A Sinking Time Bomb
October 12, 2021
The Good News
- Lego to remove gender bias from its toys after findings of child survey (Guardian)
- After several attempts, wildlife officers remove tire that was around an elk’s neck for over two years (CNN)
“My countrymen: we have reached a turning point in our history. The choice is yours. Shall we venture into this brave new world, bright with possibilities, or retreat to the safety of our familiar but sterile past? I am for crossing the frontier.” — Ferdinand Marcos
Kim Jong Un-covering The Truth
Kim Kuk-song is a former North Korean senior military officer. In 2014, he fled to Seoul, where he’s been living and working for South Korean intelligence. He avoids notoriety, still worried about who might be watching and listening. It took weeks for BBC reporters to get an exclusive interview with him.
Kim said he spent 30 years working his way to the top ranks of North Korea’s powerful spy agencies, which he calls the “eyes, ears, and brains of the Supreme Leader.” He kept their secrets, sent assassins to kill their critics, and even built an illegal drug lab to help raise “revolutionary” funds. He was the “reddest of the red,” a loyal communist servant. But rank and loyalty don’t guarantee one’s safety in North Korea. Kim depicts a ruthless leadership desperate to make cash by any means possible, from drug deals to weapons sales in the Middle East and Africa.
Kim Jong II was North Korea’s Supreme Leader from 1994 until his death in 2011. When a disastrous famine occurred in the 1990s, and hundreds of thousands were dying, Kim Kuk-song was ordered to raise “revolutionary funds” for the Supreme Leader. Translation: deal in illegal drugs. “I brought [in] three foreigners … built a production base … and produced … ICE (crystal meth). Then we could cash it to dollars to present to Kim Jong-il.” Another income source came from illegal weapons sales to Iran. But instead of helping his starving people, the “Dear Leader” used the money to “build villas, buy cars, buy food, get clothes and enjoy luxuries.” Kim said: “To help you understand, all the money in North Korea belongs to the North Korean leader.”
In 2009, Kim Jong-un was being groomed to succeed his father, who had suffered a stroke. Kim wanted to prove himself as “a warrior,” so he ordered the formation of a “terror task force” to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, once one of the country’s most powerful officials and a key architect of North Korean policy. Hwang defected to Seoul in 1997 and was extremely critical of the regime. “I personally directed and carried out the work,” Kim Kuk-song said. Pyongyang denied involvement in Hwang’s assassination, claiming South Korea staged it.
Another of Kim Kuk-song’s responsibilities was to develop “political subordination” strategies to deal with South Korea. “There are many cases where I directed spies to go to South Korea…. I can tell you that North Korean operatives are playing an active role in various civil society organizations as well as important institutions in South Korea.” He adds that the secretive country’s spy and cyber networks, with its 6,000 highly skilled hackers, can reach around the world to make crippling cyberattacks happen. (BBC)
A Blessing, Then A Kurz
- When Sebastian Kurz first became Austria’s chancellor in December 2017, all of Europe took notice. Youthful and media-savvy, the 31-year-old had turned around the fortunes of his ailing conservative party, and almost overnight, became a role model for struggling center-right leaders elsewhere on the continent.
- Kurz adopted the anti-immigration language of an ascendant far-right and refashioned his traditionally staid People’s Party into a political movement that attracted hundreds of thousands of new supporters. Four years later, Kurz has been forced to resign amid a criminal investigation into allegations that he used public money to manipulate opinion polls, and that he paid off a tabloid newspaper for favorable coverage.
- An Oxford University professor of European history said: “Kurz is someone who has taken a traditional center-right party, dragged it into populist mode and is now in big trouble.” In Vienna, an independent political consultant said evidence already released suggests what Kurz did was “deeply immoral” and probably illegal. “What we’re seeing in Austria is the collapse of a new narrative for conservative parties in Europe.” (NYT)
A Sinking Time Bomb
- The FSO Safer is a deteriorating oil tanker that was abandoned in the Red Sea in 2017 and is still rotting in the water. An estimated 1.1 million barrels of crude oil remain onboard, four times the amount of oil released by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989.
- Three-way talks between Houthi rebels, the U.N.-recognized government of Yemen, and the U.N. have stalled despite repeated warnings of the impact if the tanker explodes, breaks up, or starts leaking. A spill is considered increasingly probable, and according to the latest modeling published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, it could cause eight million people to lose access to running water.
- It could also lead to the closure of Red Sea ports in two weeks, and destroy Yemen’s Red Sea fishing stock within three weeks. The oil would spread well beyond Yemen and cause environmental havoc affecting Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. U.N. officials have been unable to secure guarantees to maintain the vessel and its rotting hull, which is now overseen by a crew of just seven. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb and dealer of nuclear secrets, dies at 85 (WaPo, $)
- Indian police detain hundreds amid violence in Kashmir (AP)
- Lebanon power outage ends after army sends emergency fuel (NPR)
- Czech election: Milos Zeman in intensive care after vote (BBC)
- ‘Polexit’ fears spark large pro-EU protests across Poland (ABC)
- Thomas Sankara trial in Burkina Faso: Who killed ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’? (BBC)
- Australia Covid-19: Sydney is reopening and starting to live with coronavirus on ‘Freedom Day’ (CNN)
Sprung A Leak
- A Navy nuclear engineer with top-secret clearance and his wife have been charged with espionage for repeatedly trying to pass U.S. nuclear submarine secrets to a foreign country. Jonathan Toebbe and wife Diana were arrested Saturday in West Virginia by the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service after the couple allegedly sold information concerning the design of nuclear-powered U.S. warships “to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power but was actually an undercover FBI agent.”
- According to the criminal complaint unsealed Sunday, an FBI official received a package in December 2020 that had been sent to a foreign country. It contained U.S. Navy documents, a letter, and instructions for how to conduct encrypted communications with the person offering the information. FBI agents then posed as spies for the foreign country and began communicating by email with the person. Over the next year, the Maryland couple was paid $70,000 in cryptocurrency in exchange for numerous data cards containing information restricted under the Atomic Energy Act. They face a potential life sentence. (WaPo)
Slacking On Vaxxing
- Last month, President Biden issued two executive orders mandating vaccines for federal workers and contractors, and all employers with 100 or more employees. Large employers are to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated, or that unvaccinated workers produce a negative Covid test at least once a week. The requirement could carry a $14,000 fine per violation and would affect two-thirds of the country’s workforce. Federal employees have until November 22 to be fully vaccinated. Lawsuits have been threatened, and some people have vowed to quit their jobs.
- An even greater challenge for the administration could lie within the agency tasked with ensuring compliance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a small size relative to its many responsibilities; it can’t enforce the new rule without deploying a large number of inspectors that it doesn’t have. OSHA is trying to hire and train employees, but that takes time. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members remain unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, even as their compliance deadline quickly approaches. (NBC News, WaPo)
Additional USA News
- Poll: Young Americans say spending could offset sagging Biden approval (Axios)
- Small plane crashes into California neighborhood, killing 2 (CBS)
- GOP lawmakers introduce measure in support of Columbus Day (The Hill)
- Dems thought giving voters cash was the key to success. So what happened? (Politico)
- Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle (The Hill)
- Georgia police officer, 26, shot to death in first shift on job (CBS)
- McAuliffe on 2000 election: ‘I wish the United States Supreme Court had let them finish counting the votes’ (The Hill)
Closer To A Cure
- Scientists in Great Britain are enthusiastic after preliminary results of a landmark clinical trial appear to show a new treatment method is destroying head and neck cancer tumors in some terminally ill patients. Researchers have found a cocktail of immunotherapy medications is rallying patients’ immune systems to kill their own cancer cells and prompting a “positive trend in survival.” The combination of Nivolumab and Ipilimumab led to a reduction in the size of tumors in terminally ill head and neck cancer patients, and in some patients, the tumors vanished altogether.
- Besides boosting the long-term survival chances of patients, the immunotherapy treatment also triggered far fewer side effects compared with the grueling nature of extreme chemotherapy, the current standard treatment for many patients with advanced cancer. About 12,000 people in the U.K. are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year, many in advanced stages. The results from the Phase 3 trial, involving almost 1,000 dying head and neck cancer patients, are still early and not statistically significant. Nevertheless, researchers say they are still “clinically meaningful,” with some patients living months or even years longer and suffering fewer side effects.
- In 2017, a 77-year-old grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer that had spread to his lungs. He jumped at the opportunity to participate in the new clinical trial. Within about eight weeks of starting treatment, scans revealed the tumor in his throat had disappeared. After undergoing chemo and surgery for the cancer in his lungs, he has no evidence of disease today, five years later. Results from other trials of the drug combination suggested similar benefits for terminally ill kidney, skin and bowel cancer patients. (Guardian)
- In a Banner Year for VC, Women Still Struggle to Get Funding (Wired)
- The first Arab mission to Mars is delivering some interesting science (Ars Technica)
- A Massive Subterranean ‘Tree’ Is Moving Magma to Earth’s Surface (Wired)
- Man befriends brother’s murderer in California prison (LAT, $)
- Humans were using tobacco at least 12,000 years ago (CNN)
- ‘I think there’s life out there’: powerful radio antenna used for first time to find exoplanets (Guardian)
- Elk roaming Colorado with tire around neck for 2 years freed (AP)