that peaked at 909 in late February.

Commuters wearing masks change trains at a subway station in Seoul on May 6, 2020. South Korea started to relax its social distancing measures the same day, as the number of new coronavirus infections has stayed low for weeks, moving to what it calls an "everyday life quarantine" scheme and giving the go-ahead to the normalization of schools and public facilities. (Yonhap)

Commuters wearing masks change trains at a subway station in Seoul on May 6, 2020. South Korea started to relax its social distancing measures the same day, as the number of new coronavirus infections has stayed low for weeks, moving to what it calls an “everyday life quarantine” scheme and giving the go-ahead to the normalization of schools and public facilities. (Yonhap)

South Koreans are allowed to go back to their daily routines while adhering to basic precautionary guidelines. Schools will open in phases starting next week as well.

“We ask all people to actively participate in the so-called everyday life quarantine that is aimed at coexisting both quarantine and everyday life,” KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said.

The nation’s death toll increased by one to 256, the KCDC said.

The overall fatality rate reached 2.37 percent. The rate for patients aged 80 and above stood at 25 percent, the KCDC said.

In total, 9,419 people in South Korea have recovered from the virus, up 86 from a day earlier.

South Korea has carried out 649,388 tests since Jan. 3. The country reported its first COVID-19 case, a Chinese person, on Jan. 20.

In sync with the eased quarantine guidelines, health authorities said earlier they are considering lowering the nation’s warning level by a notch from the highest level of four.

Experts warn of a possible second wave of the COVID-19 cases later, given the lack of a vaccine for the highly contagious virus.

Health authorities said the government has secured the budget needed to manufacture 100 million face masks in preparation for a second wave of infections.

At the same time, they will continue to beef up quarantine operations on arrivals to the country after six people who arrived from Kuwait tested positive for COVID-19.

The KCDC said the six people had been working on the same construction site in Kuwait.

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