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Sept. 15, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

North Korea seeks aid while building nukes
The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop nuclear weapons and missiles at the same time the government is begging international aid groups to provide flood relief.

Jong Kwon, North Korea’s counselor at the U.N. mission in New York, last week sent an urgent email appeal for the aid — five days before Pyongyang set off its fifth underground nuclear test. Mr. Kwon wrote to several NGOs providing aid to North Korea on Sept. 5, explaining that heavy rains and subsequent floods hit two provinces in the northeastern part of the country.

Writing on behalf of Choe Son Hui, the new president of the Korea-America Private Exchange Society (KAPES), a Pyongyang front group that lobbies for foreign aid, Mr. Kwon stated that North Korea “would like to appeal to you all for an emergency support to the devastating flood damage area in [North Korea],” according to an email obtained by Inside the Ring.

The North Korean counselor said heavy rains destroyed 17,180 houses and left 44,000 people homeless. A total of 10 people died and 15 are missing.

“KAPES kindly requests you to find potentiality in your resources of supporting those people with whatever you can make,” Mr. Kwon said. “It has been known that the primary necessaries for them are food, shelter tent, blanket and medicine, etc.”

A second North Korean email told foreign groups that Pyongyang would allow monitoring of aid distribution — after the government diverted foreign aid intended for civilians to the North Korean military.

North Korea “will allow monitor[ing] of the distribution of assistance,” the email states. “In principle, it is necessary for all aid to go via Pyongyang,” the email says, adding that “entry through the Tumen River Bridge can be allowed as an exception.”

“That exception can be decided once KAPES is told what, when, and how much aid is going.”

The emails coincided with a rare public appeal for flood relief published Sunday in North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.

News reports from the region stated the floods are expected to cause more food shortages. South Korea’s Yonhap reported that North Korean food shortages will amount to some 600,000 tons less than is needed by the population.

Regime critics say North Korea’s appeal for humanitarian aid is duplicitous at a time when the Kim regime is accelerating its destabilizing nuclear and missile programs. The nuclear test carried out Sept. 9 was the fifth underground blast and the second this year.

Intelligence sources say the test results are still being analyzed, but early indications show the test is part of efforts to develop small warheads for North Korea’s missiles. North Korea also is developing a new submarine-launched ballistic missile that was tested earlier this year.

Recent activity at a site in the northeast part of the country also indicated further nuclear tests could be carried out. Analysts estimate North Korea has spent at least $1.5 billion on its nuclear infrastructure and weapons — money that could have been spent to alleviate the flood damage.

North Korea also continues extensive testing of ballistic missiles, conducting 13 flight tests involving 22 missiles in recent months, among them medium-range Musudans and Nodongs.

Despite past policies of separating humanitarian aid efforts from North Korea’s nuclear programs, NGO sources operating in the China-North Korea border region say many organizations are having second thoughts about providing aid for the most recent floods. The groups are concerned the aid is bolstering a Kim regime that is ignoring the plight of its people.

Recent defectors from North Korea have warned that international aid is indirectly freeing up funds that are being spent on nuclear and missile programs. “What is the point of Kim Jong-un asking for international help?” said one former North Korean official. “Everyone knows that the relief materials will end up used for nuclear build-up.”

A U.N. human rights commission has accused North Korea of engaging in crimes against humanity for its treatment of dissidents.

Cybercom-NSA divorce?
Since its creation in 2009, the U.S. Cyber Command has been intimately linked to the National Security Agency, the Fort Meade-based electronic intelligence and code-breaking agency with the most advanced cyberintelligence-gathering skills of any American spy agency.

But NSA and Cybercom, as it’s called, may soon be parting ways under a Pentagon plan to elevate Cybercom from a supporting command to a front-line war fighting combatant command.

One major problem with the current close arrangement is Cybercom and the NSA have two different missions. NSA is focused solely on spying, and Cybercom, a subcommand of the U.S. Strategic Command in charge of cyberdefense and war fighting, is a military organization that wants to do more operations, such as active defense against cyberattacks and, when needed, wage offensive cyberwarfare.

The current commander, Adm. Mike Rogers, is also director of NSA and is in favor of separating the two. Adm. Rogers also has pushed the administration to take a more proactive stance against the kind of cyberattacks carried out in recent years by both China and Russia.

President Obama, however, has repeatedly objected to giving Cybercom the authority to take action. Mr. Obama boasted in China last week that the United States has more cybercapabilities “than anybody both offensively and defensively.”

Mr. Obama then warned that he feared a cyberwar could break out: “What we cannot do is have a situation in which suddenly this becomes the Wild, Wild West, where countries that have significant cybercapacity start engaging in competition — unhealthy competition or conflict through these means,” he said.

The idea of splitting Cybercom from NSA triggered a vigorous debate in government national security circles.

“The current commander does feel like both entities do different things and should be disaggregated,” said a senior military officer. “One gathers intelligence and the other conducts offensive cyberoperations.”

For the military command, many of Cybercom’s troops feel like they work for NSA, although they wear different security badges and operate in different parts of NSA headquarters.

“The feeling is it would be better to get Cyber Command out from under the thumb of NSA,” the officer said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain criticized the nature of the debate over splitting the two organizations. “Here we go again,” the Arizona Republican said at a hearing Tuesday. “Another major policy matter has apparently been decided with no consultation whatsoever between the White House or the Department of Defense with this committee.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday that no decision has been made, but that, ultimately, the president would make the call.

“One is an intelligence agency, one is a combat support agency,” Mr. Carter said. “Whatever happens in the future, and whatever decisions are made with respect to the management of it, they’re going to be interrelated because they both deal with the technology of cyber, especially cyberdefense, cyberprotection, which is Cybercom’s first military mission.”

NSA advocates fear the split will be used by agency critics to limit its capabilities.

Renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who stole some 1.7 million highly classified documents and released them to leftist journalists, sparked a backlash against the agency, claiming the NSA was engaged in massive illegal spying on Americans — charges the agency has denied. The agency is restricted from spying on Americans and can do so only when there are indications of foreign espionage or terrorism links.

Still, critics within the administration and on Capitol Hill want to limit the NSA, and one way would be to end the practice of making the NSA’s director a uniformed military officer.

Giving a civilian authority over the NSA likely will result in the kind of politicization afflicting other intelligence agencies, notably at CIA under Obama loyalist John Brennan.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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