(JTA) — North Korea denied torturing Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was detained in the country for over a year and died shortly after returning home in a coma.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday called itself the “biggest victim” of the incident, insisting that Warmbier’s death was a mystery.
“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency. “To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident.”
The spokesman also said that the Obama administration never officially requested Warmbier’s release and refused to establish any kind of dialogue with North Korea. It is the first official comments by the country on the state in which it returned Warmbier to his family.
The 22-year-old was sentenced in the country to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster on what North Korea claimed were orders from an Ohio Methodist church.
Warmbier, whose mother is Jewish, became active in the Hillel after a Birthright trip to Israel, during which he received a Hebrew name. A spokesman for the family said this week that they chose not to disclose his Judaism during negotiations for his release so as not to antagonize North Korea, which believed he was affiliated with the church.
Some 2,000 people attended a funeral for Warmbier on Thursday at Wyoming High School in Warmbier’s hometown near Cincinnati.
The spokesman said that North Korea treated Warmbier appropriately during his imprisonment.
“Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S., considering that his health got worse,” the spokesman said.
The country said that Warmbier slipped into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill, and that he had to be resuscitated. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center said it found no signs of botulism, but that he may have suffered severe neurological damage, possibly as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest, according to the Washington Post.
Kim’s story is a common one. Like many people here, he fled North Korea but left family members behind. The regime often exercises a merciless policy of collective punishment against remaining relatives, sending them to labor camps, or worse.
Kim, a 46-year-old carpenter, knew this. But he said inhumane conditions in the country gave him no choice.
“When I left North Korea it was a life-or-death decision,” he said, speaking while colleagues around him noisily renovated a new Korean butchery in New Malden.
Picking his moment, Kim bribed some border guards to vacate a stretch of North Korea’s river border with China, allowing him to cross with his wife and two children. That was 20 years ago.
He has since lived illegally in China and then in South Korea before coming to the U.K. four years ago.
Kim has tried to help his relatives who stayed behind by sending them money. It was this that led to them being punished after authorities discovered the transactions.
“My younger brother was sent to prison and stayed there for one year but got released. But my big brother has not been so lucky,” he said.
His family has suffered, and that knowledge weighs heavily on Kim.
“We are talking about two different worlds, really,” he said of the difference between his new and old homes. “The reason why we fled from there is because life over there is really hard. It is simply impossible to live.”
Totalitarian North Korea restricts every aspect of public life, throwing people into Nazi-style camps for crimes as petty as “gossiping” about the state. Ordinary citizens are not allowed to access the internet or the international press, instead having to rely on the propaganda of North Korea’s state-run media.
So North Koreans wanting to flee is understandable. But their choice of a new life in a nondescript suburb on the other side of the planet needs more explaining.
New Malden sits on the edge of the British capital and the rural county of Surrey. It’s the type of place that, despite its ZIP code, most city-dwellers might dismiss as not-really-London.
It boasts a huge Korean population, officially around 3,500 but with some estimates putting it closer to 20,000 in the wider borough.
Most of these are South Koreans who flocked here, so the theory goes, because it used to be the site of Britain’s old Samsung headquarters and the residence of the South Korean ambassador.
Of this community, several hundred are North Korean — making it the largest such community in Europe and one of the biggest outside the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea sees the United States, South Korea and Japan as its arch enemies, so many defectors feel they cannot resettle there. This is either because of lingering misgivings about countries they’ve been taught to hate, or because they fear their left-behind family members will be treated more harshly if they go there.
There were 655 North Koreans registered as living in the U.K. as of 2015, according to United Nations figures. However, the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea believes the actual is likely closer to 1,000. Most have settled in New Malden.
Its residential side-streets are quaint and leafy, giving a hint of the English countryside that’s just five miles down the A3 highway.
But look closer and hints of Korea begin to make themselves apparent. Characters of Hangul script are daubed on an upstairs window above a shoe-repair shop. There is a Korean travel agent and a handful of Korean stores and restaurants.
One of these, a Korean barbecue, is owned by a 34-year-old restaurateur who only wants to be identified by his nickname, King, amid fears of his family being punished.
His story is also one of heart-wrenching do-or-die decisions and a family ripped in two.
King fled his homeland with his mother and sister when he was aged 18. But his father, a high school teacher who felt loyalty to his job and fear of the regime, stayed behind.
“He didn’t agree with us leaving,” King told NBC News while grilling meat over a high flame in his restaurant’s kitchen. “He knew what would happen to him but he also knew there was nothing for me in North Korea.”
As punishment for his family’s actions, his father was fired and sent to a labor camp.
Nowadays, King only gets to speak to his dad once every two or three years, on the rare occasion his father can get an illicit cellphone capable of making international calls. He hasn’t spoken to any of his friends since he left.
“Yes, I miss them, of course, but I have friends here now,” King said. He quietly added: “It’s difficult to talk about my life here and my life in North Korea.”
In a way, his family’s hand was forced. Before they fled, his aunt had already escaped to China and they risked being punished by proxy if they stayed put.
“We were at a crossroads whether to be sent to prison or fleeing from the country,” he said.
‘The difference is like hell and heaven’
Although the town has a distinct Korean tinge, the cultural hub is at an industrial park around 15-minute walk from its center.
Here, the Korea Foods superstore acts like a wormhole, whisking shoppers away from the humdrum suburbs and into the heart of downtown Seoul.
Even compared with metropolitan London, the vibrant array of colorful packaging, mysterious vegetables, and staff who speak little-to-no English are an arresting cultural vignette.
In the rooms above the superstore are the unglamorous offices of Free NK, a North Korean newspaper run by Kim Joo Il, another defector.
“If you actually compare two lives, one in North Korea and the other one in New Malden, the difference is like hell and heaven,” the 43-year-old told NBC News.
When he lived in North Korea, he served as an officer in the Korean People’s Army and it was his job to catch defectors. He knew the risks of trying to flee.
“They were all dealt with by military law, which meant public execution,” Kim Joo Il said.
According to him, the country’s feared secret police has a network of spies so extensive that one out of every three citizens is an informant.
“Your lives are under surveillance every single moment,” he said. “Kim Jong Un has told his people that the tiniest thing, even the drop of a needle to the floor, should be reported back to him.”
Despite being aware of the potential consequences, he decided to take his chances and make a break for it across the Chinese border.
He had already been to China in 1999 on official business. So using that trip as a reconnaissance mission, he returned in 2005 and in the dead of night swam across the River Tumen, which separates the two countries.
“This is not a choice that you make in a day,” he said. “This is based on a long-term emotional process. You make up your mind to escape from North Korea, and then you give up on the idea, and then you make up your mind again, and then you give up again. You go through this process so many times you cannot imagine how many times.”
During this time he said that his “emotional ups and downs were indescribable.”
Kim Joo Il was single when he fled, but he had to consider the consequences his escape would have on his remaining family members.
“It’s not just the family that you have in mind, you’ve got to actually be prepared to die, really, while escaping,” he said. “Personally it took me eight years to finally make up my mind and in the eighth year I made my escape.”
From China, he walked, hitched rides, and scraped together enough money for the occasional train or bus fare. He traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia and finally Thailand, where he got a plane ticket to the U.K.
He publishes the Free NK newspaper both in print and online, employing around five members of staff — both North and South Koreans — and highlighting the atrocities the regime is inflicting on his countrymen.
Not only does he circulate the newspaper locally, he sends the digital files to South Korea where they are printed out, attached to balloons and dropped over North Korea as anti-regime propaganda.
“We’ve got to have the right direction of the wind,” Kim Joo Il said, proudly showing off an example of one of these airborne packages, sealed in a clear plastic bag. “The wind is really crucial to sending the newspapers to North Korea.”
Now well-known as a figurehead in the New Malden community, Kim Joo Il is determined to be a thorn in the side of the dictatorship.
Just 10 miles to the north, in the London suburb of Ealing, is the North Korean Embassy to the U.K. Given the regime’s apparent willingness to assassinate dissidents abroad — Kim Jong Un’s own half-brother, for example — does he worry about his own safety?
“That goes without saying,” Kim Joo Il said. “Threats to our own safety are always lurking in the background.”
WASHINGTON — The family of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died on Monday, days after his release from 17 months of captivity in North Korea, was advised to keep his Jewish background and identity concealed while officials tried to negotiate his release.
That was because the North Korean justification for his imprisonment centered on a dubious claim that Warmbier had stolen a propaganda poster in a Pyongyang hotel lobby on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, to bring it back “as a trophy” in exchange for a used car worth $10,000.
“We didn’t want to share it,” said Mickey Bergman, who worked on negotiations for Warmbier’s release, referring to the fact of Warmbier’s Jewishness. “The family chose, rightfully so, not to share that information while he was in captivity… because they didn’t want to embarrass [North Korea] by explaining that he actually was Jewish” and thus would not have been affiliated with the church.
“That’s why that part of the story was kept quiet,” added Bergman, executive director of The Richardson Center, an organization founded by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson that works to negotiate the release of prisoners and hostages held by hostile regimes.
Warmbier was visiting the reclusive Asian nation on a New Year’s student tour in January 2016. He was arrested just before departing Pyongyang International Airport. Earlier in his trip, he was briefly detained for taking down a sign on a staff-only floor at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, where he was staying.
Almost two months later, he appeared at a staged news conference, clearly under coercion, where he gave a tearful confession and begged for forgiveness. It was there that North Korean officials told CNN their belief of the church’s role in the incident.
Warmbier was convicted shortly after his public confession on charges of committing a “hostile act” and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His trial lasted one hour.
“If that’s what their story is, there’s no point fighting it if your objective is to get him out,” Bergman told The Times of Israel. “When you realize he’s Jewish, you realize how ridiculous that claim is.”
After Warmbier’s release last week — in a coma and suffering severe brain damage — reports surfaced that he had gone on a Birthright trip in 2014 and subsequently became active with his campus Hillel at the University of Virginia (UVA).
During his visit to Israel, Warmbier was given a Hebrew name and wrote a blog post about his experience visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City for the first time.
“The Western Wall was a truly incredible experience for me,” he said. “Just being at a spot that has been so central to Judaism for thousands of years was completely surreal. The power that emanated from the wall showed on the faces of all those who were near it.
“When I was forced to step away to avoid holding up the group for the third time, it honestly felt like saying goodbye to a loved one,” he went on. “It was difficult to wrap my mind around the concept of such a pinnacle — I had done what so many Jews wish to do. Each year at Channukah, my family finishes the prayer by saying ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ For me, it was this year in Jerusalem. And this day at the Western Wall.”
The Cincinnati native’s mother was Jewish and he identified as such throughout his life, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Bergman, an Israeli-American, said he shared a moment with Cindy Warmbier about her Jewishness. “I kind of knew the mother was Jewish the first time we met,” he said. “I looked at her and she looked at me and she said, ‘Yes, I am.’”
A public memorial for Wambier was scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m. at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, where he had been a student. Rabbi Jake Rubin, the UVA Hillel director who traveled with him to Israel, will officiate at the service.
Afterward, Warmbier will be buried at the non-sectarian Oak Hill Cemetery. The family will receive guests at their home in the following days but will not be sitting shiva, according to a source, who said the family was non-observant.
Warmbier’s death has sparked international outrage, with US President Donald Trump calling it a “total disgrace” and Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) telling reporters he was “murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime” and that the “US cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers.”
Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, gave a news conference and interview to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson in the days before he died. But since then, the family has, for the most part, kept quiet.
Their only public comment has been to announce their 22-year-old’s death. “It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home,” they said.
WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Tuesday that China had not succeeded in getting North Korea to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, an extraordinary admission of failure in his strategy for dealing with the rogue regime of Kim Jong-un.
Taken together, the developments are a major complication for Mr. Trump’s approach to North Korea, which he has called America’s most urgent foreign threat. He now faces a range of unattractive options: the use of military force; more coercive sanctions, including on Chinese banks that do business with the North; or some kind of opening to Mr. Kim.
“While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on the eve of a high-level meeting of Chinese and American officials in Washington. “At least I know China tried!”
It is not clear how Mr. Trump’s statement will affect Wednesday’s Chinese-American meetings. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and other American officials had been planning to press their Chinese counterparts on North Korea. On Tuesday afternoon, senior officials said they were still trying to gauge the meaning of the president’s tweet.
Reports late on Tuesday of renewed activity at a North Korean nuclear site added to the sense of urgency, and underlined how China had failed to curb Mr. Kim’s provocative actions.
Administration officials said they were considering imposing so-called secondary sanctions on a variety of Chinese banks and companies with ties to North Korea. Such a step would greatly increase the pressure on Mr. Kim’s government, but it could also antagonize the Chinese government.
In the short run, Mr. Warmbier’s death from a brain injury suffered while he was a prisoner makes engagement with the North seem a more remote possibility. Mr. Trump has said in the past that he would be willing to meet with Mr. Kim if the conditions were right.
“Clearly, we’re moving further away, not closer, to those conditions being enacted,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. “I would not suggest that we’re moving any closer.”
But China’s failure to do more to pressure North Korea — which was little surprise to anyone who follows the issue — also leaves the United States with few better alternatives to diplomacy. Some American officials had hoped to use the secret negotiations to obtain Mr. Warmbier’s release as the predicate for a dialogue with the North on other issues.
The tension between those who want to shelve engagement and take a much tougher line on North Korea and those who want to continue probing for openings is reflected in the administration’s ambivalent response after Mr. Warmbier was flown home in a coma last week.
At first, the White House and State Department said very little about the case, beyond expressing relief that he had been reunited with his family. But as outrage over the death of Mr. Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student, grew on social media and cable television, both released statements late on Monday condemning North Korea for his treatment.
Even on Tuesday, however, Mr. Trump appeared to place more of the blame on his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to negotiate Mr. Warmbier’s release than on Mr. Kim. “It’s a disgrace what happened to Otto,” the president said. “Frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different.”
But even as he implicitly criticized his predecessor, Mr. Trump appeared to walk away from one of the biggest gambles of his presidency. At a summit meeting in April at his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump tried to enlist Mr. Xi to ratchet up China’s pressure on North Korea — something China has historically avoided because of fears that it would precipitate a collapse in a country with which it shares a 880-mile border.
The president made Mr. Xi the centerpiece of his strategy for North Korea, agreeing to soft-pedal his complaints during the 2016 campaign about China’s trade and currency practices in return for Beijing squeezing its neighbor to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem,” Mr. Trump declared in a morning tweet a few days after the summit meeting.
As the evidence accumulated that China was taking only modest steps against North Korea, impatience with Beijing mounted inside the White House. But in his tweet on Tuesday, Mr. Trump seemed to take pains not to allow his disappointment to affect the relationship he has cultivated with the Chinese leader.
“The question we’ve all been waiting to have answered is, ‘When does President Trump realize that Xi Jinping is not going to deliver North Korea for him, and what does he do when that happens?’” said Ely Ratner, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Otto Warmbier’s death accelerates that day of reckoning.”
The meeting in Washington is part of the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue set up after April’s summit meeting. It will include Mr. Tillerson and China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, as well as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and a Chinese general, Fang Fenghui. The four are expected to meet during the morning, hold a working lunch, break for the afternoon and then reconvene for dinner.
North Korea will top the agenda, but China’s increasing militarism in the South China Seas and other maritime issues, the fight against the Islamic State, and other possible military cooperation will also be discussed.
Some China experts said the administration could use Mr. Warmbier’s death as leverage to demand that China put pressure on North Korea to release three other Americans being held there.
“The Chinese will only spring into action if they recognize the status quo is unsustainable,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a former senior director for Asia in Mr. Obama’s National Security Council.
Even apart from North Korea, relations with China could soon turn more contentious. Within days, the administration is expected to declare that foreign steel imports threaten the domestic steel industry. That will lead Mr. Trump to impose duties that will anger the Chinese, a major steel producer.
“This initial period of calm in the U.S.-China relationship was not sustainable,” said Eric Altbach, senior vice president at the Albright Stonebridge Group. “We’re reaching the end of the beginning for the Trump administration, and things are only going to get worse.”
Otto F. Warmbier, the University of Virginia honors student who was released from a North Korean prison last week after spending 17 months in captivity and more than a year in a coma, died on Monday at the Cincinnati hospital where he had been receiving treatment, his family said.
Mr. Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, said in a statement that their son, 22, had “completed his journey home” and “was at peace” when he died on Monday at 2:20 p.m.
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands,” the couple wrote. “He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day, the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that.”
The death was the end of a wrenching ordeal for the Warmbier family, and is likely to worsen the already tense relations between the United States and North Korea, which technically remain in a state of war dating to the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War. President Trump issued a terse statement condemning North Korea, which is still holding three Americans hostage.
“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” the statement said. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
Former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, an expert on North Korea who has helped free other Americans held there, said in an interview on Monday that he had met with North Korean diplomats 20 times while Mr. Warmbier was being held, and that they had never hinted that anything was amiss with Mr. Warmbier’s health.
Mr. Richardson called on the North to release the three other Americans it is holding, as well as a Canadian hostage, and to “disclose what happened to Otto, fully, to the international community.”
Mr. Warmbier, a onetime high school soccer player and homecoming king with an adventuresome spirit, was traveling in China in December 2015 when he signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with a Chinese company that advertised “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.”
His parents, who live in the tiny city of Wyoming, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, had heard nothing of him since his trial. Then, about two weeks ago, they received a call telling them their son was comatose. Days later, he was on a flight home. At a news conference on Thursday morning, Fred Warmbier — wearing the same cream-colored jacket Otto had worn during his trial — recalled kneeling to hug his son when he finally arrived home late last Tuesday.
“Otto is a fighter,” Mr. Warmbier said then, adding that he and his wife “firmly believe that he fought to stay alive through the worst that the North Koreans could put him through.”
Otto Warmbier was taken immediately to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where doctors said that two M.R.I. scans sent by the North Koreans indicated that Mr. Warmbier had sustained a catastrophic brain injury shortly after his conviction, most likely before April 2016.
The doctors said he had “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain,” most likely caused by cardiopulmonary arrest that cut off the blood supply to his brain.
But the doctors could not say what had caused the initial injury. While one senior American official said Mr. Warmbier had been singled out for particularly brutal beatings, doctors found no evidence of broken bones or other injuries consistent with physical abuse. The North Koreans blamed a combination of botulism and sleeping pills for Mr. Warmbier’s condition, but the doctors found no evidence of botulism.
Relations between the United States and the North have fallen to new lows in recent months over threats by North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, to attack the United States with nuclear weapons. Mr. Warmbier was one of more than a dozen Americans imprisoned in North Korea over the years, some for as long as two years, on accusations including illegal entry and sedition.
But he is the first to have been sent home in a coma. In their statement on Monday, the Warmbiers said that they, like their son, were “at peace and at home,” even as they lashed out at North Korea.
“Unfortunately,” the statement said, “the awful, torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.”
In Donald Trump’s short time in office, he has already shown his propensity to use military force. From dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used on Afghanistan, to launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraq (oh wait, Syria), there is no doubt that the Trump administration has a prominent militaristic streak.
But is this just for starters? If Trump stays in power for the duration of his term, is there a major war, or even multiple wars, on the horizon? Judging by the rhetoric and actions already taken by the Trump administration, it will be a miracle if the US does not start a major war in the near future. Coincidentally, the main countries in the sights of the Trump administration just happen to be the three countries that the neoconservatives pinpointed for regime change 17 years ago, but have not yet been dealt with.
1997 marked the birth of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank of catastrophic proportions. It was founded by William Kristol, the longtime editor of the Weekly Standard, who also served as the chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, and Robert Kagan, a former State Department official who is now a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. A long list of neocons belonged to the group, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.
PNAC’s stated objectives included the desire to “shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests,” “increase defense spending significantly,” and challenge “regimes hostile to US interests and values.” In September 2000, the PNAC group released a report titled: ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses – Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.’ The introduction to the report clearly expressed PNAC’s desire to maintain US supremacy in the world:
At present, the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible…Preserving the desirable strategic situation in which the United States now finds itself requires a globally preeminent military capability both today and in the future.
In order to maintain this supremacy, the report called for the Defense Department to be at the forefront of experimenting with transformative technologies, a move that would require a dramatic increase in defense spending. Curiously, the report – published one year prior to 9/11 – argued that this transformation would likely be a “long one” unless an event on the scale of “Pearl Harbor” occurred:
To preserve American military preeminence in the coming decades, the Department of Defense must move more aggressively to experiment with new technologies and operational concepts, and seek to exploit the emerging revolution in military affairs… The effects of this military transformation will have profound implications for how wars are fought, what kinds of weapons will dominate the battlefield and, inevitably, which nations enjoy military preeminence…
The Pentagon [however], constrained by limited budgets and pressing current missions, has seen funding for experimentation and transformation crowded out in recent years. Spending on military research and development has been reduced dramatically over the past decade… Any serious effort at transformation must occur within the larger framework of U.S. national security strategy, military missions and defense budgets… The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor (p.50-p.51).
Under the guise of missile capability, the report then pinpointed five countries that the neocons, in conjunction with the CIA, considered “deeply hostile” to the US:
Ever since the Persian Gulf War of 1991… the value of the ballistic missile has been clear to America’s adversaries. When their missiles are tipped with warheads carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, even weak regional powers have a credible deterrent, regardless of the balance of conventional forces. That is why, according to the CIA, a number of regimes deeply hostile to America – North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria – ‘already have or are developing ballistic missiles’ that could threaten U.S allies and forces abroad. And one, North Korea, is on the verge of deploying missiles that can hit the American homeland. Such capabilities pose a grave challenge to the American peace and the military power that preserves that peace (p.51-p.52).
This report was published approximately three years prior to the invasion of Iraq, and approximately 11 years prior to both the war in Libya and the start of the proxy war in Syria. The central point I am getting at here is that the wars we have seen unfold, and the wars to come, are not just short-term actions taken by the administration who happens to be in power at that particular time. They are planned years and sometimes decades prior to the first shot being fired. Regardless of which party the President belongs to – George Bush invaded Iraq with a red tie on, whilst Barack Obama bombed Libya with a blue one on – the same regime-change agenda continues.
Two Down, Three to Go
Although there were other reports that marked more countries that the neocons considered ‘hostile’ to the US, or more accurately, hostile to US (Western) imperial ambitions, the September 2000 report focused on five countries. With Iraq and Libya already ‘liberated,’ three countries are still on the hitlist: Syria, Iran and North Korea. Coincidentally (or not), these are some of the main countries that the Trump administration is targeting, and we are only a few months into Trump’s reign.
Syria: Trump has already bombed Syrian government forces – or forces fighting on the side of the Syrian government – on multiple occasions since being elected. After Trump bombed Syria back in April, both Kaganand Kristol praised him, yet demanded more blood. Even though they claimed not to be major supporters of Trump during the campaign, many Bush-era hawks were – including Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary. The Trump administration has also admitted sending hundreds of US troops – which includes Marines – into Syria, officially in order to fight against ISIS (through training and advising rebel forces), yet it’s clear the move has as much to do with the Syrian and Iranian governments than anything else.
Iran: Throughout Trump’s campaign for the White House, he repeatedly criticized both Iran and North Korea. Trump has always been a severe critic of the Iranian nuclear deal, and a loyal supporter of the state of Israel, meaning war with Iran seems more probable that not. In fact, Iran has claimed that Trump and Saudi Arabia are behind the recent terror attacks in Tehran, which ISIS has claimed responsibility for.
During his trip to Saudi Arabia last month, Trump took the opportunity to take another jab at Iran. In February, the US Defense Secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, called Iran the “biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” completely ignoring the role Saudi Arabia plays in exporting terrorism. It appears as though the Trump administration is in the process of deciding which path to Persia it thinks is going to be the most effective.
North Korea: In relation to North Korea, the Trump administration has essentially backed the country into a corner, producing the obvious response from North Korea: an (attempted) show of strength. A country that the US carpet bombed during the Korean war – which included using napalm – it hardly seems likely that North Korea is just going to give in to US threats, considering the resentment many in the country still feel towards America.
This is not a defense of North Korea, but the Trump administration making one provocative statement after another has hardly reduced tensions in the region. In March, Mattis said that “reckless” North Korea has “got to be stopped.” The following month, Trump said North Korea is a problem that “will be taken care of.” Although Mattis has acknowledged that a conflict with North Korea would be “catastrophic,” the Trump administration appears to be willing to ratchet up tensions regardless.
In contrast, both Russia and China have emphasized that dialogue and diplomacy trump threats. Speaking in May, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that “we have to stop intimidating North Korea” and “return to dialogue” with them, after affirming that Russia “is against expanding the pool of nuclear powers, including North Korea.” Also in May, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called for the US and North Korea to “stop irritating each other,” and advocated “dialogue and negotiation.”
It also important to note that the North Korean issue is really about a lot more than just North Korea. As Paul Craig Roberts has highlighted, the North Korean ‘crisis’ has everything to do with Russia and China. Similar to how the US used the Iranian ‘threat’ to put anti-ballistic missile systems close to Russia’s borders, the North Korean crisis can be used to deploy anti-ballistic missiles systems next to the eastern borders of Russia and China. In a positive development, however, the South Korean government has just announced (at the time of writing anyway) that it will halt the deployment of the US anti-ballistic missile system – known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) – on its territory for potentially up to a year, citing environmental concerns.
If the Trump administration and the neocons are actually reckless enough to try and force regime change in all three countries in the near future, this brings the US into direct confrontation with both Russia and China. And if a hot war between these three nuclear powers erupts, this would mark the end of human civilization as we know it.
(JTA) — Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student imprisoned by North Korea who remains in a coma since his release this week, was active at the campus Hillel and cared deeply about the Jewish community, its rabbi recalls.
Warmbier, 22, a Cincinnati native, was traveling on a student tour of North Korea last year when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster.
After international outrage and over a year of imprisonment, North Korea released him this week, saying his health had deteriorated severely. Warmbier’s doctors say he is unresponsive and has suffered extensive brain damage.
Rabbi Jake Rubin, the University of Virginia’s Hillel director, told JTA in an email that it was another overseas trip that sealed Warmbier’s connection to the Jewish community.
A 2014 Birthright mission to Israel, where Warmbier received a Hebrew name during a hike to Masada, left a strong impression on the young man. Following the trip, he became involved with the Jewish community on campus.
Birthright offers free trips to individuals who identify as Jewish, have at least one Jewish birth parent or have completed Jewish conversion. Rubin did not answer a question about Warmbier’s Jewish background.
The rabbi described Warmbier as “a beloved member of our Hillel community.”
“He was a regular at Bagels on Lawn, celebrated Shabbat and holidays at Hillel, and even led a seder for other students that focused on issues of environmentalism and sustainability,” Rubin wrote.
During that seder, Warmbier and another student used the Passover ritual as a way to introduce issues related to climate change.
“What are the ten plagues of climate change? How can washing our hands remind us of the importance of water conservation? Throughout the Seder, we asked participants to reflect on how the story of the Exodus and the Seder traditions relate to environmental challenges,” Lia Cattaneo, who led the seder with Warmbier, wrote in a 2015 blog on the Hillel website.
Rubin recalled the joy that infused Warmbier’s day-to-day life.
“In the simplest interactions Otto always found something of interest and would make you smile,” he wrote. “At every stop on Birthright he would try some kind of new food, strike up a conversation with someone new, or find some unique thing to bargain for. He loved life and it was infectious.”
Beyond Hillel, Warmbier was a leader on the University of Virginia campus, Rubin said. Warmbier served on the student council’s sustainability committee and spoke with a Tel Aviv councilman, Etai Pikas, about environmentalism in Israel.
“The opportunity to hear from the man voted one of Israel’s 100 Most Influential People on his work and passion was truly remarkable,” Warmbier wrote of the meeting in a blog for Hillel published in 2015.
Rubin described Warmbier as a person who “was always full of life, intellectually curious, and cared deeply for his friends and community.”
“He was always interested in learning more about the world and the people around him. He put everyone at ease with his humor and genuine interest for others,” the rabbi added. “Otto was a leader at UVa and we are fortunate that he is a member of our community.”
SINGAPORE (AP) — North Korea is accelerating its push to acquire a nuclear-armed missile capable of threatening the United States and other nations, and the US regards this as a “clear and present danger,” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday.
Speaking at an international security conference in Singapore, Mattis said the Trump administration is encouraged by China’s renewed commitment to working with the US and others to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. He also said he thinks China, which is North Korea’s closest ally, ultimately will see it as a liability.
China blocked tough new sanctions against North Korea that the United States pushed in the UN Security Council on Friday. However, the Security Council did vote unanimously to add 15 individuals and four entities linked to the North’s nuclear and missile programs to a UN sanctions blacklist.
In his speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mattis sought to balance his hopeful comments on China with sharp criticism of what he called Beijing’s disregard for international law by its “indisputable militarization” of artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
“We cannot and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo” in the South China Sea, he said.
Overall, Mattis’ speech struck a positive, hopeful tone for cooperation and peace in the Asia-Pacific region, where he and his predecessors have made it a priority to nurture and strengthen alliances and partnerships.
“While competition between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable,” he said. “Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit. We will pledge to work closely with China where we share common cause.”
He was, however, unrelentingly critical of North Korea, a politically and economically isolated nation whose leaders have long viewed the United States as a military threat, in part because of periodic US military exercises with South Korea, which the North sees as preparations for attacks aimed at destroying its ruling elite.
He called North Korea an “urgent military threat.” In a question-and-answer session with his audience of national security experts from across the globe, Mattis was asked whether the US might attack the North pre-emptively and without warning South Koreans in advance.
“We’re working diplomatically, economically, we’re trying to exhaust all possible alternatives to avert this race for a nuclear weapon in violation of … the United Nations’ restrictions on North Korea’s activities,” he said.
“We want to stop this. We consider it urgent,” he added.
The US has about 28,500 troops permanently based in South Korea, a defense treaty ally. In his speech, Mattis said the US will stick to its treaty commitments to South Korea.
“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them is not new, but the regime has increased the pace and scope of its efforts,” he said, alluding to the North’s series of nuclear device tests in recent years and an accelerated pace of missile tests seemingly aimed at building a missile with enough range to hit the US.
“While the North Korean regime has a long record of murder of diplomats, of kidnapping, killing of sailors, and criminal activity, its nuclear weapons program is maturing as a threat to all,” Mattis said, adding, “As a matter of national security, the United States regards the threat from North Korea as a clear and present danger.”
Mattis noted that last week the Pentagon conducted what it called a successful test of its missile defense system, which is being developed mainly with North Korea in mind. An interceptor launched from coastal California soared over the Pacific on Tuesday, scoring what officials called a direct hit on a target missile fired from a Pacific test range. It was the first time the system had been tested against a missile of intercontinental range.
Mattis used the Shangri-La Dialogue to reiterate his call for international cooperation against violent Islamic extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, sometimes called ISIS, which he said are trying to gain ground in Southeast Asia.
In his speech, Mattis made no mention of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate change agreement, a move that infuriated allies far and wide. The Pentagon’s position in recent years has been that climate change presents threats to the nation’s security and to global stability.
The issue arose briefly during questions from his audience, but Mattis did not address it directly. An Australian questioner asked, in light of Trump’s abandonment of an international trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and his withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, “why should we not fret that we are present at the destruction of” a global rules-based order?
“There’s going to be fresh approaches taken” to various issues by Trump, Mattis said while making it clear that he personally believes the US needs to avoid isolationist tendencies. “Like it or not, we’re part of the world.”
WASHINGTON — A re-engineered American interceptor rocket collided with a mock intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday afternoon in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said, in the first successful test of whether it could shoot down a warhead from North Korea racing toward the continental United States at speeds approaching true battle conditions.
At a time when tensions with North Korea are running high, a successful test was vital for the Defense Department’s beleaguered missile defense program. It enabled the Pentagon to argue that it is making strides in protecting the United States from a North Korean nuclear warhead.
But even advocates of the program stop short of arguing that it can now provide a defensive shield; with Tuesday’s test, only five of the last 10 tests have been declared fully or partly successful in the 13 years since the system became operational.
The results of the test were being watched carefully, not only because a failure would have been a major setback, but also because a redesigned interceptor was put up against a dummy warhead that was speeding toward the United States at a velocity close to that of a real incoming missile.
The test “demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” said Vice Adm. James D. Syring, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, calling the test a “critical milestone for this program.”
But Defense Department officials provided no details, saying only that initial indications showed the test had met its primary objective by hitting the target and that the missile agency would evaluate other data to determine how the system performed over all.
The test was the first of a new “kill vehicle” that uses thrusters to aim directly at an incoming warhead. That is intended to solve a persistent technical problem blamed for many past misses.
So far, North Korea has not tested a missile that could reach the United States. But experts expect that moment in the next five years or so. To truly threaten the United States, North Korea would have to demonstrate that it has a missile that can reach the West Coast or farther inland, and it would have to learn how to shrink a nuclear warhead to fit atop an intercontinental missile and survive the stresses of re-entering the atmosphere.
But Pyongyang has also been working hard to overwhelm the defense systems that the Pentagon has placed in California, where the antimissile system was tested on Tuesday, and in Alaska. For instance, North Korea regularly practices firing salvos of missiles because the American system is designed to intercept only one or two incoming warheads at a time.
Analyses of recent North Korean flight tests and missiles paraded through the streets of Pyongyang suggest that the North may also be seeking to develop maneuverable warheads. Such a tactic, if successfully developed, would help warheads dodge antimissile interceptors.
For that reason, President Barack Obama ordered in 2014 that the traditional missile defenses be supplemented by a covert program intended to sabotage launches before they happen. That program includes electronic warfare attacks, but it is unclear how successful it has been. Experts say that a combination of that “left of launch” sabotage, so called because it comes before or just as a missile launches, and “right of launch” interception of airborne missiles, the kind practiced on Tuesday, represent the best chance of protecting the United States.
Efforts to test the country’s multibillion-dollar efforts at missile defense have had mixed results. A Pentagon report in January criticized the long-range system, saying that it “demonstrates a limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers” of medium- and long-range missiles “launched from North Korea or Iran.”
In nine of the 17 tests of the system since 1999, the target missile was not destroyed, officials said. Critics of the system say the test record has not improved over time, as would be expected for a system that is maturing. And “the tests have still not been done under realistic conditions,” Laura Grego, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a blog post on Monday.
Ms. Grego and other scientists argue that only when the system is tested in a range of situations — such as at night, or when an adversary is using countermeasures — would the Defense Department be able to say that it works.
Tuesday’s test was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Because the location was known and the approximate time of the launch was planned, the interceptor was ready — which might not be the case under real conditions.
The North Koreans recently test-fired a series of missiles based on a technology that would give the United States little warning of an attack. Their new missiles use solid fuels and can be launched in minutes. That makes the already daunting job of intercepting them far harder, given that the American antimissile system works best with early alerts from satellites that a launch is imminent.
These missiles, officials say, appear to be functional, unlike older missiles that kept exploding or falling into the sea. Recent major tests were clearly successful, teaching the North Koreans a lot about how to fire missiles into space and drop warheads on distant targets.
While the American missile defense test was not “timed specifically to the current tensions,” the North “remains a cause for concern,” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday. “They’re expanding in the size and sophistication of their ballistic missile systems, from close range to intercontinental, and they continue to conduct test launches while also using dangerous rhetoric that suggests they want to strike the United States.”
In South Korea on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in ordered an investigation into why the nation’s Defense Ministry had failed to inform him that four additional launchers for a contentious American missile-defense battery had been brought into the country.
The United States hurried to deploy the antimissile system, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, in April despite protests from Mr. Moon, who was a presidential candidate at the time and demanded that the deployment be delayed until after the new government in Seoul reviewed whether it was in the country’s best interest.
On Monday, Pyongyang launched what South Korean officials called a Scud-type missile that flew 280 miles before falling into waters near Japan. Hours after the missile test, two American supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers conducted a drill over South Korea.
As a candidate, Mr. Moon had called for a parliamentary review of the Thaad system. Two interceptor-rocket launchers were first put in place in Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, during the April deployment, although a Thaad battery normally operates with six launchers. Mr. Moon had accused both Washington and the government of the impeached President Park Geun-hye of trying to make the Thaad deployment a fait accompli.
Since Mr. Moon’s election on May 10, he has not been as vocal about the Thaad deployment.
That changed on Tuesday, when he learned that the remaining four Thaad launchers had arrived in South Korea — although not put in place in Seongju — and that his office had not been notified.
“President Moon called it a great shock,” said his spokesman, Yoon Young-chan. “He ordered a probe on how the four launchers were brought into the country, whose decision it was and why it has not been made public to the people and why it has not been reported to the new government until now.”
Captain Davis responded that the Pentagon had been “very transparent” with South Korea about the deployment of the system.
An epic catastrophe threatens to rain death and destruction across the world, but it’s not the danger most of us fear—not the missile that an overinflated autocratic North Korean might launch. If you want to get really terrified, think of this month’s global ransomware hack as a warmup for the kind of complete digital shutdown that might—and some say will—come.
This moment has echoes from 100 years ago. In 1918, the first mechanized world war seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened to humanity. It killed 17 million people in war zones. Starting just as World War I was ending, a Spanish flu pandemic raced around the planet, killing as many as 100 million people in every big city and small town. Nobody anywhere was safe from it, and nobody anticipated it.
Chinese technicians work at the Recovery Key Laboratory of Sichuan province in Chengdu, China on May 15, where anti-ransomware software was released to recover files encrypted by the international ”WannaCry” cybersecurity attack, which may have been launched by North Korea.IMAGINECHINA/AP
A nuclear battle involving North Korea would be horrific—a modern equivalent of World War I. Yet a major cyberattack that completely disrupts everything digital would spin the world into a chaos that could spell the end of our society. We can’t imagine the toll because we’ve never seen such an attack. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has compared it to our inability to understand the outcome of a nuclear bomb before one was dropped on Japan. Our mindset about cyberwar, Hayden said, “has the whiff of 1945. It’s a new class of weapon, never before used.”
How could a digital nuke possibly be worse than a real nuke? First, consider how we’re teeing up a disaster by moving every aspect of life and commerce online while having no way to completely protect those systems. It’s kind of like putting your family and all your possessions into a house that has hippie beads for a front door—in a high-crime area with no police force.
We’ve long relied on computers and software to run big systems like power grids, airports, banks, factories and the military. Now, we’re putting billions of Internet of Things devices into our homes, cars, streetlights, toys, clothes, pets and more. Those devices were the point of weakness that allowed hackers last fall to knock out major web outlets like PayPal and Spotify in the U.S. We’re doing most of our professional work these days on software and apps, talking with colleagues on Slack, shopping on Amazon, finding friends with benefits on Tinder. We’re on the brink of filling our roads with self-driving cars while robot drones zip overhead delivering pizza. All of it is connected, and all of it is vulnerable.
Meanwhile, cyberattacks keep intensifying, and security experts can’t stay ahead of the hackers. The latest, in mid-May, was the worst so far. The ransomware affected up to 99 countries. It froze hospitals in the U.K.; infected Russia’s Interior Ministry and biggest bank, Sberbank; shut down parts of Spain’s Telefónica; and fried millions of Windows computers in China and India. North Korea may have launched that attack, and lots of scary nations large and small are sponsoring increasingly sophisticated hacking operations. “We used to worry about Russia and China taking down our infrastructure,” said Stewart Baker, a former general counsel for the National Security Agency, in an interview for the Pew Research Center. “Now, we have to worry about Iran and Syria and North Korea. Next up: Hezbollah and Anonymous.”
The constant hacks have left us all with an amorphous sense of dread. We’re told that we have to protect ourselves with encryption and two-factor authentication, which is not heartening. It’s like being informed that you really ought to dig a moat around your house and line up archers on your roof because the Visigoths are coming, and no one can help you—so, good luck!
Yet securing your stuff will be worthless if a rogue nation or group launches an attack that cripples global digital networks. Just imagine how that would go. Let’s say you’re in a city. In a flash, you have no communication. Even if your laptop and cellphone still work, they can’t get to anything—not Gmail or WhatsApp or Facebook. President Donald Trump can’t even get on Twitter to call the attack “bad!”
You head outside and realize everything’s jammed because the traffic lights are off and public transportation can’t move. Airports ground all flights. Even satellites have been rendered useless—you can’t get on GPS to find your way.
Go to the store, and it will take only cash because the gadget to swipe cards won’t work. People empty the shelves, worried about supplies running out. The ATM won’t work, and your credit card is worthless without the technology behind it. You can’t even be sure whether your bank account has been hacked and cleaned out.
Now, you’re worried about food, water, safety. Power goes out because the utility’s systems crash. The police are in turmoil, overwhelmed and unable to communicate. Hospital systems go down. Patients in critical health relying on automated devices start dying. Financial markets freeze, and investors panic. The government can’t get information to people and may not be operating at all.
And this is happening in every city and every town in every country.
How long before people turn on one another? Before they break into houses that look rich and stocked with food? Before guns come out of drawers and safes? Before fires get started and mobs rage out of control? How bad does it get if systems are so damaged they can’t be turned on for weeks, months, years? It seems crazy, but such a scenario looks more plausible with every escalating cyberattack.
Maybe Kim Jong Un is really wily, and this whole missile thing is just sleight of hand. While Trump and other leaders focus on rockets, we can only hope Kim and his brainwashed 20-something nerds in a well-guarded military bunker haven’t developed their real weapon of mass destruction on a MacBook.