Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: North Korea (page 2 of 5)

Bureau 39: The Beginning

bureau39_ebook_front 2Many people have asked me how did I come up with the story for my latest novel, Bureau 39. The story of Frank Mitchum chasing down an old Army buddy in Korea while trying to cut-off North Korea’s funding for its WMDs started out as a story about a murder in Itaewon, which was based on an actual event that happened in 2002. The novel, Murder in the Moonlight, which was my first foray into the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2012, was the story about a woman found murdered in a hotel in Itaewon. The woman, the daughter of a former United States Forces Korea (USFK) general was in Korea visiting friends. When she ends up dead, her father contacts one of his former NCOs, Greg Sanders, who is a defense contractor in Seoul, to find out what happened. Sanders runs into his old nemesis in the CID who is convinced that the woman was murdered by her boyfriend. Later, Sanders finds out that the daughter got caught up in a drug smuggling conspiracy involving members of South Korea’s underworld and a North Korean defector. The closer Sanders gets to finding out who killed the girl, he becomes caught up in a web of deception and murder.

I wasn’t happy with the how I developed the story and shelved it to work on The Panama Affair.

And then in 2014, I heard about a former Army Ranger who was caught trying to smuggle 100 kilograms of methamphetamine into the United States.

The meth was from North Korea.

It was time to look at the story again.

Bureau 39 — An Excerpt

bureau39_ebook_front 2WRAPPED IN LAYERS of threadbare rayon and vinylon, Kim Min-hee shivered on the shore of the frozen river and hoped she wouldn’t have to wait too long. After traveling for almost two days to get there, she had lain low for another day to watch for military patrols, and had been unable to light a fire for fear of being spotted. Hungry and cold, she spent the night huddled under an old blanket she had found tucked between rocks at the edge of the mighty Yalu.

She felt the small package under her clothes. Its weight and shape were both comforting and deadly. If things worked out, she would make contact with a Chinese buyer who would pay her well for the package. Bingdu—methamphetamine or crystal meth, was a valuable commodity, but if she was caught carrying the drugs, she would either be shot on the spot by one of the patrols, or worse, arrested and sent to one of the work camps where she would most assuredly die. The risk was extreme, but definitely worth it if Min-hee wanted to escape to the South.

Getting the drug was simple, since there was a man in her village who made it in his kitchen. He had once been a renowned chemist at a state-run laboratory, but when the country fell on hard times, he and other chemists who found themselves out of work turned to alternative means to support themselves. There were others who made the drug, but Min-hee’s villager was the most reliable. He had lost his wife the winter before, and no longer cared about life. The government threatened to crack down on the production and sale of bingdu, but the kitchen labs prospered, and the thriving black market along the border between North Korea and China was impossible to stop.

Min-hee had heard there was even a factory that was producing the drug on an industrial scale. Supposedly a Chinese businessman had built it and was manufacturing the drug using some of the same chemists who had been producing it in their homes. Min-hee feared it would only be a matter of time before chemists like the one in her village would be put out of work, or executed. The regime liked to keep the people scared, and mandatory attendance of public executions in the village square did that. Either way, if these rumors were true, she would have to come up with another way to fund her passage to the South.

Like many of the people in her village, Min-hee had sampled the drug she was carrying for the Chinese trader. Fellow villagers had told her how, in small quantities, bingdu suppressed the awful hunger they all felt. At first, she wanted nothing to do with it, but when she could no longer endure the gnawing emptiness in her stomach, she relented. The drug also had other supposed medicinal benefits. Some took it for headaches, to treat a common cold, or to seek relief from depression. She heard about soldiers who used it to stay alert when they were on duty or workers who took it to work longer hours in the country’s factories.

Everyone who tried it more than once found it extremely difficult to stop using.

Min-hee was not the only person in her village who sold the drug to Chinese traders. There were others who were willing to take risks, but not everyone was so lucky. There was one woman in her village whose son was arrested and thrown into jail for smuggling the drug into China. When the woman went to try to secure the release of her son, one of the guards told her that if she ever wanted to see her son alive, she had to bring him two grams of the drug. She did, and her son was freed. Another woman was caught and never heard from again.

It never crossed Min-hee’s mind that what she was doing was wrong. When she was younger, she had been mesmerized by her country’s charismatic leader. Once, while serving in the army, he visited her radar station on a mountain. She and the other women in her unit wept when he stopped to talk to them and pose for a photograph. It was one of the happiest days of her life. She believed in her country’s policy the Juche ideology or self-reliance. However, not everyone felt the same way. People grew tired of the food shortages and the empty slogans that told them to grow more mushrooms or annihilate the enemy to the last man. These slogans did not improve their lifestyle or put more food on the table. Soon, she dreamed of a better life.

Book Review: The Silla Project


The Silla Project

PlotForge, Ltd. (August 12, 2012)


Kim Jong Il, the tyrannical leader of North Korea, hopes nuclear weapons will reunite the divided nation under his iron fist. But turning plutonium into weapons is more than the tiny country hoped for. In a desperate ploy to achieve his aim before economic crisis destroys the dynasty built by his father, he orders his chief operative Pak Yong-nam, to abduct “Someone who can help.”

Mitch Weatherby is a Los Alamos nuclear scientist at the top of his game… until the Feds raid his house, kill his wife, and accuse him of building a dirty bomb to sell to the highest bidder. Mitch knows he is innocent of these crimes but is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. So, when mysterious commandos abduct him it feels more like a rescue.

Secreted away to a mountain stronghold deep in North Korea, Mitch is faced with a choice. Help the country that saved him, or remain loyal to the nation that destroyed his life.

For someone who has been a North Korea observer the past 25 years—both as a writer and the instructor of a course on Northeast Asian Politics/History at an international business school in Daejeon, South Korea—I was keenly interested in The Silla Project. Although it is fiction and the product of the author’s imagination, the book does have its share of “Eureka” moments when the author deftly describes the North’s attempt to build a nuclear bomb. The author has clearly done his research—both on nuclear engineering as well as North Korea’s desire to join the world’s nuclear club—and in the process creates a chilling and riveting Cold War thriller. There are plenty of twists along the way which keeps you on the edge of your seat as you hurry to get through one chapter after another to find out if the protagonist is going to sell out his country for love.

For the most part, the story works. It is quite plausible that North Korea could kidnap a nuclear scientist; after all, the North captured Japanese actors and actresses and had them brought to North Korea to star in movies. However, after the fast-paced and well crafted first half of the book I was let down as I got closer and closer to the end. Although there’s plenty of action and a lot of twists and turns which kept me on the edge, I expected much more as I got closer to the end of the book.

Nonetheless, I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy a thought-provoking Cold War thriller. At the very least, the book, though fiction, offers a glimpse into this Stalinist country and Cold War holdout.

Available at Amazon

Dennis Rodman: Our Man in Pyongyang

Rodman 2

Guess who’s thinking about going back to Pyongyang to hang with his bud, Kim Jong Un?

The Worm.

At least that’s what the digital Chosun Ilbo is reporting today:

Rodman told the Miami Herald at a charity gala last Friday that he and Kim “have no plans really, as far as what we’re going to do over there, but we’ll just hang and have some fun!”

You can read the rest of the story here if you want to keep up with America’s unofficial roving ambassador.

If Rodman wants to hang with his bud, at least it’ll keep Kim preoccupied and having a good time instead of threatening the region with destruction.


Nothing new under the son


Now it looks as though North Korea is going to go ahead and re-start its nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

There’s a good article in The Christian Science Monitor about this latest news to come out of the North and whether or not the international community should be worried about it. Yes, we should be worried about it, but like so much of the rhetoric the North has been using, the fact that they are telling the international community is still part of their game plan. It’s their way of scaring the world into action with their high-stakes blackmail.

In one sense, Korea watchers say, the new regime is simply rehashing and upping the volume of an ideology and a language that the North and the Kim family have used for many years to remain in power and keep people unified by the threat of an enemy.

This is what I have been saying all along. This has been North Korea’s modus operandi since 1965 when they started down the road again (after they had rebuilt their industrial base which had been destroyed during the Korean War) to reunify the peninsula with every means possible. Military provocations along the DMZ, raids, murder in the JSA, sea battles, underground tunnels, terrorist acts, nuclear and missile threats–these have all been used to perpetuate their regime and to threaten the international community into action.

There really is a method to their madness.

How well do you know the two Koreas?

Waking Up Cover 1

10 items   1 followers   0 votes   140 views

So, you think you know everything about Korea

With the two Koreas in the news a lot these days (much more North Korea) it might be hard to understand for non-Korean pundits how things have gotten to the current intensity level on the Korean peninsula. To best understand what is happening one needs to turn to some classic studies about Korea.


The Two Koreas -- Don Oberdorfer

Mar 29, 2013
The Two Koreas -- Don Oberdorfer
Mar 29, 2013 - - 15
The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future -- Victor Cha

Want to know what's really going on in North Korea? Read this book.


Korea's Place in the Sun -- Bruce Cumings

Mar 29, 2013
Korea's Place in the Sun -- Bruce Cumings

Troubled Tiger -- Mark Clifford

Mar 29, 2013
Troubled Tiger -- Mark Clifford

One of the first books I read on Korea. Too bad it's out of print.

Mar 29, 2013 - - 15
Korea: The Impossible Country -- Daniel Tudor

Korea, A Walk Through the Land of Miracles -- Simon Winchester

Mar 29, 2013
Korea, A Walk Through the Land of Miracles -- Simon Winchester

The Cleanest Race -- B.R. Meyers

Mar 29, 2013
The Cleanest Race -- B.R. Meyers

The Aquariums of Pyongyang -- Kang Chol-Hwan

Mar 29, 2013
The Aquariums of Pyongyang -- Kang Chol-Hwan

North Korea threatens nuclear strike on US

NorksSo much for Dennis Rodman’s basketball diplomacy.

North Korea on Thursday vowed to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States, amplifying its threatening rhetoric hours ahead of a vote by U.N. diplomats on whether to level new sanctions against Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test.

An unidentified spokesman for Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said the North will exercise its right for “pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the headquarters of the aggressors” because Washington is pushing to start a nuclear war against the North.

You can read the rest of the story here. I hate to tell you, “I told you so,” but after Rodman’s TV appearance on ABC after he returned to the States, I blogged that in a few days North Korea would be back to their saber rattling, take this you Imperialist Dogs selves again. I’m telling you folks, there’s a method to their madness. There is a pattern. Besides, maybe Kim Jong-un thought Rodman was a little over-the-top on ABC.

About this method to their madness. They’ve pulled this same stunt whenever there’s a new sheriff in town, in this case a new president in the South. They’re just seeing what Park Guen-hye will do, whether or not she will flinch. It’s there SOP. A scary SOP to say the least, but one that has had a historical precedence. Additionally The Great Successor needs to validate his leadership. Unlike his grandfather, he doesn’t have any military experience. This is his way of proving that he’s a force to be reckoned with.

After all, as Dennis Rodman told the world, “he’s an awesome guy.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Rodman 2Court side in Pyongyang with Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un sharing a laugh together.

As my friend and fellow author, Alex Keto so eloquently pointed out, “folks, you can’t make this stuff up.”

Please note the careful placement of the Coca Cola can. Either Rodman brought his own Coke or you can get it in Pyongyang. Coca Imperialism for the new generation?

Check out the Korean woman staring at Dennis. She doesn’t seem to be too amazed. She’s probably a Lakers’ fan.

Take that you American Imperialist Dogs!

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers new year speech

North Korea, is its bark worse than its bite?

Very interesting article in the Washington Post which examines the five stages of North Korean provocation.

In the 23 plus years that I have lived and worked in Korea I have seen it all. When North Korea starts their saber rattling, a lot of us say that we have been down this same road before. To be sure, there is a method to their madness. It was only a few weeks ago when Kim Jong-eun delivered his New Year’s message and “spoke of the need to improve the economy and also to reunify the Koreas.” And now he’s threatening the United States…again.

Instead of Peck’s Bad Boy we have Kim’s Bad Boy.

And so, according to the Washington Post article, the cycle repeats again.

North Korea: What, Me Worry?

alfred_e_neumanWell, North Korea is at it again.

North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its “sworn enemy”. (Reuters)

Sworn enemy? Who writes this stuff. It’s been a while since the Norks have rattled their sabers. However, I figured it was about time for Pyongyang to come out with some spiel following the election of Park Geun-hye last month. To be sure, this is per North Korea’s playbook. As the Website ROK Drop suggests, we have been done this road many times before.

So, I am going with Alfred E. Neuman’s thoughts on this one.

What, me worry?

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