Saturday, 30 January 2021

The Mole: Infiltrating North Korea

Danish film-maker Mads Brügger’s latest documentary is an absurdly brave look at Kim Jong-un’s regime that has all the intrigue of a spy thriller

Physically, Ulrich Larsen doesn’t stand out. Polite, unassuming, his unmemorable 44-year-old face is how I imagine an efit template might be, what you start with before you add distinguishing features. You get to decide who he is. Perfect for blending in. Or infiltrating the world’s most secretive regime perhaps, which, as it happens, is what he did. Larsen is “the Mole”.

Jim Latrache-Qvortrup is the opposite. Forty-eight, big, bold, bearded, inked, with an expensive-looking set of teeth and an explosive laugh. Ex-military? Better still, he joined the French Foreign Legion at 19. Crime? Tick; he spent eight years in jail for drug dealing. International arms dealer, buying stinger missiles from North Korea for anyone who will have them? Actually no, but he does a very good job of pretending to be one, hardly has to act at all in fact. Latrache-Qvortrup is “Mr James”.

They’re together in a room somewhere in Copenhagen, speaking to me via Zoom. Zoom!? Is that secure? Could Kim Jong-un himself be listening in, ready to fire off a Scud? They’re not overly concerned. Larsen says he has altered some of his daily routines, doesn’t go to the same places every day with his family. Latrache-Qvortrup hasn’t changed anything; he’s not worried. I doubt if he is ever very worried about anything. “I don’t think I should take my next holiday in North Korea,” he says. And he laughs his big laugh.

At which point some explanation is probably needed. God, where to start? It’s complicated. Larsen is a chef in Copenhagen, retired since getting a chronic disease of the pancreas. After seeing the film The Red Chapel, about a trip Mads Brügger made to North Korea, Ulrich contacts the Danish film-maker about somehow continuing the work, helping to expose the reality of life in the DPRK. This starts about a decade ago, with Larsen joining his local branch of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), a bunch of ageing commies whose ranks he quickly rises through. He makes his first trip to North Korea. Got it so far? The project, and Brügger’s new film, is under way.

Ulrich gains the trust of the head of the KFA, a dodgy Spanish businessman named Alejandro Cao de Benós, AKA “the Gatekeeper of North Korea”, who has links to the regime. Now that they have their in, Brügger decides they need a further character and recruits Latrach-Qvortrup, to play Mr James, a Scandinavian businessman with a lot more money than morals. Larsen and Latrach-Qvortrup travel to North Korea where, in a secret luxury bunker, officials show them a menu of weaponry, missiles, tanks, etc, that Mr James might like to buy. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship that reaches over borders, around ideological differences and under UN sanctions, and culminates in them agreeing to a complicated triangle deal with a Jordanian smuggling oil into North Korea. Oh, and they also agree to construct an underground factory to make both weapons and methamphetamine, disguised as a luxury tourist resort, on an island in Uganda.

Got it? Kind of Homeland meets The Night Manager meets Breaking Bad if you want TV comparisons, though – incredibly – this one is documentary. There’s even a Dame Judi Dench M character, a former M15 officer debriefing Larsen and Latrach-Qvortrup in a country house. And the above isn’t even the half of it, two hours of documentary into a couple of paragraphs doesn’t easily go, you need to see it, and you really should. It’s an extraordinary project, absurdly brave, much of it filmed on hidden cameras, with moments of proper tension. And even the odd laugh – like when Mr James manages to shake off his minder at a crowded Pyongyang waterpark for long enough to try out the biggest slide. So this huge bearded bear of a man, covered in tats, like nothing the locals have ever seen before, enters their world with an enormous splash. “The feeling I had was what the first black man in Denmark must’ve felt,” Jim tells me. “It was like everything stood still.”

When and how did Larsen get started on this crazy path? How does a former chef, living on benefits, end up in Pyongyang facilitating arms deals? As a kid he lived in the shadow of East Germany, he says. Just after the wall came down he met a boy from Rostock, went to visit him there, was struck by the difference, began to be interested. “The Korean peninsula is the same as Germany was, divided because of a war. I started to get interested, why still there is no peace contract between the US and North Korea. Then Mads made The Red Chapel, I thought why not help him figure out something more.”

He’s not especially political, he says. Certainly no fan of communism, but neither is he rightwing. Was he into spy thrillers? “I think every boy’s dream is to be James Bond. But now I know it’s not how it works today – shooting people and driving fast cars. Just a lot of time talking and getting the confidence from people. It’s like poker, you need to play your cards right to win. I never imagined sitting at a table in North Korea being handed papers to buy weapons.”

Latrach-Qvortrup says he’s an adrenaline junkie, and he got involved because he needed a fix. “I’d been out of prison for two years and I had started psychology at Copenhagen University and that was boring as hell so I just saw it as an adrenaline kick.” He says he brought some of his previous wild-living drug-dealer existence to the part. “I thought if I was very calm that could make them insecure, but if I got drunk and talked shit, the last thing they would think was that I was an agent.” So get drunk and talk shit is what he did, and they fell for it.

What do they think they have achieved, I wonder? “I think we have shown the world how North Korea and so-called friends of North Korea work,” says Larsen. “How the system works, you know, money, weapons, drugs, oil, getting round the sanctions of the United Nations.”

For Latrach-Qvortrup, it shows how easily it is for someone like Mr James “to get some really deadly weapons and build an island in a safe country. And then distribute weapons to all the enemies of the western world. It’s dead scary that there’s this guy in Spain who facilitates that.” They both single out Cao de Benós, under the cover of his friendship association, as the big villain in this.

Along with Kim Jong-un, his father and his grandfather. “There are 23 million North Koreans who are isolated and kept in this hermit kingdom,” says Larsen. “They are told from when they are born that outside North Korea the world is bad and that they should praise the leaders who take care of them. They are so loyal to the leaders even though two of them are dead.”

Larsen tells me about a banquet he attended on one of his trips there, where, passing the kitchen, he saw the staff eating the leftover scraps from the guests’ plates. “At this point I was like: ‘This is a country with a lot of problems.’” I wonder how the return to mundane reality has been. Larsen had some interesting conversations with his wife who, incredibly, he never told what he was up to. “She was a bit shocked, then coming up with questions like: ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I was like: ‘As you said yourself, if I had told you first you wouldn’t have let me go, or you would’ve been scared as hell till I came back.’”

She did know he had gone to North Korea, but he told her he was looking into some business opportunities, importing clothes. Not stinger missiles. “I hope one day she’ll be proud of me,” Larsen says. And he’s enjoying spending more time with his kids, and watching English Premier League football at the weekend. Larsen supports Liverpool, don’t mention the 7-2 drubbing by Villa.

Latrach-Qvortrup’s wife knew all along. “She waited for me all the time I was in prison, so I owned up to her when I had another crazy idea.” He has a business, massage and physiotherapy. And he’s started sponsoring some MMA fighters. Not quite international arms dealing maybe, but it’s something. Better than studying psychology anyway.

How do we know that while they were over there, down in that bunker or at the waterpark perhaps, they weren’t turned, and they’re not now double agents working for the DPRK, sending back secrets of, I don’t know, how to make Danish pastries? Latrach-Qvortrup laughs. Larsen smiles. “Wait for the sequel,” he says.

Review by the Grauniad.

Friday, 29 January 2021

Dominion’s defamation suits

Dominion Voting Systems has adamantly denied that their voting machines were involved in any kind of election fraud, going so far as to include a page on their website entitled “setting the record straight.” Those denials have been supported by election officials from every state, many of whom are Republicans, contending that the 2020 election was one of the most secure ever.
In December, Dominion wrote to Powell to demand she retract her claims about their company. By that point, she was no longer officially with Trump’s team, but Trump’s campaign staffers were advised to preserve all documents related to the claims about Dominion. Litigation was expected.
Also in December, Ben Smith, writing for The New York Times, reported that Dominion was likely teaming with Smartmatic, another voting machine company that had been the subject of election fraud conspiracy theories. The two companies were considering defamation lawsuits against the news agencies that had shared the conspiracy theories, including OAN, Newsmax and Fox News.
One Fox News host, Lou Dobbs, used multiple segments throughout November and December to push the conspiracy theories about voting machines. After Smartmatic threatened a lawsuit, though, Dobbs (and other shows on the network) aired a segment with Eddie Perez, an expert on election machines, that debunked many of the claims Dobbs himself had made on previous shows.
Smith spoke with multiple attorneys who were experts in the 1st Amendment. They feel that, despite free speech protections for news agencies, Dominion and Smartmatic would probably be able to provide convincing evidence that the conservative news agencies knowingly reported lies about them.
“Newsmax and OAN,” Smith wrote, “appear likely to face the same fate as so many of President Trump’s sycophants, who have watched him lie with impunity and imitated him — only to find that he’s the only one who can really get away with it.”
Indeed, in early January, it was reported that Dominion had formerly filed a US$1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Powell. Weeks later, the company followed that up with a separate lawsuit against Giuliani for the same amount.
In the lawsuits, Dominion has pointed out that, despite their public claims about the company, neither Powell nor Giuliani ever made those same claims in their lawsuits for Trump.
The news channels that aired Powell and Giuliani’s claims are now said to be trying to distance themselves from them. OAN and Newsmax, in particular, are vulnerable because they are much smaller companies and cannot afford expensive litigation.
If the defamation lawsuits against Trump’s lawyers are successful, though, other entities, including Trump himself, will likely feel the repercussions.

Trump's Conspiracy Theories
As president, Trump used his singular platform to sow doubts about the election, but he was not alone in spreading conspiracy theories. His team of lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, regularly used public appearances to spread wild claims about voting machines being hacked and votes being deleted, even as their lawsuits were being dismissed by dozens of courts.
Conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting machines were also shared by Trump-supporting news channels like One American News Network (OAN) and Newsmax, whose chief executive officer, Chris Ruddy, has spent much of his career making unproven accusations against Democrats.
Trump has often promoted conspiracy theories, from the false claim that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was not born in the United States to the bizarre theory that MSNBC host and former House Representative Joe Scarborough murdered his congressional intern. And, then, of course, there is the QAnon movement that revolves around Trump’s alleged battle with the “Deep State.”
Over the years, Trump has faced few consequences for pushing baseless claims, even as he vowed during his 2016 campaign to “open up” libel laws to make it easier for him to sue news organizations that he felt had disparaged him. Now, though, Trump and his loyalists may have pushed their luck too far.
Dominion Voting Systems is fighting back against the fraudulent claims made against it by filing lawsuits aimed at the biggest propagators of those conspiracy theories. If successful, Dominion could make the intentional spread of misinformation a little riskier for politicians and public figures.


H/T Joseph.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Rebekah Mercer has a Cowpad

... or a book... or a cowpad of a book. You can read up on it here, if you're that way inclined.

Rebekah Mercer is a billionaire heiress and daughter of Robert Mercer. Robert is best known in the UK for maybe having decided, possibly illegally, the fate of the Brexit referendum:

Mercer was an activist in the campaign for the United Kingdom to end its membership of the European Union, also known as Brexit. Andy Wigmore, communications director of Leave.EU, said that Mercer donated the services of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage, the head of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The firm was able to advise Leave.EU through its ability to harvest data from people's Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualized persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. It's been reported that Cambridge Analytica also has undisclosed links to Canadian digital firm AggregateIQ, which also played a pivotal role in Dominic Cummings' VoteLeave campaign, where he delivered an estimated one billion individually curated targeted adverts to voters in the lead up to the Brexit referendum, in contravention of established voting rules. Both VoteLeave and Leave.EU did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation despite the fact that a law demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported. In 2018, the Electoral Commission found the VoteLeave campaign guilty of breaking electoral law.[35]


So a foreign (the Mercers are thoroughbred Americans) agent strongly influenced a momentous British election. Imagine the howls of American indignation if such a thing was foisted on one of their elections (think Russiagate)?

Robert Mercer and daughter Rebekah

Monday, 25 January 2021

Possibly the DUMBEST conspiracy theory in Mordor EVAH: 'FAUCI'S COVID'

The American conservative/libertarian blogosphere/social media has rarely been more awash with ultra-dumb CTs than in the post Orange Moron era. This one from 'GEEEZ....':

Last night, Steve Hilton, of The Next Revolution (the show name which cracks me up since he’s British..we know what happened in our last revolution!), explained last night how it is FAUCI WHO MIGHT HAVE ACTUALLY CAUSED COVID.
Yes, it took hundreds of epidemiologists to convince Obama to STOP “Gain of function research” and Obama did BAN IT…But Fauci got funding for it and moved the work to the Wuhan lab….where an ‘accident’ seems to have happened.
FAUCI HIMSELF COULD BE RESPONSIBLE…and now he only goes on CNN or MSNBC: He will not come on FOX. WHY?

So has Fauci caused Covid? It would be irresponsible NOT to SPECULATE!!

Com'on folks, he doesn't want to appear on Faux Noise, where are the clueses? Discuss and contrast!!

Source of this carnival of stupidity.

Monday, 4 January 2021

V-day for Assange!

Julian Assange cannot be extradited to US, British judge rules
Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage and of hacking government computers, a British judge has decided.
The ruling was delivered at the central criminal court by the district judge, Vanessa Baraitser.
She said the WikiLeaks founder was likely to be held in conditions of isolation in a so-called supermax prison in the US and procedures described by US authorities would not prevent him from potentially finding a way to take his own life.
“I find that the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” said the judge. Lawyers for US authorities have been given 15 days to appeal.


Sunday, 3 January 2021

Operation Paperclip V2.0?

The terrible crimes of Japan's secret Unit 731 would make anyone's blood run cold. Thousands of people were used as test subjects for the development of biological weapons. The subjects were injected with cholera, typhoid, anthrax and bubonic plague, to be later dissected alive. The unit's ideologist, Shiro Ishii, and most of his associates were never punished. They became practising physicians or scientists. Watch our film to find out why.
Watch "Death Factories" on RTD website and on RT's live feed. The time of the broadcast is available on RT's schedule page.

So why were "Shiro Ishii, and most of his associates [were] never punished"? Because they were co-oppted into the Pentagon's own biological weapons program! Much like Nazi rocketeers were absorbed into the USAF missile program.