Stop North Korea, Act Like Israel
New York Times
December 3, 2017
The news last week from the Korean Peninsula about yet
another ballistic missile launch was dťjŗ vu all over again. This one had an
estimated range of 8,100 miles ó long enough to hit Washington, D.C., or
anywhere else in the continental United States. President Trump responded with
angry tweets, but Kim Jong-un has good reason to be cocky.
The strongman knows all too well that a military response
is highly unlikely. There are some
8,000 North Korean cannons and rocket launchers aimed at Seoul, in
effect holding the approximately 10 million inhabitants of that city hostage.
All sides realize that the human and economic costs of another Korean war are
Several American presidents have tried to persuade the Kim
dynasty to abandon its nuclear ambitions, through a combination of sanctions and
negotiations. But these efforts have been unsuccessful.
In part thatís because the Kim family never ran North
Korea like a normal nation. Even in a rogue nation like Iran, the vise of
economic embargoes can force hard-liners to change their behavior. Not so with
North Korea, which has been able to skirt sanctions and United Nations
resolutions because it is run more like a Mafia fief than a state.
The Northís criminal empire is vast and global. According
to the Strategic Studies Institute, it
includes narcotics trafficking and the counterfeiting of United States
currency. North Korea has also been accused of the online
hacking of bank accounts; the sale of nuclear
arms sales, including
scud and other missiles to Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and other
nations; and a whole military enterprise set up to steal crypto
This criminal syndicate is run out of North Koreaís
mysterious Office 39, a bureau that, according
to the Treasury Department, ďprovides critical support to North Korean
leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities.Ē Every cog
of the nationís machinery is mobilized to facilitate the regimeís
racketeering: Defectors have described schoolchildren working in poppy fields;
they say cash and smuggled goods are brought in on state-owned merchant vessels;
and diplomats peddle heroin. Crime is North Koreaís national industry.
As in any organized crime entity, the underbosses keep Mr.
Kimís regime afloat. Their loyalty has been bought and paid for with lavish
wealth and privilege. So far, these crime bosses have been masterful at
circumventing the sanctions that have primarily hurt the enslaved North Korean
Thatís why the United States and its allies ought to take
a page from an Israeli playbook and wage financial warfare against Mr. Kim and
The notion behind using money as a weapon against terrorism
belonged to Meir Dagan, a legendary soldier and spymaster who developed the idea
in the nascent days of Israelís fight against Hamas and terror groups
supported by Yasir Arafatís Palestinian Authority. Mr. Dagan rightly believed
that money was the oxygen that fueled the groupsí suicide bombing campaign
against Israel. If Israeli security services could suffocate the funds that paid
for the bloodshed, the attacks would stop.
In 1996, Mr. Dagan created a task force code-named Harpoon
that mobilized government agencies to focus on the money reaching terror cells
from state sponsors and international charities. When Mr. Dagan became head of
the Mossad, in 2002, Harpoon became an operational unit inside Israeli
intelligence. His spies used the same aggressive action and imaginative chutzpah
that had made the Mossad a storied force to follow those funds and to go after
Mr. Arafatís millions and the charities around the world that funneled cash
into Hamasís coffers.
Harpoon targeted the banks that held accounts belonging to
Palestinian terrorist commanders, and the unit encouraged lawyers ó including
me ó to launch suits in United States federal court seeking monetary damages
for victims of state sponsors of terror so that countries like Syria, Iran and
even North Korea would realize that the costs of blowing up buses outweighed the
political ends the carnage hoped to achieve.
The combined espionage, military and legal offensive helped
end the intifada by making it too expensive to continue.
The unitís greatest success came several years after the
intifada, during the Second Lebanon War, when Mr. Dagan urged the Israeli Air
Force to destroy the banks where Hezbollah kept its cash. Although Hezbollah,
the Iranian-supported Lebanese terrorist group, received hundreds of millions of
dollars a year from Tehran, it was a global criminal enterprise involved in
everything from cocaine trafficking to stealing cars and money laundering. These
activities funded its operations against Israel and against American forces in
With the assistance of branches of the United States
government, including the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department,
Harpoon went after Hezbollahís cocaine business in Venezuela and in Lebanon,
as well as its money-laundering activities in West Africa and America. Brilliant
operations and cons were carried out against Hezbollahís captains ó
operations that ultimately stripped them of the vast fortunes they had assembled
over the years. And when the Hezbollah hierarchy was cash strapped, Harpoon
targeted the financial institutions that allowed the terrorists to move their
cash across continents, ultimately shutting down the
Lebanese Canadian Bank, one of the largest banks in the Middle East. It
took the Syrian Civil War, and Hezbollahís enormous military involvement on
behalf of the Assad regime on Tehranís tab, to provide the Party of God with a
financial lifeline. But the fact remains that one of the results of Israelís
financial war against Hezbollah has been that Israelís northern border has
remained relatively quiet for more than 11 years.
Most military commanders acknowledge that there are very
few, if any, feasible solutions to todayís standoff with Pyongyang. The only
effective path is to unleash an offensive press against Kimís inner circle.
The United States must take the lead by ramping up a covert
campaign against the regimeís criminal enterprises. This effort ought to
include a full-court press of dirty tricks, coercion, heavy-handed threats and
even direct action, all covert and deniable, against Kimís financial wizards
who handle the finances, dispense the narcotics and hijack Bitcoins.
Such tradecraft must also be applied outside North Korea
and Asia against the businesses and banks in Europe, South America and elsewhere
that enable Kimís criminal empire to flourish; bankers and businessmen are
less likely to have the mettle to resist a late-night visit by men who could
ruin their lives. And as North Korea is recognized as a state sponsor of terror,
helping groups like Hezbollah with arms and expertise, a numbing slew of
lawsuits should be filed seeking damages; those damages will result in the
forfeiture of North Korean assets ó open and hidden ó around the world.
Sanctions alone will not work. They have done nothing to
stop the missile tests and the saber rattling. Only when the money dries up will
the loyalty of the men in Kimís inner circle be compromised and cut away. The
North Korean dictator will then be under enormous pressure to do whatever he can
to alleviate the effects of the spies tapping into his cash and control. With
full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula as the only other alternative, there
isnít much of a choice.