What Happens When a Defeated Nation Surrenders: Could North Korea Be Next?
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After an enemy nation is defeated, the victor typically seeks to benefit under the adage “to the victor belong the spoils.” For example, Hitler committed suicide in April 1945 just as the European theater in World War II was ending in an Allied victory. The U.S. and the Soviet Union then began a furious attempt to grab as many German scientists who worked on nerve gas and V-1 and V-2 rockets for the Nazi regime.
The U.S. government brought many of those scientists to the United States through a government program called “Operation Paperclip.” Some of those scientists worked on the “Manhattan Project” that led to the development of the atomic bomb.
The U.S. also recruited members of the defunct Nazi intelligence organizations because of their experience conducting espionage operations against the Soviets. The American military, the CIA, the FBI and other agencies used at least 1,000 former Nazis and collaborators as spies and informants after the war.
John Fox, the FBI’s chief historian, said: “In hindsight, it is clear that [FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover, and by extension the F.B.I., was shortsighted in dismissing evidence of ties between recent German and East European immigrants and Nazi war crimes. It should be remembered, though, that this was at the peak of Cold War tensions.”
Germany and Other Governments Collapse after Berlin Wall Falls
In October 1989, East Germany’s Communist Party General Secretary Erich Honecker resigned. On November 9, the Berlin Wall that had divided East and West Germany since 1961 was torn down.
The newly unified German Federal Republic was formally announced on October 3, 1990. A few weeks later, the Ministry of Justice issued an arrest warrant for Honecker for his role in the numerous killings that had taken place at the Berlin Wall.
However, Honecker and his wife, Margot, escaped to Moscow and later flew to Chile. On May 29, 1994, Honecker died in Santiago.
Other autocratic and undemocratic regimes also collapsed in the following years after German reunification. They included the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe, Cambodia and Vietnam.
What Would Happen If North Korea’s Government Collapsed?
North Korea could be changed in many ways if the Kim dynasty were to collapse as a result of war, popular revolt or a coup. What would be the potential effects of such a sea change?
Would China grab some of North Korea’s territory for its own ends? North Korea has more natural resources than heavily industrialized South Korea. Also, China claims it has historical reasons to take control of the resource-rich northern area of the Korean peninsula.
Could the West Harvest a Wealth of Intelligence from North Korean Defectors?
If change were to occur as a result of a coup or a war, much of the North Korean leadership could be lost. Western intelligence services could entice some of them to defect to learn about intelligence indicators and the deceptive operations that North Korea conducted successfully. Also, American military intelligence could learn about North Korean combat activities from some of their leaders who became prisoners of war.
While North Korea’s military leaders have many medals and badges on their uniforms, they have not been in combat since 1953. Most of those medals are not combat-related, but they may have been awarded for loyalty to the Communist Party.
In a war, the Korean People’s Army might inflict great damage on South Korea. However, there is little chance of successfully winning that war.
North Korea: Hackers Could Give Valuable Information to US Cyber Forces
The real spoils of war in this new era would be captured North Korean hackers and cyber criminals. Like the grab for German scientists at the end of World War II, a similar recruitment could be repeated in a defeated North Korea, especially for scientists involved in its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea’s computer-literate hackers allegedly masterminded the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment company servers that cost the media giant tens of millions of dollars.
The FBI also suspects that North Korea was behind last year’s $81 million cyber heist of Bangladesh central bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
North Korean Leaders Fleeing the Country Have Conduit to Cyber Nest Egg
In a RallyPoint conversation, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jason Mackay said: “We can assume that the [North Korean] regime’s dalliances into bitcoin and financial software manipulation has provided them a conduit to build a post-DPRK nest egg, which will buy them protection in Russia, China or some sympathetic, cash-strapped place. Physical cash is too hard to bring with you and your emergency entourage. Bitcoin is portable. It is an insurance policy for dictators.”
American cyber defenders could learn a great deal about cyber defense, intelligence collection and attacks from North Korea’s cyber personnel who come to the U.S. In fact, we might see former North Korean cyber personnel working at the National Security Agency within the next five to 10 years.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 49th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”
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