A recent article in the New York Times (limited paywall) claims that the North Korean nuclear program is funded in part by gold farming in South Korean Massive Multiplayer Online Games.

According to an article in Kotaku

Cops in Seoul on Thursday arrested five persons who engaged a team of North Korean hackers to breach the servers for South Korean MMOs Lineage and Dungeon and Fighter, which allowed nonstop "play" by gold farming bots.

The arrested persons are allegedly affiliated with Office 39:

Office 39 is believed to oversee a slush fund worth billions, which funds North Korea's nuclear program and keeps the elites in Rolexes and caviar while the rest of the country eats that crud they put on Bruce Wayne's plate in Batman Begins.

I can't access the NY Times article directly, but from the other articles referencing it the connection to the nuclear program seems somewhat far fetched.

Is there actually solid evidence linking the arrested group to the North Korean Government and nuclear program?

  • 1
    How small "partial" do you accept? Would really $6M/2y from MMOs be significant comparing to revenue from "drug trafficking, counterfeiting, arms sales and other illicit activities"? Even the article you quote talks about billions, thus making the gold farming around 0.1% or less.
    – vartec
    Aug 8 '11 at 10:23
  • @vartec I'm more interested if the alleged connection is substantiated, if the North Korean government is actually funding people to earn money using gold farming and funneling that towards nuclear research.
    – Mad Scientist
    Aug 8 '11 at 10:33
  • @Fabian - It goes into a slush fund that is used for funding everything. So if the nuclear program is funded some of it aT least is probably coming from this fund. It also funds other government purchases like vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and food. This article just blows it out of porportion like the NYT does any link to from something it doesnt like (Video games) to something almost no one likes (NK's Nuke program). This sort of thing can help move the overton window.
    – Chad
    Aug 8 '11 at 17:32

Partial answer regarding whether Office 39 exists and finances nuclear program.

No doubt Office 39 does indeed exist. Followind Executive Order 13551 US Treasury has frozen their funds a year ago.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13551 for being owned or controlled by Office 39 of the Korean Workers' Party. Office 39 is a secretive branch of the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) that provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership. Office 39 was named in the Annex to E.O. 13551, issued by President Obama on August 30, 2010, in response to the U.S. government's longstanding concerns regarding North Korea's involvement in a range of illicit activities, many of which are conducted through government agencies and associated front companies. Korea Daesong Bank is involved in facilitating North Korea's illicit financing projects, and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation is used to facilitate foreign transactions on behalf of Office 39.

However, I couldn't find any claim that Office 39 finances N. Korea's nuclear program. Most sources suggest that it manages leaders' private slush funds and imports embargoed luxuries for them.

AOL News:

According to the State and Treasury Departments, Office 39 -- officially part of the Korean Workers Party -- manages the "leadership's slush funds," generating foreign currency and using branches all over the country to distribute the luxury goods that maintain the loyalty of top officials -- and that the U.N. Security Council has tried to ban from North Korea for just that reason.


  • It has branches throughout the nation that raise and manage funds and is responsible for earning foreign currency for senior party leaders through illicit activities such as narcotics trafficking.

  • Office 39 controls a number of entities inside North Korea and abroad through which the Treasury says it is involved in the production, smuggling and distribution of narcotics and it has also been involved in the attempted procurement and transfer to North Korea of luxury goods.

  • It produced methamphetamine and was also involved in its supply to small-scale North Korean smugglers for distribution through China and South Korea. It also operates poppy farms and produces opium and heroin, the Treasury says.

  • In 2009, Office 39 was involved in the failed attempt to purchase and export to North Korea -- through China -- two Italian-made luxury yachts worth more than $15 million and destined for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the Treasury says.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .