Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’
With Kim Jong-Il gone (or Kim Jong the second, as Rick Perry calls him), everything related to the DPRK is all of a sudden hot again. But most stories are simply a repetition of what we already know. Not this one. You might remember Shane Smith, the reporter of the online video magazine Vice, who sneaked into North Korea a few years ago and secretly caught the whole trip on camera. In the documentary he showed he had balls of steel, but mostly it was a very black-humored film, in which the whole People’s Republic sharade was made fun of.
For their next North Korea-related project, Smith and his team have paid a visit to Siberia, where, on the border with China, thousands of North Korean laborers are working in huge logging camps. They are housed in camps which are copies of the work camps in their home country, fitted with North Korean-style living quarters, all the propaganda banners, indoctrination rooms, etc. They also wear their standard North Korean workers outfits. Basically, they are slaves, who are used by the Russian government to cut trees at the most remote and harshest locations in Siberia. They are forced to work there for years or even decades under the most arduous conditions. The Vice team travelled to a number of these camps and simply started filming and interviewing the North Koreans working there, being the first journalists to do so.
In the resulting documentary you can see how they are at first met with surprise, are then ousted by the North Korean camp leaders and Russian operators, and at the end are forced to sneak out of the country because they are wanted by the FSB (the modern version of the KGB). And it also involves a traincar filled with agressive antisemitic Russians on the Transsiberian Express, old remote abandoned Soviet cities, and local Siberian shotgun-waving mafia. Smith lives through all these dangers in quite a lighthearted manner, mostly because he and his cameracrew and translators are on a steady diet of wodka and beer. All in all, a must see film. Start with part 1 here:
For the other parts visit the Vice website.
One revelation of the WikiLeaks leaked files was the level and sophistication of American diplomatic personnel abroad: pretty high. The same cannot be said, however, of the level in the ranks of the former Bush-Cheney administration…
Check out this memo from the archives of Rumsfeld.com (pretty admirable of him, by the way, to build such an archive). Even though Donald Rumsfeld was supposed to be one of the intellectually better equipped guys of the bunch, he produced stuff like this:
“We need to solve the Pakistan problem”. Frigging cowboys. It’s almost like you hear George W. Bush talking through the mouth of Rumsfeld.
The memo’s tone is so casual about such complex and important topics that it prompted Technology Review editor Jason Pontin to ask me on Twitter, “Is this a parody?”
But no, the memo is real. You can find find it yourself (and many other treasures I’m sure) on Rumsfeld’s site.
Groundbreaking news keeps dripping out of WikiLeaks. The latest: Kim Jong-Il’s oldest son Kim Jong-Chul is a gamer! This is the same Kim of whom his father reportedly has said that he is “no good because he is like a little girl”. According to the 2008 cable from the Shanghai consulate:
There is consensus among xxxxx that, at least for the moment, none of KJI’s three sons is likely to be tapped to succeed him. xxxxx considers the two youngest sons, Kim Jong-chol and Kim Jong-un, far too inexperienced and incapable of effective governance. xxxxx, observing that KJI’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, is “too much of a playboy,” Kim Jong-chol is “more interested in video games” than governing, and Kim Jong-un is simply too young.
More on Kim Jong-Chul here.
It’s on: despite a cyberattack on their website just hours ago, WikiLeaks has published more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from American embassies around the globe. In major newspapers, there’s now talk about a worldwide diplomatic crisis.
What’s in it is, well, huge and encompassing, with lots and lots of information on countless international matters.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.
These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cache of cables contains specific allegations of corruption and against foreign leaders, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from tiny islands in the Caribbean to China and Russia.
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” and Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium. They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other newspapers: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
They are classified at various levels up to “SECRET NOFORN” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. The embassies which sent most cables were Ankara, Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait and Tokyo.
The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel) is a comic documentary about a Danish vaudeville troupe, consisting of a Danish guy and two Danish-Korean comedians (one of whom is a spastic), who travel to North Korea on a “cultural exchange mission”.
Mind you: this is real. These people actually sneaked into North Korea, pretended to be a (really bad) comedy act, gave away shows, had daily contact with North Korean government authorities, and managed to get out of the country alive. So that alone makes me very curious about The Red Chapel.
It recently won the top documentary award at the Sundance film festival.
Here’s the trailer:
Here’s a documentary so astonishing that, for a time, I was convinced that I was being had—that no sane filmmakers would ever attempt, much less pull off, anything this crazy. The Internet assures me that Mads Brügger and Johan Stahl’s The Red Chapel, which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is very real indeed: that Brügger and a pair of comedian friends really did sneak into North Korea pretending to be a pro-Socialist vaudeville troupe there to engage in cultural exchange with local schoolchildren, that they really did get most of it on tape, and that they really did escape that fascist hellhole with life and limb intact. In the process, they’ve made a film equal parts horrifying, exhilarating and hilarious—an epic prank on the world’s most sinister dictatorship that makes Sacha Baron Cohen look like a shrinking violet in comparison.
The Red Chapel, which takes place almost entirely in the country’s relatively maintained cities, doesn’t try to get at the most shocking of those realities: the incredible poverty, the starvation, the labor camps to which the “untrustworthy” are sent. But it does give us an astonishing glimpse into a world that only seems possible in dystopian fiction; a world of brainwashed sycophants literally worshipping at the altar of the Dear Leader, living out a facially ridiculous fantasy built for them by what may be the most evil government in the history of civilization.
The most fascinating character in the film may be Mrs. Pak, the motherly, slightly creepy government functionary assigned to be the caretaker for Brügger and the two young Danish-Koreans who make up the “comedy troupe” that Brügger “directs.” There is nothing to suggest that she is a bad or malevolent person. Her belief in the fundamental greatness of her country and her government, and in the “values” of unity and togetherness used to keep North Koreans in line, is wholehearted and pure. She can’t talk about the Dear Leader without being emotionally overcome. Aside from the mentally ill, I’ve never seen a human being who exists so completely in an alternate universe. It’s terrifying.