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Hither and Yon

Spyware that targeted Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi deployed against Kim Jong-Un?

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
SEOUL — Cyber espionage is the cutting edge of modern warfare.
Think of all the great stuff intelligence agents learn from monitoring the conversations of just about everyone. The only problem is how to separate the meaningless, which means almost everything, from the inside clues that really count.
With that goal in mind, isn’t it great that Seoul’s National Intelligence Service has bought a wonderfully high-tech remote control system from an Italian company for the specific purpose of spying on North Korea?
Yes, yes, we know, lots of people think the NIS wanted the system just to spy on political foes of the government, but that’s so boring to most of us who don’t follow the ups and downs, ins and outs of South Korean politics.
What’s fascinating is what they might have learned about North Korea. Is it possible that this Italian system can tune into conversations that Kim Jong-Un might be having with his aides and sidekicks, also with his wife and girlfriends?
We’ve got to believe the reason the NIS wanted the Italian program was the Italians had used it successfully to spy on Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire tycoon, national leader and man of innumerable loves. Following his comings ― and goings ― must have been enormous fun for Italian intel people, investigators and political enemies.
Why else would the Italians have been the ones to come up with a system worth the time and resources of the NIS? Logically, wouldn’t the NIS have been expected to obtain all the know-how it needed from some company in Silicon Valley, probably staffed by brilliant Korean-Americans?
Might the NIS not have been able to acquire some advice and assistance from friends in the American CIA or National Security Agency? OK, they’re probably sworn not to talk about their exploits to outsiders, but years of special relationships should have fostered enough rapport for the Americans to have revealed a little of their skills to their Korean friends.
But no, it had to be an Italian company that provided the NIS with the latest, greatest means of conducting cyber-espionage on North Korea.
No wonder the NIS was able to come up with those reports on the means of executing North Korean bad boys, most recently the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Gen. Hyon. Would that report of poor Gen. Hyon suffering the final indignity of getting annihilated by anti-aircraft fire in front of officers at a military school have come from the Italian remote control system?
And what about the story about the manager of a terrapin farm who was killed after Kim Jong-Un registered his displeasure at the failure of the farm to produce more and better terrapins? That and other tidbits are what you find out when you’ve got really high-powered monitoring devices following all that’s happening up there.
How closely will this system take the NIS to the innermost councils of leadership in the North? If there’s one area that’s tantalizingly out of reach of everyone’s intelligence agencies, it’s a direct line into meetings of the national defense commission as well as the politburo of the Workers’ Party.
We get lots of reports via websites and defectors and people with cell phones in North Korea, but they don’t quite get us to the innermost conflicts at the top level. We don’t learn about bad stuff happening in Pyongyang until someone gets executed or purged.
Thanks to the Italians, will we be hearing about Kim bursting out in table-thumping rage, shouting down idiots who are dumb enough not to listen attentively or tell him his latest brainstorm is the greatest, most brilliant spasm of intellect they’ve ever heard?
Think of Kim breaking up a meeting by ordering some poor guy to leave the room, after which we hear a shot ringing out. Wouldn’t it be great if the Italian system passed on these moments of drama, adding both excitement and credibility to all the rumors and largely false reports that filter through the fog to the rest of the world?
Here’s my question about this Italian program. Was it sold exclusively to the NIS or can anyone, any country or political organization or terrorist group buy it.?
Surely the Italians didn’t just pass it on for the benefit of one client. The Italians are notorious for their inability to keep secrets. They design cars for foreign companies, and they make footwear for export everywhere.
Similarly, isn’t it safe to assume this program is available to anyone who’s got the money and the desire to snoop on a world of enemies? We need to know a lot more. How’s it marketed and who’s shopping for it and how does it work? In a best case scenario, the Italians should be marketing a home version for everyday use by anyone.
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com.
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