by William Craddick, Disobedient Media:
Just a few days after NBC News and National Public Radio (NPR) launched propaganda attempts to undermine the peace process between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United Nations has waded into the fray with a new attempt to build a case for retaining sanctions that have proven to be a sticking point between the negotiation teams.
Much like previous reports, the United Nation’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on North Korea utilized misleadingly interpreted satellite footage provided by private firms who have contractual connections to the CIA and Pentagon. The panel’s findings will ultimately be used to support policies that are aimed at playing on North Korean fears and make them more likely to withdraw or engage in counterproductive behavior.
I. Continued Misleading Interpretation Of Satellite Footage
The PoE’s claimed that the DPRK has been using an “underwater pipeline” at an oil terminal in Nampo, North Korea to offload fuel it receives by sanctioned methods. Much like with previous attempts to “prove” North Korean behavior with satellite imagery that did not actually show evidence of claimed activity the UN’s contentions are similarly based on shaky grounds.
A second photo run by NKNews.org from private defense contractor Planet Labs purports to also show the “underwater pipeline.” NK News claimed that the underwater pipeline had been used since 2018 solely based on the fact that ships moved in and out of the area, which is obviously designated for mooring.
There are a number of problems with both the photos provided by the Panel of Experts and the Planet Labs image published by NK News. These issues are outlined below.
- None of the images shows where the “underwater pipeline” comes ashore. It is not visible under the water’s surface, even where the shoreline is shallow.
- None of the cables connecting to the ship are pipelines. They are cabling used to moor the ship in place.
- All of the buoys are in place to mark either mooring cables or the ship’s anchor which would have been dropped alongside it once it came to a stop. The UN PoE labeled the anchor buoy as an “offloading buoy” misleadingly in one of their images.
- An “underwater pipeline” creates a huge risk for salt water contamination of gasoline being pumped through it. This is why all such transfers are done above the surface of the water.
Additional markings on the UN PoE’s images discuss the storage capacity and location of the oil terminal in Nampo but provide no evidence of an “underwater pipeline.” Even more damning, the image provided to NK News by Planet Labs shows a very clear shadow running down its center. This indicates that either two photographs were laid on top of each other and copied, or the original image was creased to hide some detail that would have otherwise been visible.
The use of an underwater pipeline is not the standard method by which ships refuel. Previous reports discussing sanctions evasion display photographs showing how ships will commonly lash together before exchanging gasoline above the water line. When ships to take on fuel from land, they will pull up along a dock. These kinds of details might be obvious to anyone with a degree of maritime knowledge but not a layman.
II. Satellite Footage Of Nampo Docks Is Sourced From Intelligence Contractors
Much like with previous attempts to undermine the Korean peace process, the UN PoE has sourced their imagery from private contractors who primarily work with the CIA and Pentagon. The PoE’s satellite footage is attributed to DigitalGlobe. As Disobedient Media has previously reported, DigitalGlobe is an American vendor of satellite imagery founded by a scientist who worked on the US military’s Star Wars ICBM defense program under President Ronald Reagan. DigitalGlobe began its existence in Oakland, CA and was seeded with money from Silicon Valley sources and corporations in North America, Europe and Japan. Headquartered in Westminster CO, DigitalGlobe works extensively with defense and intelligence programs. In 2016, it was revealed that DigitalGlobe was working with CIA chipmaker NVIDIA and Amazon Web Services to create an AI-run satellite surveillance network known as Spacenet.
DigitalGlobe is a subsidiary of Maxar Technologies, a private conglomerate which boasts contracts with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Some subsidiaries of Maxar derive as much as 90% of their annual revenue from government contracts with the Department of Defense and U.S. Special Operations Command.
Planet Labs, whose imagery was cited in NK News reports of the UN PoE’s findings, is a private satellite imaging corporation based in San Francisco, CA that allows customers with the money to pay an opportunity to gain access to next generation surveillance capabilities. In February 2016, Federal technology news source Nextgov noted a statement from former CIA Information Operations Center director and senior cyber adviser Sue Gordon that Planet Labs, DigitalGlobe and Google subsidiary Skybox Imaging were all working with the NGA to provide location intelligence. Planet Labs’ own website also lists press releases detailing past contracts for subscription access to high resolution imagery with the NGA.
The pervasive involvement of companies providing satellite footage with the CIA in particular is deeply inappropriate. On March 13, 2019 Spanish paper El País reported that the CIA had been implicated in a shockingly violent attack on the North Korean embassy in Spain during the week before the Hanoi Summit. The attack was speculated to be an attempt to gain intelligence on former ambassador to Spain Kim Hyok Chol, who had been appointed by Kim Jong Un to spearhead negotiation efforts with their American counterparts. The involvement of such contractors in a UN panel responsible for overseeing sanctions put into place against North Korea suggests the very real possibility that the entire process is designed to undermine any hope of a denuclearization agreement.
III. The UN PoE Touts Sanctions At A Highly Inappropriate Time
The UN’s decision to continue to tout sanctions in the aftermath of the Hanoi Summit can only be interpreted as an attempt by internationalists and American neoconservatives to scuttle President Donald Trump’s attempts to seek denuclearization for the DPRK. Hugh Griffiths, a British national heading the Panel of Experts, was widely quoted by the media as being of the opinion that Chairman Kim Jong Un had only come to Hanoi to try and relieve the pressure of created by sanctions. It apparently did not bother the international and American press that Mr. Griffiths’ mandate does not include giving his opinion about unrelated peace talks.
Griffiths finds himself in agreement with a number of GOP neoconservative hardliners such as former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley who stress the importance of sanctions with the ostensible goal of cutting off revenue to the DPRK. Some such as John Bolton have openly called for an increase in sanctions in clear opposition to President Trump’s clearly stated desire to seek further dialogue. North Korea has explicitly mentioned the actions and comments of Bolton as endangering the health of negotiations while continuing to maintain that personal relations between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump were “still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful.”
While the stated objective of sanctions is to deprive North Korea of revenue that can be used to finance purchases related to its nuclear program, it is undeniable that they contribute majorly to economic hardship and starvation for the civilian population of the DPRK. In 2018, UNICEF noted that sanctions create severe issues with the delivery of humanitarian aid and put the lives of tens of thousands of children in danger alone. While North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was certainly what landed them in the situation they currently find themselves in, it is the callous disregard of human welfare by the United Nations, internationalist and certain American interests which causes an increase in such needless suffering.