Minding mice at a crossroads? North Korea’s herculean attempt to control the internet world.

Pyongyang
Marcelo Druck, http://www.travelmag.com. Accessed on Flickr 22/11/17.

 

Kim Jong Un knows the value of the internet, both as a source of information and a method of social control, but can he control it. He wants to be connected, but he does not want the general population of about 25 million North Koreans to have the same access.

Pyongyang has come up with an answer, according to Eric Talmadge, of the Associated Press (AS): a two-tiered system. The trusted elite can have full access to the internet, while the general population are kept behind a form of virtual iron curtain, known as the intranet.

According to Talmadge, this unique undertaking is symbolized by the Knowledge Sector science and technology building situated on Ssuk island on the Taedong river running through the capital Pyongyang. This is where North Korea’s biggest e-library is housed. It has over 3,000 terminals. Factory workers use it to acquire tele-learning skills and university students do research there.

North Korean students who study there use black coloured Ullim desktop computers. The walled-off network that North Korea uses is called Kwangmyong, meaning Brightness, or Light.

The system uses a modified version of the west’s Firefox, called a Naenara browser. The desktop computers run on an operating system (OS), called Red Star 3.0, which was taken from Linux open-source coding.

As regards North Korea in general, almost no one has access to a laptop or desktop computer. But what is growing rapidly in North Korea is the use of mobile phones, in particular, smart phones.

At this stage (late 2017) it is estimated there are about 2.5 to 3 million smart phones in the hands of North Koreans, according to Talmadge. Two companies in particular have gotten phones into the hands of the people, Thailand’s Loxley Pacific and the Egyptian company, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology.

But just as the majority of the people are locked inside North Korea, so is the web service. A local can call or text another local anywhere inside the country, but they have no outside access. Put simply, the rest of the world is shut off.

A new phone can cost between 200 to 400 dollars, but second hand phones are much cheaper. Two main models are Arirang and Pyongyang.

 

It is incredible the amount of effort Pyongyang is putting into stemming the tide of modern web technology.

If a student needs something from the internet at the Pyongyang based Knowledge Sector he or she must go to an accredited university official who will search the information for the student. – just for a moment, imagine this in practise in an average Irish university; scores of students lining up to get an ‘official’ to find whatever information they need off the web. The queue would probably run out the door and down the corridor into the street – There are about 168 sites on Kwangmyong and these are spread across separate networks, divided up into government agencies, schools, libraries, and companies. This is unprecedented control over the WWW. While other countries such as China or Cuba do control access, North Korean is unique in that it practises a virtual world replacement of an actual physical wall or iron curtain, in other words, complete isolation from the rest of the world.

Under the bonnet of the Red Star OS are some very draconian surveillance techniques. Coding experts who have acquired versions of Red Star OS say they have found that files downloaded from USBs for example are watermarked, so that the authorities can track ‘criminal or subversive activity’. This is to try and stem leakage from across the borders of China to the north and smart phone mad South Korea to the south.

Red Star also keeps track of what is being searched or worked on by students or operatives by taking periodic snapshots. The user cannot access or delete these snapshots. These modifications, experts say, shows an ability by Kim Jong Un, both to understand the value of this technology and the advantages and dangers of the Web to a modern day dictator.

In the past, the control of the masses was people intensive. People were basically encouraged to spy on one another. This has been well documented by writers such as Blaine Harden and Barbara Demick. Jong-Un has moved with the times, in his own perverse way. Now, along with a ‘resource intensive human network’ of informants, such as the state security ministry’s Thought Police, the powers in Pyongyang are learning how to use computers and smartphones for surveillance and social control of the country’s population.

They have thought of everything and are painstaking in their roll out of this control and surveillance. Visitors to North Korea are corralled off into a different network. They cannot make calls to, or receive them from, the local population. Even if they buy a local phone while in the country, the phone is stripped of the apps that would allow them to make calls to North Korean people. There is no Wi-Fi for locals.

Still, you would have to wonder, with the growing prevalence of satellites and interconnectivity, how much of this is minding mice at a cross roads. Private trading has sneaked in to North Korea like a hidden water leak, and the internet is sure to follow, maybe.

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Inspiration for Mutation

pictures 1055
My own map of Lough Ree, during the first draft planning.
AMills blog
The closed Atlantic Mills plant, where I originally got the idea for Mutation.

Sadly, the plant closed in 1998. The above picture was taken by me in 2016. This shows the area I was working in back in 1997.

 

Due to a very busy life on the road, I had given up reading novels for years. But one day I was in Eason’s bookshop in O’Connell Street, Sligo and I came across the late Michael Crichton’s novel Congo. I read the back cover and flipped through the pages. I loved the story line but what really intrigued me was the bibliography at the back. I realised I wanted to do similar. But it was still years later until that seed in my mind became anything other than a dream.

I was in Atlantic Mills in Longford, a real textile plant. We had to lift out aerators at the back of the plant. It was part of the system for cleaning up the effluent from the denim manufacturing plant. I was fascinated to hear from the electrician that they used bacteria to aid the process.

I read up on the subject and the kernel of an idea began to form in my mind. Bacteria were fascinating, I discovered. And when I came across an article about genetic engineering and that scientists were beginning to genetically engineer bacteria to aid in the fight against pollution, I was hooked. From that came Dr. Mae Wan Ho’s book Genetic Engineering, dream or nightmare? The brave new world of bad science and big business:

I found references in other works to the fear of releasing ‘laboratory monsters’ into the ecosystem. I originally names the novel Transmutation, then Dark Waters until I finally settled on Mutation

‘A little tumbledown inn by the riverside’.

Wilfrid Scarwen Blunt on the other hand, far from being impartial, went in search of nationalists. He landed unannounced and unaided in Boyle, Co Roscommon in March, 1886, on what he considered to be a ‘wild goose chase for the bogs of Roscommon’ and, ‘having no other introduction, I went in search of the priest, taking my chance of his being a nationalist’.[i]  He stayed at the Royal Hotel – an establishment, incidentally, that has only recently (circa early 2012) closed it doors – Blunt describes the hotel as ‘a little tumbledown inn by the riverside’. But it had a cheerful sitting room, even if it was adorned with a picture of King Harman, the ‘landlord and despot of Boyle’.[ii]  In stark contrast to Wilkinson’s description of the desolation of the bog-lands surrounding Ballaghaderreen, Blunt found Boyle’s streets to be full of men and women, ‘well dressed enough’, and ‘quite as prosperous as in an ordinary South of England market town’.[iii] The priests name was Father O’Malley. Blunt got a cool reception from the priest and feared he had made a mistake in approaching the clergy-man. But Blunt gradually brought the priest round. He eventually explained to him that the Bishop of his Diocese in Elphin had forbade the priests ‘to have anything to do with the league, or with politics’.[iv]

Blunt later met ‘a little young man, Tully’, who told him he was editor of the Roscommon Herald. In Tully’s view, the people cared little for home rule. What they really wanted was lower rents, better living conditions and for the evictions to stop. In Tully’s opinion, if these issues were dealt with ‘that would be an end of the National movement and the Land League to’. Home rule, Tully reckoned, was seen by the people as just a means to an end; fair rent.[v]

Blunt also spent time in Ballaghaderreen – spelling it Ballaghderin – where he stayed in pleasant surroundings with Mrs Deane. She was a first cousin of John Dillon and very close to him in devotion and affection. Blunt enjoyed his time there, writing: ‘A great day in Ballaghderin, which we spent wondering how things would go in the House of Commons’.[vi] They talked also about Dillon’s personal problems and Parnell’s visits to her home, often arriving with just a spare shirt and a comb. In Mrs Deane’s view, Parnell had ‘ruined his fortune for the cause’.[vii]  Before Mrs Deane was finished with him, Blunt had formed the view that, it was astonishing ‘what excellent, well-bred people’ the nationalists were. [viii]

[i] Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, The land war in Ireland: being a personal narrative of events (London MCMXII) P. 45.

[ii] Ibid, p. 46.

[iii] Ibid, p. 46.

[iv] Ibid, pp. 46-47.

[v] Ibid, p. 48.

[vi] Ibid, p. 59.

[vii] Ibid, p. 60.

[viii] Ibid, p. 60.

Co Roscommon 1850-1914

Introduction

‘Where do all these people come from?’ and ‘What do the people live on?’ were two questions that puzzled Henry Spencer Wilkinson, special correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, in February 1886 while he travelled by car between Loughglynn and Ballaghaderreen (He had set out from Castlerea, having earlier taken the train from Athlone to Castlerea). Coming round a bend in the road outside Loughglynn he found part of the answer: ‘The cottages were everywhere. In every direction were cottages. Scattered all over the ground at irregular intervals of two or three hundred yards one from another were low white-washed thatched cottages. They were incredibly small.’[i] The people were flooding to mass in Loughglynn. What they lived on was harder to fathom. All Wilkinson could see was one ploughed field, and other than that, ‘hardly a bit of healthy-looking green; miles of peat-cuttings, and here and there half an acre of young cabbages’. Wilkinson found himself at a loss. ‘The whole aspect of the country was strange’.[ii] Later he was to notice the difference between the bleak and desolate moorlands of England and the area around Ballaghaderreen. In England they were ‘a vast solitude’, but ‘here they are covered with habitations, and are the home of a large population’.[iii]

Wilkinson tried to be impartial, but was shocked by the conditions. They – He was in the company of the local priest, a Father Dennis – called to a cottage up a boreen*. Wilkinson writes: ‘At first all was darkness, but by degrees I made out two women standing barefoot by the peat fire which glowed on the floor at one end of the room, the smoke meandering up the wall to a hole in the roof’.[iv]  At one point he notes: ‘My bearings were gone … the bare walls, the smoke-grimed end of the room, the naked floor, the tatters and the bare feet were so many crying miseries’.

The special correspondent for the Manchester Guardian was in the area to study the land question, ‘To make a study of the agrarian conditions of the country’, in the wake of the fall of Lord Salisbury’s cabinet.[v]  He wanted to know how they coped. How, in these conditions, could they possibly pay rent? As they were moving between the groups of cottages, one woman approached the priest. She wanted outdoor relief for her husband from the workhouse. Wilkinson and the priest entered the cottage and met the following scene: ‘… There, in utter darkness, lay the old man on his bed. A few rags were all the bedclothes. The open door and the smoke-hole were all the ventilation. Medicine he had none, and a doctor was outside the range of his hopes. He was prostrate and weak’. … The old man would not go to the workhouse, fifteen miles away ‘to save his life’. So he lay, as Wilkinson wrote ‘in that cottage, dark cold and draughty, penetrated by every mist, close to the un-drained bog, with no warm coverings and no other food than the old wife’s pot would cook over the peat fire by his bedside’.[vi]

So how did they cope? Wilkinson examined one holding a mile from where the old man lay dying. It belonged to a widow. He examined the crops that had been grown and the value of the seeds. He figured the land ‘had no value whatsoever’.  So, how were they paying the rent? The widow had six sons. Two were in England but were doing no good. The other four were at home. They told him three of them worked a large part of the year in Cheshire, working as farm labourers. Between them, they sent home £12.00 a year.[vii]  Other cases confirmed this. The land had no value. It did not pay the rent. Revenue from England paid it.

* Irish for small, narrow lane, usually up to a house and farm

[i] Henry Spenser Wilkinson, The eve of home rule: impressions of Ireland in 1886 (London 1886) p. 2.

[ii] Ibid, p. 3.

[iii] Ibid, p. 3.

[iv] Ibid, p. 6

[v] Ibid, p. vii.

[vi] Ibid, p. 9.

[vii] Ibid, p. 12.