Posted 123 days ago
Ed Caesar is a fantasic writer. He wrote a similar story last year, which I included in my list of The New Yorker's Best Reporting of 2020. This was takes a slightly different tone, changing from a biography of a single person and their bizarre pursuit in life to an analysis of international politics. And it's excellent.
He writes that "North Korea..is the only nation in the world whose government is known to conduct nakedly criminal hacking for monetary gain." I'm sure the list is larger than 1, but it does seem to do so blatently in the public eye without consequences. Caesar writes that it's kind of par-for-the-course, however:
Until recently, North Korea’s most lucrative state-sponsored criminal operations included the smuggling of cigarettes, the creation of counterfeit money, the trading of endangered species, and the manufacture and distribution of laboratory-made illegal drugs such as methamphetamine. In the seventies, North Korean diplomats who were posted abroad often trafficked narcotics.
This is very tricky on a global stage, because North Korea has entirely isolated itself to the point that nations will not infringe on its sovereignty to almost the most extreme. We have the United Nations and international courts, but these only really apply to nations that participate in them or who are too fragile to fight back against international pressure. North Korea seems to be neither of these, and it even seems to be building its power, especially its weapons arsenal, off of outright crime. But when we really think about it, wouldn't countries having and using weapons be a crime in itself? We have come to think of war in the modern world as justified for some form of liberal order, but North Korea pusuing whatever means possible to build up their power in reality is not all that different from hegemons maintaining theirs through territories and colonies around the globe. Just food for thought (I'm not trying to equate North Korea to other countries here).
Apart from the schemes that Caesar masterfully reported on, I was interested in the geopolitics that he presented. He writes that "no financial institution in Russia or China has been targeted by North Korean hackers," and quotes John Demers of the Justice Department saying that "there are strong indications that Russia and China are well aware of what's going on and actively have facilitated some of it."
The qualifier, "some of it," is an important one. Geopolitically, North Korea is smack dab between Russia and China, so it makes sense that both countries take a great concern with its affairs. Of course, that statement seems to imply they are in some sort of kahoot. I don't think that's true, I think that the simple fact would be Russia and China will not actively interfere if North Korea attacks the hegemon that is restraining them. But they are not on North Korea's side. I think they just make it blatently clear that if North Korea were to target a Russian or Chinese institution, the response would be much, much more serious than the response of the US which is bound by its own restraints of the "liberal order." Cybercrime is serious, but it wouldn't warrant a physical response in the public eye. To be frank, I don't think Russia or China would tolerate any targeting of their institutions regardless of what the international community might think about their retaliation. I think North Korea is well-aware of this.