The US and its allies have launched a new wave of sanctions against North Korea over its launch of a controversial spy satellite, which Kim Jong-un claims to be using to spy on the White House and sensitive US military sites.
The fresh bout of sanctions comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsular over last week’s satellite launch, which contravened UN Security Council resolutions due to its use of ballistic missile technology.
Since the launch, North Korea has withdrawn from a historic 2018 defence pact aimed at reducing the risk of a military clash at its border with the South.
North Korea successfully launched its first spy satellite at the third attempt after Mr Kim met with Vladimir Putin at a Russian cosmodrome in Siberia. Western militaries are yet to confirm whether the satellite will provide any meaningful intelligence to Pyongyang, only verifying that it has indeed entered a stable orbit.
The US Treasury Department on Thursday said it has applied new sanctions to cyber espionage group Kimsuky, accusing it of gathering intelligence to support the North's strategic and nuclear ambitions.
Thursday's actions were taken in coordination with Australia, Japan and the South, the Biden administration said in a statement, adding that the sanctions "reflect our collective commitment to contesting Pyongyang's illicit and destabilising activities".
"We will remain focused on targeting these key nodes in the DPRK's (North Korea’s) illicit revenue generation and weapons proliferation," said Brian Newlson, the Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Thursday's action freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
Washington said Kimsuky primarily uses spear-phishing to target people employed by the government, research centres, academic institutions and others, including in Europe, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US.
South Korea separately blacklisted 11 North Koreans for involvement in the country's satellite and ballistic missile development, banning them from any financial transactions, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
Senior officials from the North’s National Aerospace Technology Administration, which oversaw the satellite launch, and the munitions industry department, were included in the list, it added.
Earlier on Wednesday the sanctioned a crypto mixer, which it said was serving as a money laundering tool used by hackers affiliated with North Korea.
Washington said its action against Sinbad.io comes as the mixer "processed millions of dollars worth of virtual currency" from heists conducted by a sanctioned hacking group.
North Korean state media claims Mr Kim has reviewed photos taken by the new spy satellite of the White House, the Pentagon and US aircraft carriers at a naval base in Norfolk. The report claimed the satellite also successfully photographed cities and military bases in South Korea, Guam, and Italy.
These claims have been met with scepticism by experts, who say that based on an earlier version of the satellite recovered by South Korea’s military it is unlikely the pictures are of high enough resolution to be useful.
Nonetheless, a functional spy satellite would be an important addition to North Korea’s arsenal – a crucial tool allowing for the more effective targeting of long range nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Mr Kim has called for his military to be ready to respond to any "provocation" amid the heightened state of tensions, state news agency KCNA reported on Friday.
The North Korean leader rolled out guidelines to improve the military's combat posture and increase "its capabilities to fight a war to the full" during his visit to the nation's air force command on Thursday, the kind of statement that is routine in state media reports when the dictator tours military facilities.
"He set forth operational and tactical policies ... so as to counter any military provocation and threat of the enemy immediately and powerfully," KCNA said.
That stop was followed by a visit to a fighter wing, where pilots staged a demonstration flight, it said.
Photographs showed Mr Kim and his daughter, both dressed in long leather jackets, watching the show. Mr Kim praised the air force for being "fully prepared to perfectly carry out their air combat missions under any unfavourable situation", KCNA said.
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