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Analysis, Diplomacy

North Korea may have had core deciphering computers stolen

Computers may have been stolen during a break in in Spain.


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Updated: March 26, 2019

North Korean decryption computers may have been stolen from its embassy in Spain in last month’s raid by as-yet unidentified assailants, a high-profile North Korean defector claimed Sunday.

Thae Yong-ho, a former deputy North Korean ambassador to UK said on his blog that the group of men who allegedly infiltrated the North Korean Embassy in Madrid may have stolen computers used to communicate with Pyongyang, which would be a harsh blow to the communist regime.

“The world is reporting on the attack on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, but North Korea has been keeping quiet over the incident for a month. I believe this is because they (the assailants) stole the ‘transformation computer,’ a core classified item in the embassy,” Thae said in his blog.

“In a North Korean embassy, the transformation computer is considered more important that human lives, and deciphers telegrams shared between Pyongyang and the embassy overseas.”

The North Korean Embassy in Madrid, Spain, was allegedly attacked by some 10 unidentified men carrying fake fire arms in broad daylight on Feb. 22. The assailants reportedly tied up staff and stole computers and cellphones.

While all foreign embassies share encrypted texts and messages with its government at home, North Korea’s cryptography is of the “anti-Japanese partisan” style, which cannot be deciphered by Western intelligence agencies, Thae added.

The anti-Japanese partisan style was developed by China’s Communist Party during what would become World War II, using pages and words from preselected novels, according to Thae.

The former ambassador also said that if the computer containing the cryptologic program was turned into US Federal Bureau of Investigation, it would be critically harmful to the communist regime. North Korea would have to replace all original files and Pyongyang and overseas North Korean embassies would not be able to cipher communications for a period of time, he said.

This may also be the reason North Korea called in ambassadors from China, Russia and the United Nations to Pyongyang last week to discuss the new negotiating strategy with the US, as they could not discuss the confidential information via telegram.

While the assailants have not been identified, several media outlets have reported that the group behind the February attack may be Cheollima Civil Defense, a shadowy dissident organization seeking to overthrow the Kim Jong-un regime.

The secretive group first gained recognition when it claimed to be protecting Kim Han-sol, the son of Kim Jong-nam, North Korean leader Jong-un’s elder half brother. Kim Jong-nam was killed after he was exposed to the deadly nerve agent XV in 2017 while entering an airport in Kuala Lumpur.

Spanish media reports have also claimed the raid may be connected to the CIA, but others have labeled that unlikely, as the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was slated for just days after the incident in Hanoi, Vietnam.



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