July 30, 2010:
The new computerized identity card system in North Korea has made it much easier to identify who has fled the country. This helps the police discover who is running organized escape operations, as well as smuggling enterprises (for legal items, and some illegal, like Chinese cell phones) As a result, the two largest components of the secret police (Ministry of Peoples Security and the Ministry of State Security) are having an informal competition to see who can arrest the most people. Higher authorities have ordered the eager police to back off, because the prisons cannot hold all the new people. Although many people are worked or starved to death in the prison camps, this is not happening fast enough to make space for the new arrivals. Public executions are up as well, with at least three killed recently, and 14 due to be executed soon. All this has thrown the Chinese border area into chaos, with a great fear among the population and much less smuggling activity.
The secret police are also cracking down on PC users (a few percent of the population, most belonging to the ruling Communist Party elite) who are still using copies of Windows XP (a pirated, Chinese language, version) operating system (OS). In the last year, North Korea distributed a new operating system, a version of Linux in the Korean language. The secret police want the Chinese OS gone, to make it more difficult for North Koreans to communicate in Chinese, and to watch videos (XP is much better equipped for than the new Linux OS).
Recently leaked U.S. military documents revealed American intel picking up reports of the Afghan Taliban buying anti-aircraft missiles, and other weapons, from North Korea. Another leaked document discusses a U.S. CH-47 that crashed, and there being suspicion that the cause was not a lucky hit from an RPG (unguided portable rocket), but a portable anti-aircraft missile that might have come from North Korea. This is all what the pros call "RUMINT" (rumor intelligence.) There is no proof, but North Korea would make a deal like this if it could.
The U.S. has identified about 200 secret bank accounts used by North Korea to handle imports and exports (largely of weapons and military technology). The U.S. has arranged to freeze half those accounts because they were used for illegal weapons transactions. This sort of thing annoys North Korea a great deal, because access to the international banking system is essential to the success of the many illegal operations North Korea uses to obtain foreign currency for purchasing foreign goods (luxury goods for the senior Communist Party officials, and critical military and secret police equipment). The U.S. has increasingly been going after North Korean access to the international banking system, mainly because it hurts North Korea's illegal activities. The U.S. has good access, and much influence over the international banking system, and has been using this more lately to enforce embargos.
Myanmar (Burma), at the request of North Korea, has seized all unsold copies of an approved (by the Myanmar government) biography of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The Burmese author has written 25 biographies of foreign leaders, in Burmese, and all with the approval of the police state government that has run Burma for decades. Burma and North Korea have become trading partners, and North Korea is believed to be helping Burma develop nuclear weapons. North Korea is very sensitive of what is written about it, and going after trivial items in a Burmese language book that sold only 700 copies (since it was published two months ago) is typical behavior.
The coach of the North Korean national football (soccer) team has been expelled from the Communist Party, lost many economic perks, and is now working at a construction site. This is punishment for the North Korean team losing all three games in the recent World Cup competition. The coach's punishment is seen as a sign of progress, as past coaches of losing teams were sent to labor camps, which is often equivalent to a death sentence.
South Korea revealed that it is producing a cruise missile, similar to the U.S. Tomahawk. With a range of 1,500 kilometers and carrying a half ton warhead, the new missile, the Hyunmoo 3, can reach any target in North Korea. The first version of this missile appeared four years ago, with a range of 500 kilometers. All versions of the Hyunmoo can fly at about 65 meters/200 feet altitude (to evade radar) and hit targets with great precision. Some versions of the Hyunmoo are small enough to be launched from the torpedo tubes of South Korean submarines, as well as from aircraft and ground based launchers.
North and South Korea are quietly restoring economic cooperation, which North Korea had shut down out of spite when accused of sinking a South Korean warship. For example, the six year old industrial park in North Korea, full of South Korea factories and employing 44,000 North Koreans, had its staff of 1,000 South Korean managers and technicians cut in half, but now North Korea is quietly allowing many of them to return, to prevent a shutdown of factories.
The economic situation in North Korea isn't getting any better. The price of rice on the reopened markets is way up, and Chinese visitors note that there are a lot more teenage prostitutes. Malnutrition is increasingly apparent, as is fear, because of the new secret police crackdown (facilitated by the new identity card system.)
July 29, 2010: China and North Korea signed a new economic and technical cooperation agreement. These deals regulate how much food, fuel and technical aid China provides North Korea. In return, North Korea provides, usually unspecified, goods and services. Details of the new deal were not revealed, which is normal. China has been pressuring North Korea to reform its economy, as China has done, and there are signs that North Korea is doing that, despite the opposition of many senior North Korean officials.
July 28, 2010: The U.S. and South Korea completed four days of naval exercises off the east coast, and North Korean threats to retaliate with nuclear weapons never came to anything. These empty threats have been a standard North Korean propaganda technique for over half a century. The South Korean and Western media continue to fall for it, despite the fact that the North Koreans rarely make good on their threats. But occasionally they do, and then usually deny it (as they did when they sank the South Korean warship Cheonan four months ago.)
July 20, 2010: South Korea sent a special diplomatic team to Libya to try and placate the Libyans over accusations of South Koreans spying on North Korean activities in Libya. Run by a dictatorship since the 1970s, Libya is the kind of country North Korea likes to do business with. In June, Libya expelled three South Koreans for spying. Paranoia about foreign spies has long been a popular subject in the Libyan state controlled media.