Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

Big Ben’s Bongs Bunged

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st August, 2017

Big Ben repairsAt midday today, Big Ben, the giant bell inside the UK Parliament’s Queen Elizabeth Tower, tolled the hour for the last time for the next four years, while extensive maintenance work is undertaken. It has been suggested that it could be brought back into service for very special occasions; some Brexiteer Conservative MPs not surprisingly have argued that the day of Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, at the end of March 2019, might be one such moment. Some other traditionalists have gone into spasms of simulated outrage about how even the Luftwaffe in World War II failed to silence the Big Ben. Nonetheless, the BBC will doubtless keep broadcasting (from past recordings) the bell’s rich sound, which has been precursor to news programmes for as long as I can remember. There will of course be disappointed tourists unaware of Big Ben’s indisposition, who will stand on the corner of Parliament Square, pointing their cellphone cameras at the tower, mystified when no bongs intone. But a lot of the fuss in the media and on politicians’ lips has been much ado about nothing. It’s not as if the tower had been blown up. Besides, there are more important things that should concern us all, from Donald Trump’s nuclear tango with Kim Jong-Un to Brexit itself. In fact especially Brexit. For whereas the citizens of Seoul would bear the brunt of any North Korean attack, all of us in Britain are going to suffer from Brexit, alas.

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Let’s Cool It over Korea!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th April, 2017

Kim Jong-Un nukesJapan has reportedly drawn up contingency plans to evacuate 60,000 of its citizens who live in South Korea. This follows more sabre-rattling (or should one say, ballistic missile rattling) by North Korean hereditary despot Kim Jong-Un and the Americans diverting a naval force towards the Korean peninsula. President Donald Trump has said bluntly that he will “deal with” North Korea himself if he has to. Such bravado doubtless goes down well among Trump supporters, but not necessarily in either South Korea or Japan. They both have reason to worry about the unpredictable nature of the leadership in Pyongyang, though they have come to understand that Mr Kim’s bark is usually worse than his bite; indeed, part of his grand-standing and repeated insistence that his country is in mortal danger from foreign forces is a familiar ploy to try to keep his people behind him. Those that in any way oppose him, incidentally, risk imprisonment, torture and death. But as the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington rages, voices in Seoul have been advising caution. Indeed, the lead candidate in the presidential election called to find a replacement for ousted Ms Park, has used this tense time to urge dialogue with the North. China, meanwhile, has called for tension over North Korea to be halted before what it calls an “irreversible” stage. It would appear than in East Asia these days, Churchill’s old maxim tat jaw-jaw is better than war-war has fans. US Vice-President Mike Pence is off to Seoul on Sunday, so let’s hope he can cool things down, too.

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Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Peace on the Korean Peninsula

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th April, 2012

The division of Korea and the tense military stand-off on the peninsula — which alas sometimes involves aggressive action from the North — is the last remaining manifestation of the Cold War. As was said by one of the speakers at a Korea seminar at the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in Lancaster Gate last night, this belongs in the 20th century, not the 21st. North Korea remains a menacing mystery for many in the West, and a constant worry for South Koreans, and indeed Japan, given the range of North Korean missiles. Yet the situation is not completely bleak, nor entirely static. The coronation of Kim Jung-Un as the third generation of North Korea’s Communist dynasty was pretty surreal, but Pyongyang did allow quite a number of foreign journalists into the country to witness some of the ceremonies associated with his takeover and the 100th anniversary of his grandfather and creator of the ideology of Juche, Kim Il-Sung. Moreover there are more contacts with the North these days than used to be the case. At the gathering last night it was pointed out that one hotel (yes, just one!) in Pyongyang does have CNN in its rooms and some North Koreans are able clandestinely to watch South Korean TV, even though that is dangerous. Reportedly one million North Koreans also have mobile phones (though foreign visitors who go to the country have theirs temporarily confiscated). It is significant to remember that until 1971, North Korea had a stronger economy than that of the South. In the intervening four decades, South Korea has been one of the most successful Asian Tigers, while the North has languished and many of its citizens live in dire poverty, some even succombing to starvation. Yet the first shoots of a market economy have been allowed to emerge. And China has been urging the North to carry out economic reforms. Probably only after sweeping economic reforms will the reunification of Korea become feasible, though no-one believes that could happen as quickly or indeed as smoothly as in the case of reunited Germany. But in the meantime, all interested parties need to avoid the rhetoric of belligerency and the North needs to recognise that fundamental change is in its own interest.

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