The answer is complex for such an isolated nation. Its GDP hovers near $40 billion, suggesting that Pyongyang barely has enough to pay for public health and education requirements, let alone an expansive nuclear weapons program. At one point, North Korea was flooding global markets with pitch-perfect counterfeit Benjamins, but the roll-out of the new $100 notes by the US Treasury in 2013 put an abrupt halt to that practice. Other approaches include slave-labor remittances from China, Africa-directed weapons sales, and counterfeit cash drugs, such as Viagra. But the real pillage nowadays is coming from cybertheft. Insiders believe that the $81 million haul from the Central Bank of Bangladesh was backed by North Korean operatives. If oil was sitting at $40 a barrel, the Dhaka-sourced plunder would be equivalent in open-market prices of the entire crude capacity of a super-max tanker. A recent report from cybersecurity firm Kaspersky indicates that North Korea has now hacked at least 18 commercial banks worldwide. ■
Our Vantage Point: North Korea’s intensity in securing hard-currency resources parallels an alarming build-up in nuclear weaponry. Political risk is fast becoming political reality.
Learn more at CNBC
© 2017 Cranganore Inc. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission is prohibited.
Image: US soldiers help to defend South Korea against chemical and nuclear threats. Credit: US Army.