Following up yesterday’s post on the New York Times’s article on counterfeit hundred dollar bills and evidence pointing to the North Korean government having forged them, today let’s look at a Vanity Fair article on the same topic.
Vanity Fair wonderfully describes the network and system within North Korea and the international police work that found out what it did. It builds to a crescendo that in 2007 the U.S. had gotten close to prosecuting major players in a major counterfeiting network
“We could have gone after the foreign personal bank accounts of the leadership because we could prove they were kingpins,” Asher says. “We were going to indict the ultimate perpetrators of a global criminal network.” “The world wanted evidence that North Korea is a criminal state, not a lot of hoo-ha,” says Suzanne Hayden, a former senior prosecutor at the Department of Justice who ran its part of the Illicit Activities Initiative. “The criminal cases would have provided the evidence. It would have been in the indictments. As with any money-laundering investigation, we would have identified the players and traced them back, from Macao to those who were behind it in North Korea.”
Then suddenly some diplomatic wing of relations with North Korea stopped and even reversed everything.
Instead, the Bush administration suddenly decided not to proceed. What Asher describes as the “ultimate non-aggressive containment strategy” was unexpectedly curtailed. The reason: the administration believed that it risked provoking a permanent North Korean withdrawal from talks on its weapon and missile programs. Hayden says, “Suddenly, the rules had changed. The diplomatic piece of this came swooping in, and the imperative became ‘Let’s get them to the table,’ and that meant everything had to be ratcheted down.”
You can read the frustration in the article and hear it in the voice of the reporter in the video companion to the article
While I applaud the investigators’ efforts and found the article compelling, I see it underscoring what I wrote on strategy and the difference between strategy and tactics.
Catching counterfeiting and money-laundering is tactical, but North Korea holding South Korea and Japan hostage gives it the strategic advantage. Strategy trumps tactics. As long as North Korea holds South Korea and Japan hostage, it can undo tactical wins like these.
As great as the frustration the investigators, prosecutors, and reporters felt, I expect the bigger picture would frustrate them more. North Korea’s strategic advantage overwhelms nearly all attempts at change.
On the other hand, DVDs smuggled into the country by low-level smugglers from China are reported to have an effect.
EDIT: misperceptions of North Korea in the media as described in this post, leading to misunderstanding how we understand and commincate with North Koreans, led me to write my ebook Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country. I wrote the book to help increase understanding, communication, and freedom.