Archive for August 15th, 2017


Rocket Science – Part Deux (Organised Crime)

August 15, 2017

Following on from the last entry relating to rocket science (or not) insofar as Ukrainian supply of RD250 missile engines to North Korea, when it comes to the technical/system parts of the analysis that forms the root of the allegation the blog simply cannot comment upon for it falls far outside any academic or practitioner experience of the blog.

There are however parts, which are perhaps far more in keeping with speculation than analysis, that certainly fall within the practitioner experience of the blog – the inference that the Ukrainian Government and perhaps even the management of Yuzhmash were simply unaware of the theft and transportation of the missile engines, that it was certainly not complicit, and that organised criminality would engage in such a crime without the knowledge of (or assistance by) those without notable political and/or considerable institutional connections and/or influence – “But I want to make one point very clear. I don’t think the Ukrainian government was involved in this at all. I don’t even know that executives from the Yuzhnoye plant would have been involved. This, to me, sounds like criminal gangs were able to access something and export it from either Ukraine or Russia.”


Firstly to make such a statement is to draw a clear line between the political class, State institutions and organised criminality.  A line that is more than a little smudged in Ukraine, and smuggling and smuggling revenues are no exception.

Nevertheless, to engage in a thought exercise where organised crime and the political and institutional organs of State are clearly separated still raises some awkward questions when attempting to support this theory.

There are not only questions relating only to the actual commissioning of such a crime.  There are preparatory issues to be addressed.

Before reaching the point where the theft and smuggling occurs, first of all the deal has to be struck between the parties concerned.

Ergo, how would that deal be struck?

Anonymously somewhere on the dark net?

Perhaps – but as recent Europol operations display with shuttering Alphabay and Hansa, the dark net is not as secure for criminality as the criminal fraternity may think.  Indeed the Europol operation was a well planned operation whereby it anticipated the instant migration from Alphabay to Hansa and having shut down the first, watched the migration to the second – no doubt gleaning valuable intelligence when that happened – before then shutting down the second.

A reader can be assured that Europol and various agencies had long lurked on those sites and only at a certain point, normally one where the benefits of lurking no longer outweigh the benefits of shuttering them, was the decision made to roll up those sites.  Indeed any conspiracy at proliferation of ICBM missile engines stands a reasonable chance of discovery with the likelihood of with innumerable 3 and 4 letter agencies lurking across the dark net.

Further, Ukraine is still a place where conspiracy to commit nefarious deeds (and a lot of legitimate business) is only ever done face to face to avoid the possibilities of emails and telephone conversations being intercepted.  Deals are struck when looking people in the eye.

To be sure, organised crime does not engage in stealing missile engines and then look for a buyer – it would have to be the other way around – with or without the knowledge of the Ukrainian leadership (and as a reminder the analysis claims the Ukrainian leadership was unaware).

So how would North Korea approach organised crime in Ukraine?  How would they know who to approach?  How to do it without causing attention to themselves? How to accomplish it with the necessary sensitivity to avoid setting off a blip on the SBU radar and/or creating unnecessary loose talk among the organised crime ranks?  After all, they were caught in 2012 trying a similar transaction in Ukraine (see para 47 and 48).

Should it be therefore kept “in house”? If so, how many North Korean citizens are in Dnipro – if the approach is to be made to those closest to the production and storage sites of the RD250 engines?

Should an approach via organised crime in another city be considered – if so why?

How many North Koreans are able to contact those within organised crime capable of delivering such a request discretely and with confidence that a repeat of 2012 would be avoided?  Would those within organsied crime entertain such a request directly from unknown parties?

Proliferation is hardly an everyday request – let alone occurrence. Indeed many proliferation arrests are a result of sting operations.

Further when cigarette, alcohol and amber smuggling rely upon both political and institutional involvement, how easy is it to firstly steal and then smuggle missile engines without similar involvement?  Undoubtedly North Korea is aware of how organised criminality works in Ukraine – and the very smudged line between State and criminality.

Therefore the issue of trust is one that need be addressed long before the commission of any crime.

Organised crime may have only allegiance to the US$ (or Euro or whatever currency), but there remains a necessary level of trust in and by parties involved in any organised criminality.

If a reader sticks rigidly to the inferred separation of State and organised criminality to insure a lack of knowledge of the Ukrainian State (and Yuzhmash executives) per the analysis, and a credible direct approach to organised crime either is unavailable or undesirable to North Korea (post 2012 or any other reason), then who is the interlocutor trusted by both North Korea and Ukrainian organised crime, if not from within the domestic political or institutional organs?

An external yet trusted organised crime group – and if so to what extent are they simply hiring local help for part of the job?  An externally based part of the same organised crime group?  But why would they be any more trusting of a North Korean approach than those based in Ukraine?  A trusted external government or external governmental institution far more familiar with the Ukrainian organised criminality?

How many such individuals and or entities exist that could bring about the trust required?

How many of those interlocutors would enter the particularly risky arena of proliferation (as opposed to remaining within the standard lucrative organised criminality)?

Any reader familiar with Ukraine and who are personally acquainted with any of its people of influence within politics, State institutions, or organised crime (if a reader continues with the notion of that non-existent gap between) will be quite aware that when sitting with them and chatting “off the record”, almost all are quite prepared to describe all about what others are doing, and enjoy explaining the intrigues of such an otherwise opaque world from which most are divorced. Therefore, ultimately there are no secrets.

Thus in reality, with all things above considered, and even before a reader concerns themselves with the ability to actually carry out the crime, the smuggling methods and routes, although it is not impossible, it is fair to say that it is improbable that organised crime would carry out the theft and smuggling of missile engines without the knowledge, or involvement, of at a minimum those within and atop regional politics and/or State institutions – and there would inevitably be gossip that would seep through to the highest echelons eventually if that be the case.

As stated at the start, the blog is not capable of offering any meaningful analysis of the missile technical/systems (so why even try), but playing along with the other organised crime assertions made by way of a thought exercise, it seems improbable (if not entirely impossible) for organised crime to have entered into such a criminal enterprise without the knowledge of some powerful and enabling regional or national figures – who would not do so for free, and who are quite happy to gossip off the record.

Naturally this thought exercise is an entirely pointless exercise in and of itself, for examination of the actual commissioning of the crime itself, especially smuggling route and method, would be required – and this entry concentrates upon the preparatory deal making (too few people bother to think about).

Further such thoughts would need to form part of a holistic analysis together with the credibility of the engine technical/system analysis and any high confidence that the engines are firstly in North Korea and secondly can be nailed down to having been built or modified in Ukraine for it to have any real benefit.

For now the missile wonks have first to settle their differing opinions on the technical/system side of the original analysis.

Suffice to say the conclusion of the previous entry that the analysis is somewhat suspect remains.  The view of the blog is that 2+2=5 in this case – probably without any possible Kremlin involvement in reaching those conclusions.  That said, if there is a way to use it for advantage then naturally that will occur.

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