Moldova’s opposition Socialist Party says it is launching a campaign to increase the powers of the president and turn the country’s current parliamentary system of government into a presidential one.
The leader of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region says a controversial vote on independence will go ahead as planned on September 25, despite mounting pressure to call off the referendum.
North Korea’s cash-strapped regime has long sought workarounds to the increasingly harsh international sanctions aimed at tightening the financial noose around its nuclear and missile programs.
Now, according to Recorded Future, an intelligence research firm backed by Google Venture, Pyongyang is making a foray into cyberspace, launching a bitcoin “mining” operation, which saw a dramatic spike in its activity in mid-May.
Although the bitcoin activity amounts to only a token amount of funds at this point, there is significant potential for it to become a major source of income for the regime, the company said.
Is North Korea’s pursuit of bitcoin, the best-known cryptocurrency used for purchasing goods and services online, something the United States as well as the international community should worry about?
WATCH: What is bitcoin?
VOA Korean spoke with Priscilla Moriuchi, a Recorded Future director. Formerly with the National Security Agency (NSA) as threat intelligence manager and senior expert on East Asia and Pacific regional and cyber issues, she discussed in detail her findings on North Korea’s cyberactivities. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Could you describe how Recorded Future first detected the North Korean activity in bitcoin?
Priscilla Moriuchi: The bitcoin mining [from North Korea] started on May 17 and continued through the end of our data set, which was July 3. This was a critical moment in terms of bitcoin [mining activities] because before then, I haven’t seen any activity that we had insight into indicating that [the North Koreans] were interested in bitcoin.
Is there any substantive evidence for the North Korean bitcoin mining operation?
Moriuchi: [Mining] bitcoin is very computationally intensive. It requires a lot of energy and high capacity computers. It also requires a lot of internet bandwidth because it constantly communicates with other bitcoin nodes (a peer-to-peer network consisting of computers, which allows for transactions to be broadcast to other users worldwide) to validate the blockchain (the digital ledger technology that records all virtual money transactions) that they are putting together. So mining activity is pretty distinct in terms of volume, and the [internet] ports and protocols (IP address) that are used are also pretty distinct. It can give you a decent signature.
Who is running the North Korean bitcoin mining operations, and why do you think the country has finally begun mining bitcoin?
Moriuchi: The first [hypothesis] is that it could have been an activity conducted by the state, whether it be the military or the intelligence services, for the purposes of raising funds for the regime. The second hypothesis is that it was an individual user … but because of the bandwidth and energy that were required, it would have to be known or permitted by the state and the leadership.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen increasingly tough sanctions levied upon North Korea by the United States, other international partners and by the United Nations. Those sanctions have increasingly cut off North Korea’s access to the traditional financial system and [its] ability to generate funds for state operations. We believe that bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining or activity involving cryptocurrency is a way for North Korea to generate funds and get around some of the sanctions.
Do you think North Korea has come to a conclusion that using cryptocurrency to generate funds for the regime is safer than other illicit ways — for instance, smuggling drugs or counterfeiting money?
Moriuchi: [Mining bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency] is not illegal. There’s nothing about [using cryptocurrency] that puts North Korea in a worse spot in terms of sanctions or legal violations. So that’s one. Two, you can buy many things. You can exchange cryptocurrency for actual currency, but you can also buy physical goods with cryptocurrency. So it’s another way for them to purchase things they might need without using the financial system.
There were reports that North Korea might have launched cyberattacks against South Korean virtual currency exchanges. Do the North Koreans have such a capacity?
Moriuchi: Yes, definitely. When it comes to North Korean hacking activities, we broadly underestimate their capabilities because many people believe [it is] such an isolated country where most people don’t have access to the internet and ask how they can possibly have indigenous experts, how they can possibly train people well enough to be able to conduct some of these very sophisticated hacks.
But what we have come to know over time is that they are sophisticated actors. They do have in-depth understanding of internet networks and communications.
Do you believe North Korea meddled in the Sony hack in 2014?
Moriuchi: Yes, both the federal government like the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and NSA have both come out and said that North Korea was behind the Sony attack. I think most people who follow North Korea agree with the government assessments.
It seems that reasons differ for North Korea’s cyberattacks against South Korean virtual currency exchanges and for the Sony attack. Why is that so?
Moriuchi: North Korean cyberactivities really started about 2008 and 2009. [They were] mainly toward South Korean government, corporations and media, as well as some U.S. government entities, and they were intended to [cause] chaos and to disrupt South Korea and undermine systems there. After the Sony attack, [there seemed to be a] transition in most of the North Korean attacks that we in the private sector have been able to follow toward financial services, toward generating money and raising funds. I think we are in this new period in terms of North Korean cyberactivity.
How much profit does North Korea make from mining bitcoin?
Moriuchi: At current rates, let’s say [North Korea] earned about $100,000. So in terms of the amount of money that North Korea may need for their missile program, $100,000 is probably not very much. If you put that next to what experts estimate North Korea pulls in just through its other kinds of criminal operations, such as the drug trade, drug smuggling and counterfeiting of U.S. dollar bills, around $500 million to $1 billion a year, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket.
Given the token amount of money North Korea makes through the bitcoin mining activity, is it far-fetched to say the North is tapping this digital currency exchange in order to evade sanctions and earn income for the regime?
Moriuchi: Cryptocurrency, specifically bitcoin mining, is one other method for them to circumvent sanctions and to generate funds. It’s not the primary means of earning funds for the regime right now, but it’s certainly something that they could expand and that would be much more difficult for the international community to be able to track and limit.
Why is it so hard to track the bitcoin activity?
Moriuchi: Bitcoin was designed to be anonymous, and it doesn’t keep track of identifiers, such as IPs and usernames, while mining, buying or spending bitcoin.
Additionally in the WannaCry attack, in early August three bitcoin wallets associated with WannaCry were emptied. What we saw were many steps taken by presumably the North Koreans to further obfuscate where the funding was going. So first off, they went through a bitcoin mixer, which is a service that essentially throws all the bitcoin into one pot and then out comes the amount you threw in but it’s not the same bitcoin that you put in. So it anonymizes your identity. After going through that, they then convert it to another cryptocurrency. So they went to great lengths to avoid even the slim chance that they could be attributed through their bitcoin transactions.
What do you think about the claim that the U.S. could take out North Korea’s missiles before launch through jamming or other cyber methods?
Moriuchi: There are two internets [in North Korea]. One, the global internet, and then the domestic intranet, the one that regular North Koreans, though a small number, actually have access. And then you have various other networks within the country — the government’s and the military’s. The connections between the global internet and anything inside North Korea are very few, based on the research that I did. So [even] if it was possible for the United States or whoever to attack a North Korean missile site or a launch using a cyberattack, it would be very difficult.
How did you become interested in analyzing North Korean internet activities?
Moriuchi: We have this very unique set of data … and we felt like we can give much more context to the whole debate about North Korea, especially about their cyberactivity. We did a big analysis over the past few months, and we came away with a number of conclusions based on North Korean leadership internet activity. The biggest one for us was that, based on the activity that we saw, the North Korean ruling elite and their leadership are much more active and engaged in the world, popular culture, international news, and with contemporary services, than most outsiders would have believed. They go to Facebook, they go to Instagram every day, they stream video and a lot of other things that many of us do. The 0.1 percent of [the North Korean population] who has access to the world internet does those same things.
Jenny Lee contributed to this report which originated on VOA Korean.
Teachers and volunteers in Egypt are using a mixture of patience and kindness to educate refugee children from nearly a dozen African countries. International organizations like the UNHCR, local and international NGOs, and church groups also contribute in the struggle to educate the children.
Most of the children have the same aspirations as other young people the world over, but they also face obstacles that children elsewhere do not.
Chris Rupke, an educator at the African Hope School in the Cairo suburb of Ma’adi, says the African refugee children he works with have often lost one or both of their parents and are living with extended family members.
WATCH: African Refugee School in Cairo Struggles to Educate Children
“Some of the children are fortunate to have one parent,” he said, while others “might be living with aunts or uncles, or living with tribal members [whom] they call aunts or uncles. Nuclear families, as we know them in the West, are not that common here,” Rupke said.
Too traumatized to speak
Memories of what the children endured before fleeing to Egypt are often a heavy burden to some of them. Rupke recalled one little boy who was so traumatized that he was unable to speak until a psychologist at the school got him to draw pictures of what had happened to his family.
The volunteer psychologist began by asking the child to draw his village, Rupke said, “and he drew his village, and he drew his father and his mother and his siblings, and they were in pieces. When she asked, ‘Where’s your father?’ he pointed to some pieces on the ground.” From that point on, the little boy slowly began to talk and express himself.
Rupke remembers another little girl who came to school with burn marks on her face. As it turned out, she was being “disciplined” by an aunt. Educators at the school persuaded the aunt to stop, but the next year, she refused to enroll the child in school, as punishment.
“That kept her out of school for a year,” Rupke said, “but this year, she was allowed to come back … and the little girl is a delight, always laughing, always enjoying life.”
Why they come to school
Other teachers, like Jean-Pie, who comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tells VOA that when he began teaching at the African Hope School in 2003, he and his colleagues went searching for African refugee children under Cairo’s bridges and in its public gardens, where they were camped out. He eventually honed his skills at persuading them to come to school.
“We have a school here,” he would say, “so, we can put you there [and] it’s free.” The strongest enticement, though, is that the school serves free meals. “When they hear about food,” Jean-Pie said, “they come.”
Putting food on the table is a constant struggle for African refugee families. Refuge Egypt, a nongovernmental organization run by the Anglican church in Cairo, helps them with free sugar, flour, cooking oil and other staples. Refuge Egypt also provides free medical treatment and some medications at a health clinic it runs. Most of the doctors and nurses volunteer their services.
Remaining in Egypt can also be a struggle for many African refugees, until they receive an “asylum-seeker card” from the U.N. refugee agency.
UNHCR’s Cairo spokesman, Tarik Argaz, tells VOA the card “protects refugees from being deported to their home countries and allows them to regularize their stay in Egypt.” A 1954 UNHCR agreement with Egypt also allows refugees from some countries to register their children in local schools and be treated by Egyptian government-run medical facilities.
Practically speaking, though, Egyptian government schools are too crowded to accept many refugee students. Some do not speak Arabic, which can make it difficult for them to adapt to the local curriculum. For that reason, there are close to 60 schools for refugee children in Egypt, like African Hope.
Subjects at most refugee schools are usually taught in English. Teacher and supervisor Hella tells VOA that students at African Hope “are taught math, Arabic, science, literacy, social studies, computers and personal development.” Some of the students tutor their Egyptian counterparts in English.
Despite the struggles to cope with life in exile, most refugee children relish the opportunity to go to school. They love to play with their schoolmates, to have fun and to learn. Classrooms at African Hope are cramped and its 460 students attend two different sessions, but teachers work hard to help them to learn, and do it with love.
“We do know that the students love to come here,” Rupke said, “because they know that it’s a safe place, and it is a place that they will see love. They will see teachers that care about them and love them and are here to help them to grow into young men and young ladies that are able to make responsible decisions in life.”
German voters head to the polls on September 24 in a national election that is expected to deliver Chancellor Angela Merkel an historic fourth term and the first right-wing party to parliament since the end of World War II.
Germans go to the polls Sunday in an election that will most likely result in a fourth term for Chancellor Angela Merkel, but could also see the first time a far-right party has become part of the Bundestag since the end of World War II.
Support for Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrat party was at 34 percent, while her challenger, Martin Schulz, and his center-left Social Democrats were projected to receive 21 percent of the vote.
But the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, appeared to have more support than the 5 percent of the vote required to get a seat in Germany’s multiparty Bundestag. In fact, the latest polls showed AfD could get as much as 13 percent of the vote, making it the third-largest party in parliament.
Schulz addressed the trend at a campaign rally in the western city of Aachen on Saturday, urging his supporters to turn out at the polls to prevent the AfD from gaining more power.
“Young people, think about Brexit,” he said, referencing Britain’s recent vote to withdraw from the European Union. “Think about [U.S. President Donald] Trump. Go vote.”
Merkel was heckled Friday evening at her final stump speech in Munich but used the cacophony to punctuate her message. Emphasizing stability and prosperity in her speech, Merkel said, “The future of Germany will definitely not be built with whistles and hollers.”
Germany is not the only European nation experiencing a rise in support for nationalist parties. France, Austria and Poland have seen similar trends.
But Germany is still recovering from the rule of the far-right Nazi Party last century, whose hold on power in the 1930s and early 1940s led an ethnic cleansing campaign against millions of Jews, Poles and others deemed unwanted.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a member of the Social Democrats, has warned that “for the first time since the Second World War, real Nazis will sit in the German parliament.”
Schulz has called the party “a shame for our nation.”
Limited by history
AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland, who helped found the party in 2013, told The Washington Post on Saturday that his party’s support had been limited by Germany’s history.
“What is National Socialist in Germany is [considered] out of order and you can’t discuss it correctly. It is very difficult for so-called right-wing parties to gain votes in Germany,” Gauland said.
A former member of Merkel’s party, Gauland said he left because the party changed.
“Angela Merkel changed the CDU from a party that had convictions to a party that’s an empty balloon,” he told the Post. “A lot of decisions of Angela Merkel — transitioning to renewable energy, refugees, changing of the military from conscription to volunteer — ran opposite to what we called in former times ‘the soul of the CDU.’ ”
Berlin-based journalist Thomas Habicht said AfD’s rise in influence was rooted in Germany’s participation in pan-European issues.
“AfD gained support as some voters got the impression [that] the euro crisis caused by Greece, Italy and France cost us too much money,” Habicht told VOA in an email. “Germany contributes 27 percent to the EU budget and some Germans don’t want to finance economical mismanagement in southern Europe.”
Cost of refugee crisis
In addition, the refugee crisis, to which Merkel has pledged German support, is seen by AfD supporters as a burden.
“Since September 2015, we had an influx of 1.25 million asylum-seekers,” Habicht said, noting that caring for them had cost the government $25 billion.
Adding to the complication, he said, is crime. “Last year we had a terror attack at a Berlin Christmas market. It was committed by an asylum-seeker from Tunisia and 12 persons died,” he said.
Yet, Habicht noted, all parties in the Bundestag at the time supported Merkel on the refugee situation. “They were seen as a big chance for us, while the problems of integration were not fully discussed,” he said.
While the presence of a far-right party in parliament may be startling in Germany, where the rule of the Nazis last century orchestrated millions of civilian deaths, Habicht said the AfD influence would be far more subtle.
“I do believe the AfD will be quite isolated in our next Bundestag,” he said. “But indirectly, they will influence government policies.”
On September 12, Kyrgyz journalist Zulpukar Sapanov was sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty of inciting hatred between religious groups.
U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighter jets flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea on September 23.
Парламент Туреччини в суботу схвалив продовження військових операцій в Сирії та Іраку напередодні запланованого в Іракському Курдистані референдум про незалежність, який розлютив Туреччину та інші держави в регіоні.
Правляча «Партія справедливості і розвитку» Реджепа Тайїпа Ердогана, яка домінує в парламенті, неодноразово продовжувала військовий мандат 2014 року у двох охоплених війною країнах.
Анкара використовувала мандат для нападу як на бойовиків угруповання «Ісламська держава», так і на курдських бойовиків на півночі Сирії і в північному Іраку. У серпні минулого року турецькі військові вторглися в частину північної Сирії, захопивши села вздовж територій, контрольованих ісламістами і курдськими бойовиками. Туреччина заявляє, що контролює 900 квадратних кілометрів території Сирії.
Курдські лідери хочуть провести референдум про незалежність в іракському автономному курдському окрузі на півночі Іраку 25 вересня, незважаючи на протести з боку уряду в Багдаді і міжнародної спільноти.
Туреччина, де проживає велика курдська меншина, попередила, що може вдатися до «контзаходів» через референдум. За даними турецького агентства Anadolu, минулого тижня турецькі літаки здійснили численні удари по місцях, пов’язаних із забороненим в Туреччині угрупованням «Робітнича партія Курдистану».
Іракський Курдистан за Конституцією Іраку 2005 року, що встановила федералізацію країни, став автономією у складі Іраку, а на практиці вже з багатьох питань діє не зважаючи на Багдад.
Плани референдуму про повну незалежність регіону викликали значний спротив не лише в Туреччині, а й в Ірані, США і в Європейському союзі. Серед пересторог – послаблення і так нестійкого уряду в Багдаді і боротьби проти угруповання «Ісламська держава» та інших екстремістських груп.