Category All Things DC


I apologize for the lack of recent postings. I’m heading to Afghanistan next year and have spent the past few months in and out of training to prepare for the deployment. In the future it means postings from inside Afghanistan (plus at least one posting on attending U.S. Army Airborne School!), but for now it means time away from the blog. Again, I apologize and hope to make up for it in a year when I head to Afghanistan.

Thank you.


Suspected North Korean cyberattack raises fears for S. Korea – Washington Post

An article from today’s Post provides a solid outline of recent North Korean cyberattacks on the South; a story we have been following here (NK Hackers Working with SK Organized Crime?, NK Hackers Take Down SK Bank, SK Cops: North Responsible for March Cyberattack, Cyberwar in Korea – Kim Jong-eun’s Key to the Throne?) for several months.

Particularly salient, in my humble opinion, are the rumors/allegations that heir apparent Kim Jong-eun is behind the attacks, using them to outflank his brothers and win his father’s approval to become next in line. Whether or not he is personally behind the attacks, one of the safest bets in international security right now is that they will both continue and grow more sophisticated.


WTF?!? Georgetown basketball exhibition in China ends in brawl

I’ve been in, or nearly in, fights at plenty of stadiums in the U.S., but to have an entire team and stadium full of people attack visiting players, coaches, and fans, as happened to Georgetown’s basketball team in China last week, is both new and disgusting. Even the normally nationalistic Chinese are reportedly “irked” by the conduct of the players and fans of the Bayi Rockets, a Chinese professional team made up of soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (shown here attacking two Georgetown players).

As both a Georgetown employee and alum, I’ve got to say I’m not impressed by the behavior of the Chinese “soldiers” involved in the incident, nor would I be by, say, the West Point team kicking around a bunch of Chinese college kids. I do commend Coach Thompson for his professional, though a bit mild, response. The responses of some former Georgetown players were a little stronger and less reflective of diplomatic niceties.

One of the more interesting responses to the brawl came from Foreign Policy magazine, which put together an article listing, “five geopolitical ballgames that spilled over into off-field violence.” My personal response, aside from this article, has so far been limited to convincing my wife not to buy a Volvo (which is owned by a Chinese company, where Volvo has growing production and R&D operations).


With U.S. Support, Private Security Company Trains African Troops in Somalia – NYT

Eye-catching article in today’s Times about the State Department, CIA, and other interesting bits of the U.S. government funding African troops in Somalia, in part via a private U.S. company located over on Embassy Row, one of the swankiest parts of Washington, DC. Seems the U.S. doesn’t want any reminders of the Black Hawk Down incident, so, instead of sending overt U.S. forces, is relying on undercover CIA types, plus funneling money to the U.S. company through the governments of Uganda and Burundi. The money ostensibly goes to train and equip Somali commandos and, given the recent withdrawal by the Shabab from Mogadishu, may actually be working.

Read this story in conjunction with the book Licensed to Kill, by Robert Pelton, for a close-up look at some of the more interesting, underground, and occasionally successful aspects of U.S. foreign policy.


Axis of Evil World Tour – An American’s Travels in Iran, Iraq and North Korea

A book on my travels in Bush’s three Axis of Evil countries. Excerpts from the book are available in the Iraq, Iran, and North Korea sections of this blog, with additional photos on the book’s website at:

My goal in writing the book is to present the countries as I saw them, without adhering to any particular branch of U.S. politics or foreign policy – if you are a diehard Democratic or Republican ideologue, I’m not your guy. For more on the book, please check out my interview with Chicago NPR station, WBEZ.

The link to the left is for the Kindle version of the book. The paperback is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. The book is also available as a Nook download.

The paperback version of the book was published in December 2006, and the e-book version (updated and with more photos than the paperback) was first published in January 2011.

UPDATE (27 August): Apple finally gave approval for the book to be sold through iTunes. You can find it by searching in iTunes/iBooks, or through Apple’s website.


NK Hackers Working with SK Organized Crime?

The U.S. government (Voice of America) reported today that the South Korean police arrested five local organized crime members and charged them with collaborating with North Korean hackers to break into gaming websites to steal (for later sale) personal information. The North Korean hackers were based in China, the origin of a recent attack that reportedly stole the personal information of “nearly everyone” in South Korea – 35 million out of a total population of 49 million.


A Time to Betray

[Book Review] Subtitled, “The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran,” the book reads more like fiction than autobiography. I have no idea how much … polishing … the author did to make the story and dialog flow, but the end result is a fascinating book that reminded me of my time in Iran, my guide there, and similar experiences in other restrictive, totalitarian states.

The tension in the book brings home life in nations infected with ideologues, police, and intelligence agencies run amuck. After an impressive, thoroughly readable history of the Iranian revolution, the book turns darker as the zealots gain power and remove their rivals.

A Time to Betray is a ‘just one more page’ book that will keep you up well into the next morning. I can’t vouch for its accuracy or authenticity, but I can vouch for its readability. Enjoy.


Paper Excerpt II: Case Study on Using North Korean Defector-run Networks to Monitor Conditions Inside North Korea

This paper excerpt is a follow-up to a previous posting examining the accuracy and timeliness of disease outbreaks in North Korea, outbreaks reported by North Korean defectors living in the South.  The previous posting examined the reliability of defector reporting using Chinese cellphones along the North’s border with China – where the signal from Chinese cellphone towers bleeds a few miles into the North. This posting looks at defector reporting of the North’s late 2009 currency reform that used satellite phones to make the initial reports.  Satellite phones, just like Chinese cellphones, are illegal in North Korea and using them to report on conditions inside the North to a foreign audience would likely result in the caller being jailed,  or worse.


Skilled Korean-English Translator? The SK Gov’t Needs Your Help

After finding over 200 errors in the Korean-language translation of the Korean-EU free trade agreement, delaying its ratification and forcing multiple resubmissions to the Korean Cabinet and National Assembly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced today that it had found 296 errors in the Korean translation of the free trade agreement with the United States. While the governing language of the treaties is normally English;  Korean businesses,  government agencies, and others rely on the Korean version – meaning any inaccuracies could create trade, tax, or other problems in the future.

To help prevent additional mistakes, and further multiple resubmissions, the Korean government has even set up a website for people to peruse the documents and check the translations. Head to to take your shot.



Save U.S. Healthcare – Outsource It

Great article on Foreign Policy’s website today about outsourcing U.S. healthcare to other,  cheaper (pretty much every country on the planet) countries as one method for reducing American healthcare costs. For example,  rather than paying for a knee replacement procedure that costs over $10K in the States, offer the patient the choice of having it done for $1,500 (including travel!) in India or Hungary. It saves the U.S. taxpayer money,  adds a little competition for the ridiculous U.S. system,  plus gets the patient a nice little vacation.

Having been the victim lucky recipient of numerous medical procedures in both the U.S. and South Korea (spend enough time riding a motorcycle in Seoul and you’ll have a similar opportunity),  I can say without a doubt I have no problem with this idea. The treatment I received in Seoul,  under Korea’s government-run medical system (the horror!), was cheaper,  faster,  and equal-to, if not better, than treatment I have received in the States. Add a free vacation to the deal and who wouldn’t be interested?

Off the top of my head: the last trip I took to the dentist in the U.S., with health insurance, cost me $70 out of pocket (plus whatever insurance paid) just for the cleaning. The last time I went to the dentist in Korea it cost me less than $30 and included removal of a wisdom tooth. The last visit I made to a hospital in Seoul was a trip to the emergency room for x-rays after a motorcycle accident. The total time in the hospital,  including consultation,  x-ray,  reading of the x-ray,  and prescription, was less than 30 minutes. The cost? $20.