The gangster state

With North Korea back in the news for nuclear-fueled temper tantrums again, NPR’s excellent Planet Money podcast has rebroadcast a 2011 program about how the hermit kingdom earns hard currency.


North Korea does some legitimate trade with China, supplies cheap labor to South Korean companies operating factories in a “special economic zone,” and builds grandiose monuments in Africa.  But most of its earnings come from weapons, drug trafficking and counterfeiting:

To learn more about the country’s illegal exports, we spoke with Ma Young Ae, a defector who used to work as a North Korean spy. Ma now lives in Virginia where she runs a North Korean restaurant. But back in Pyongyang she was one of the country’s elites.

Ma worked for Kim Jong Il’s internal police force. Her job was was to track down drug smugglers. That sounds like pretty normal law enforcement, except for one difference. She was supposed to stop small-time Korean drug dealers in order to protect the biggest drug dealer in the country: the North Korean government.

Ma told us the North Korean government produced opium on a large scale. But it hid its poppy fields from most of the population. Ma only saw the fields because she was an insider.

After harvesting the fields, the government would put its empty factories to use. The government would turn on its production lines at night and process opium, Ma says. Then they would pack the product in plastic cubes the size of dictionaries and smuggle it out of the country through China.

This was in the mid-eighties, when opium was the big drug. These days the drug of choice for export out of North Korea is ice, also know as methamphetamine.

Ma never smuggled the drugs herself. But she did smuggle something else. When she traveled in China, tracking down those non-government-approved drug dealers, the government didn’t give Ma a corporate credit card.

Instead, she was given a wad of counterfeit dollars. This is another of North Korea’s exports: Counterfeit $100 bills known as super-notes.

Nobody was going to just accept a brand-new $100 dollar bill from a North Korean. Instead, the Chinese would give the North Koreans sixty real U.S. dollars for every fake $100 bill.

It was during these trips that Ma noticed that the Chinese across the river had a much better standard of living than the North Koreans. So, when she had the chance, she defected.

Besides the illegal drugs and the counterfeit currency, North Korea is believed to deal in lots of weapons: rifles, missiles, perhaps even nuclear technology. Just a couple of weeks ago in Lybia, the rebels found a bunch of North Korean rocket launchers in a box labeled “bulldozer parts.”

3 thoughts on “The gangster state

    • dh (@livebybread) says:

      Just google “north korea drug”…you can find tons of reports : Here some video results…

      …too many…Now North Korea is notorious country smuggling arms, drugs, perfect supernote. Wake up!

  1. froggydude says:

    Well, sure, I believe Ma. Who wouldn’t? Ahem, NPR dozers must have had their mouths hanging wide open in utter amazement, before retiring to a Whole Foods outlet for an organic coffee.

    The US has terrorized dozens of countries during its existence. The Philipines in 1898 and Guam to this day, plus all the usual bullshit about Cuba. It takes about 30 seconds to google ‘US colony of Guam” to discover a hotbed of resentment. But Guam is a US protectorate, supposedly receiving all the benefits of the US way of life. Nothing changes. Americans believe their own BS.

    The US is still formally at war with North Korea, and has badmouthed the place constantly for 60 years. So, after a while the people freak out and become weird. It’s like being constantly stalked. No wonder its leadership is whacked out.

    The US never uses honey in its foreign dealings – it’s all my way or else. Great for creating friends, eh?

    You should go to and read the book.

    No, I’m not a Commie, fellow-traveller or Socialist. Just an (unfortunately) elderly Canadian who being retired has had some time to figure out how the average person gets screwed in our society, and wonders why I didn’t figure it out before. Like RBC illegally employing foreign workers and then claiming they’re as innocent as the driven snow.

    I really am fed-up with elites running everything for their advantage, which is what that book I mentioned is all about, starting about 1600 AD.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s