President Donald Trump
issued a directive early in his administration outlining a strategy of pressure against North Korea involving multiple government agencies that led to the use of military cyber-capabilities, administration officials say.
As part of the campaign, US Cyber Command targeted alleged hackers in North Korea’s military spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, by storming their computer servers with traffic to obstruct their internet access, The Washington Post reported Saturday, citing senior administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s directive also included “instructions to diplomats and officials to bring up North Korea in virtually every conversation with foreign interlocutors and urge them to sever all ties with Pyongyang,” the daily added, further pointing to “significant success” of such conversations in recent weeks as North Korea tested a nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles.
The directive also instructed the Treasury Department to intensify economic sanctions against North Korean entities and individuals as well as foreigners who traded with them, noting that those instructions “are reflected in a steady stream of US and international sanctions in recent months.”
This AFP file photo taken on September 05, 2017 shows police officers monitoring trucks returning from North Korea at a customs checkpoint on the Chinese side of the Friendship Bridge, at the Chinese border city of Dandong, in China.
The anti-Pyongyang diplomatic campaign is reportedly “so pervasive” that some foreign governments “found themselves scrambling to find any ties with North Korea.”
The report then pointed to a recent instance when US Vice President Mike Pence demanded from one country on an overseas trip to break relations with Pyongyang and after officials there reminded him that they never had relations with North Korea, he then told them, to their own surprise, that they had $2 million in trade with the North.
The daily further noted that the exchange was described by foreign officials who asked that their country not be identified.
The Cyber Command operation “was part of the overall campaign set in motion many months ago,” the effects of which “were temporary and not destructive.”
“Nonetheless, some North Korean hackers griped that lack of access to the Internet was interfering with their work, according to another US official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a secret operation,” the report read.
It then cited an unnamed official as saying that the directive was not made public at the time it was signed, following a policy review in March, because “we were providing every opportunity as a new administration to North Korea to sit down and talk, to take a different approach.”
The development came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted for the first time on Saturday during a visit to the Chinese capital Beijing that Washington was in direct communication with Pyongyang.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2nd L) attends a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (3rd R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson told reporters after talks with Chinese officials. “We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three, channels open. . . . We can talk to them; we do talk to them.”
However, officials in Washington quickly played down any idea that negotiations were underway or that anything had yet come of the talks, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issuing a statement insisting that “North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization.”