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North Korea is surviving a killer depression and famine, in part, by counterfeiting U.S. currency.

The Stalinist state can be proud of the stellar workmanship it put into reproducing the new U.S. $100 bill. The fake bills have been circulating around Thailand and Cambodia of late. A recent sting operation conducted by the U.S. Secret Service resulted in the arrest of North Korea’s ace counterfeiter Yoshimi Tanaka — a Japanese leftist who defected to North Korea in 1970. Tanaka was captured after a wild car chase across the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

South Korean military intelligence officials believe that North Korean agents have purchased printing presses identical to those used by the U.S. Treasury Department. The presses were obtained in the global banking haven of Switzerland. “That’s only the half of it,” says South Korean Army Intelligence Officer Kim Jung-min. “The North Koreans have identified the exact formula for making U.S. Treasury paper.”

By uncovering the exact mixture of pulp and cotton used on American money, the North Koreans have reached a new level of expertise. In fact, U.S. officials now claim that North Korean copies of the U.S. $100 bill are better than the originals made at the U.S. mint.

“The North Koreans have lowered their counterfeiting skills to avoid suspicions,” adds Kim.

Other sources of cash include the sale of ballistic missiles to Libya — while other North Korean sales to Pakistan and Egypt have also been alleged by the CIA. The much ballyhooed attempt of North Korea to “buy” high-level nuclear waste from Taiwan in exchange for storage space in the Northern tip of the Korean Peninsula, (not to mention a cool US $1 billion in cash) was thwarted by pressure from the U.S. Congress and South Korean environmental activists.

South Koreans were also shocked when an elite commando unit of North Korean special forces infiltrated the South on September 18, 1996. The unit, consisting of 25 men, was neutralized by South Korean counterinsurgency units. Some were believed to have committed suicide. One commando is believed to have made it safely back across the DMZ.

North Korean dirty tricks have now reached into the realm of cyberspace as elite computer warriors were recently suspected of hacking their way into the U.S. Air Forces’ top command facility. Using the name “Kuji” the hacker broke into the computer operations center at the Rome Air Development Center in upstate New York. Undaunted, U.S. military computer operators fought back, launching over 150 cyber incursions into foreign military, governmental and commercial computer systems worldwide in an effort to track down Kuji.

According to Jim Christy, the top computer crimes investigator for the USAF, there existed a grave concern that the North Koreans would perceive the U.S. counter-cyber attack “as an aggressive act of war.” The breach in security that the North Korean cyber-warrior found was a “backdoor” opening to the USAF mainframe via the South Korean Atomic Research Institute. Kuji also recruited a 16-year-old British national known by the handle of “Datastream Cowboy” to help him hack into the top secret U.S. files. The British teenager has been apprehended and is still awaiting trial in the U.K.

Undaunted, Kuji remains at large and can be occasionally found chatting these days on where the elusive hacker can socialize and recruit amongst a global audience.

In a non-related cyber matter, the [North] Korean Central New Agency has launched an English-language web page which can be found at The site carries official anti-U.S. and South Korean propaganda and other news items. By law, South Koreans cannot read North Korean periodicals or listen to their broadcasts. Thus far, South Korea has not made any attempts to block the Webpage, which is carried by a Japanese company.

Anthony C. LoBaido is an American journalist and filmmaker. He has recently completed a novel entitled “The Third Boer War.” This article is excerpted from a more complete report in the August issue of Dispatches magazine and is the result of over three years of research conducted in Southern Africa, Australia, Asia and Europe. Mr. LoBaido can be reached at [email protected].

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