Pictured above: The National Intelligence Service Headquarters in Seoul. (Screenshot captured via JTBC/YouTube)
by KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean government agent who was found dead in an apparent suicide left a note denying suspicion that the National Intelligence Service has been spying on South Koreans by intercepting cellphone and computer conversations, police said Sunday.
The 46-year-old NIS agent was found dead Saturday in his car parked on a hill in Yongin, just south of Seoul.
In his note revealed by police on Sunday, the agent said that the intelligence service “really didn’t” spy on civilians or on political activity related to elections. He apologized to colleagues and NIS senior officials, including director Lee Byoung Ho, saying that overzealousness in doing his job might have created “today’s situation.”
The intelligence service told lawmakers on Tuesday it had purchased hacking programs capable of intercepting communication on mobile devices and computers in 2012 from an Italian company, Hacking Team, but that it used them only to monitor agents from rival North Korea and for research purposes.
The revelation is sensitive because the NIS has a history of illegally tapping South Koreans’ private conversations. The NIS is planning to reveal to lawmakers the details of how the programs were used to quell suspicions that it had been unlawfully monitoring civilians.
In the note he left behind, the agent also said that he destroyed surveillance material on the activity of North Korean agents because the data had created “misunderstandings.”
Police officials, who had initially refused to release the details of the note, didn’t reveal the name of the agent or what his duties were for the NIS. Phone calls to the NIS office rang unanswered Sunday.
The controversy surrounding NIS emerged earlier this month when a searchable library of a massive email trove stolen from Hacking Team, released by WikiLeaks, showed that South Korean entities were among those dealing with the firm.
Two NIS directors who successively headed the spy service from 1999 to 2003 were convicted and received suspended prison terms for overseeing the monitoring of cellphone conversations of about 1,800 of South Korea’spolitical, corporate and media elite.
On Thursday, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered a new trial for another former spy chief convicted of directing an online campaign to smear a main opposition candidate in the 2012 presidential election, won by current President Park Geun-hye.
James Moontasri lost his third bout in the UFC last night after submitting to Kevin Lee in the first round. The two lightweights were competing as part of the main card at last night’s UFC Fight Night 71 event at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, Calif.
After a few early kicks, the fighters exchanged simultaneous eye-pokes, causing the referee to call a dual recovery period. Once the fight resumed, Lee quickly got a takedown, transitioning into back control on Moontasri. From there, Lee eventually the rear-naked choke, forcing Moontasri to eventually tap out despite his efforts to struggle against the hold. The referee stopped the fght at the 2:56 mark of the first round.
Moontasri apologized for his performance, which he called “disappointing,” on his Facebook page. “I had a great training camp, and a great group of people that support me,” he wrote. “I just didn’t perform the way I expected.”
There aren’t many Taekwondo fighters who successfully transition to mixed martial arts, but since committing to MMA seven years ago, James Moontasri is looking to buck that trend.
Moontasri, also known as “The Moonwalker,” boasts an 8-2 professional record. He’s won by knockout (three wins), submission (three wins) and by decision (two wins). His two losses were by split-decision.
The 27-year-old half-Korean, half-Thai fighter is up against Kevin Lee tonight in San Diego, Calif. at UFC Fight Night 71, which you can catch at 7 p.m. PST on Fox Sports 1. Both fighters weighed in earlier today, and neither wanted to back down first.
It’s hard to believe the stone-faced fighter is the same bright and jovial guy who sat down with us last Friday.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Moontasri and his family eventually settled in Colorado Springs, Colo., where his mother initially put him through piano and trumpet lessons at a young age. However, once taekwondo entered his life, Moontasri knew he was born to be a fighter.
The half-Korean fighter was only 14 years old when he competed at the 2003 Pan American Games for the national taekwondo team trials. The following year, Moontasri captured a bronze in middleweight at the 2004 Pan American Championships. In 2007, he earned silver medal at the Pan American Games and was also named the U.S. Taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year.
Although he didn’t make the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team in 2008, Moontasri became interested in mixed martial arts after watching Lyoto Machida fight in the UFC on TV.
“Machida walked out in his karate gi, with his black belt,” Moontasri recalled. “Right then and there, I knew that was something that I can do, because there’s really no professional level for taekwondo … [even] once you go to the Olympics, which is awesome.”
He added, “Seeing someone like Machida, who’s very respectable and has a traditional karate background, I felt like this is something I could achieve. As a fan, and being able to train with him now every single day, it’s still like a dream come true to train with one of your heroes.”
Anderson “The Spider” Silva, left, grappling with Moontasri. (Photo via James Moontasri/Facebook)
Moontasri joined NuPacific Partners and Black House MMA—a training facility that represents a number of elite fighters, including Machida and Anderson Silva as well as twin brothers Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and Antônio Rogério Noguiera. After years of training, Moontasri now boasts a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a black belt in Muay Thai and a 4th dan black belt in taekwondo. At the same time, he says his passion also involves being able to teach martial arts, which he occasionally does at the Elite Training Center in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Tonight’s bout will be Moontasri’s fourth in the UFC. Later this week, the Korean-Thai American will be making his way to South Korea for a taekwondo exhibition. He hopes to be heading back later this year for UFC’s fist event in Korea, the UFC Fight Night Seoul, on Nov. 28.
With a good showing tonight, chances are that Koreans will be able to see the Moonwalker in person.
Samsung and Google have banned a number of gay social networking apps in South Korea and in other countries in recent years, BuzzFeed News reports.
In South Korea, the censoring largely appears to be in line with the country’s lack of legal and social acceptance of homosexuality, but the company’s policies aren’t exactly consistent across the board. Samsung rejected an application from the gay dating app, Hornet, to be included in its app store in 2013, according to a screening report acquired by BuzzFeed News. Hornet is available in the U.S. and most LGBTQ-friendly countries through Samsung’s app store, although it remains banned in Iceland and Argentina, where same-sex marriage is legal.
Samsung’s Certification Team said in the report that Hornet could not be listed in South Korea “due to the local moral values or laws [regarding] LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi sexual, Transgender) content.” The team also listed the app’s icon and screenshots, some of which depicted users “partially clothed,” as not appropriate for all ages.
However, in the South Korean Google Play store, where majority of Android users (and Samsung smartphone users) download their apps, gay networking apps such as Hornet, Grindr and Scruff are available. Google did, however, remove the most popular gay dating app, Jack’d, a few years ago, apparently without notifying its developer. That hasn’t stopped the more than 500,000 reported South Korean users, who may be utilizing openly available VPN services to make it appear their phone is logging in from another country.
A Samsung spokesperson did acknowledge that the company does limit content in certain countries based on their respective “local laws and customs” and is”continuing to update [their] policies.”
Though South Korea remains largely anti-LGBTQ, a study by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies earlier this year found that younger South Koreans in their 20s and 30s are becoming more open-minded about LGBTQ issues. Older Koreans largely remain homophobic, with a vocal conservative contingent backed by the powerful Protestant church.
Politicians tend to follow suit, and tackling the issue is considered career-suicide for them. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, reportedly told the San Francisco Examiner last October that he hoped to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage, and as expected, his remarks drew heavy controversy. Park later backtracked on the comments, saying he did not intend to legalize same-sex marriage, but that “maybe” South Korea would become the first country to do so.
San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest and most wonderful gathering of comic book and pop culture enthusiasts from around the world, is in full swing this week. Here are some of the talented Korean Americans who will be participating in panels during the 4-day convention!
DC Comics artist, writer; DC Entertainment co-publisher
Jim Lee is one of the most revered figures in the comic book industry. His travels range far and wide. Lee began his career at Marvel Comics back in the 1980s as an artist. In 1991, X-Men No.1, which he illustrated, became (and remains) the best-selling single comic book of all time.
Lee also helped form Image Comics in 1992, where he was able to publish his own creative content. Years later, after deciding to focus more on art, Lee left Image Comics and joined DC Comics, where he worked on iconic characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. In February 2010, Lee and Dan DiDio were named co-publishers of DC Comics. The following year, Lee became one of the architects behind the New 52, a relaunch of 52 new series.
It all began with issue No. 1 of The Man of Steel. As a young child of immigrant parents, Kim connected with Superman’s identity crisis.
“This man of steel always felt like he was created to make a difference but wrestled with compromising the two worlds of his heritage,” Kim writes in a blog entry. “I started to feel understood. I realized that pain and struggle is part of this journey into young adulthood and I was not alone on this path.”
As a passionate comic books fan, Kim considers himself a proud nerd. In 2005, the Superman fan moved to Southern California from Texas, finally making his way to the “Nerd Mecca” known as San Diego Comic-Con. Since then, Kim’s been a self-titled Comic-Con evangelist spreading the nerd gospel.
A graduate from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) and Otis College of Art and Design, Soyon An has worked on So You Think You Can Dance as a costume designer for six seasons, as well as a fashion consultant for American Idol. Her latest project as costume designer is a live-action adaptation of Jem and the Holograms, which is now in post-production and slated for an October 2015 release.
Greg Pak is best known for his work on Action Comics, Batman/Superman, Planet Hulk, World War Hulk and Storm. His graphic novel Code Monkey Save World, which is based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton, holds the record for highest-grossing, original comics Kickstarter of all time.
On the film side, Pak directed the 2003 sci-fi indie film Robot Stories, starring Tamlyn Tomita and Sab Shimono, and wrote the screenplay for MVP, which premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
Pak will be present at SDCC’s “Super Asian America” panel on Sunday at 3 p.m. in Room 29AB, alongside Dante Basco (Avatar: The Last Airbender), Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), Amy Chu (Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman) and other talented Asian American guests.
Actress on Falling Skies
Moon Bloodgood is best known for her work in TNT’s post-apocalyptic drama Falling Skies, which is now on its fifth and final season. Bloodgood will be joining her co-stars Noah Wyle, Will Patton, Drew Roy, Sarah Carter, Connor Jessup, Colin Cunningham and Doug Jones at SDCC this year for aQ&A panel on Friday at 11:15 a.m.
Heroes star James Kyson will be unveiling his new sci-fi dramedy series Nobility, which is described to be Firefly meets The Office, at the “Nobility: These Aren’t the Heroes You’re Looking For” panel on Friday at 7:30 p.m. He will be joined by sci-fi veterans Walter Koenig, Doug Jones, Adrienne Wilkinson and Christopher Judge.
Ilram Choi told KoreAm in 2012 that the superhero he’d most like to be would be Superman. But Spider-Man isn’t a bad choice, either.
Since moving to Los Angeles 11 years ago, the stuntman, who is trained in taekwondo, capoeira, aikido and jiujitsu, has worked on several action movies and hit TV shows, from the Transformers films to Avatar and TRON: Legacy.
Choi’s recent credits include standing in as a stunt double for Ki Hong Lee in the upcoming Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials; John Cho in Selfie; and Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Philip Kim is the publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the world’s first monster fan magazine started back in 1958. Kim acquired the magazine in 2007. He will be speaking at a panel with the magazine’s editors Ed Blair and David Weiner on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Room 26AB.
Korean Canadian illustrator and cartoonist based in Toronto.
Cho’s previously published works include Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, a collection of sketches depicting Toronto’s cityscape. His graphic novel Shoplifteris centered on Corrina Park, a young aspiring writer who searches for happiness and self-fulfillment.
Artist Kim Jung Gi is known for his ability to draw without any prior sketching or photographic reference. His work has attracted millions of views on YouTube over the last few years. Since 2007, he has published three sketchbooks that consists of more than 2,200 pages of his stunning art.
At SDCC, Kim will be teaching a drawing workshop on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Room 2.
One would assume that South Korea has the highest smartphone penetration in the world with its legion of KakaoTalk users and lightning-speed Internet. However, according to a survey conducted by KT Corporation’s research center Digieco, the country’s ranking of smartphone penetration now rests at No. 4.
Of the 56 countries surveyed, the average smartphone penetration rate stood at 60 percent. Topping the list this year is the United Arab Emirates, with 90.8 percent of its population using smartphones. Singapore and Saudi Arabia followed with 87.7 and 86.1 percent, respectively.
South Korea’s rate reached 83 percent at the end of last March, a 3.5 increase from two years ago when the country was second in the rankings. Nearly 4 in 5 people in Korea now own a smartphone.
Sweden, Spain, Hong Kong, Norway, Taiwan and Australia rounded out the top 10. Surprisingly, Japan ranked near the bottom of the list at No. 43 with a 53.9 smartphone penetration rate.
According to the Digieco report, the global market has changed with the emergence of new markets, such as Thailand, which had the largest growth in smartphone users this year with a 23.7 percentage point gain. Other emerging markets, including Brazil, Malaysia, Vietnam and Russia, saw a sharp increase in penetration of more than 15 percentage points.
South Korea’s smartphone market is still dominated by Samsung Electronics at 63.4 percent, with LG trailing behind at 20.9 percent and Apple at 13.1 percent, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, reports Yonhap News Agency.
South Korea’s 3D maritime film Northern Limit Line will hit theaters in North America and Australia later this month, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Based on a true story, Northern Limit Line depicts the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong between North and South Korean patrol boats. The battle occurred during the 2002 FIFA World Cup when South Korea’s national soccer team was playing against Turkey in the semifinals.
Starting July 16, the maritime action flick is set to release in seven Australian cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The following day, the film will hit 13 North American cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Dallas.
Northern Limit Line is also preparing to premiere in other Asian locations, such as Hong Kong, Macao, the Philippines and Myanmar by the end of 2015.
Despite its premiere date being postponed due to the MERS outbreak, Northern Limit Line had a record-breaking opening weekend. As of July 7, the film has earned about $22 million total.
The film initially made headlines when its director, Kim Hak-soon, launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce the film. More than 7,000 individuals contributed to the campaign, which amassed about a third of the film’s budget of $6 million.
Both South Korea and Japan have received UNESCO world heritage designation for a number of their respective historical sites, following a breakthrough agreement between the two countries.
On Sunday, South Korea agreed to back Japan’s bid for UNESCO world heritage status at a World Heritage Committee meeting in Germany. Japan celebrated the recognition of 23 historic sites after agreeing to formally acknowledge the Korean laborers who were forced to work at several of these locations in the early 20th century.
For years, South Korea had refused to support Japan’s bid to recognize its rapid industrialization revolution (1868-1912), contending that tens of thousands of Korean, Chinese and World War II prisoners were conscripted to work at dozens of hazardous mines and industrial facilities during the Japanese colonial period, which began in 1910 until Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945
During a World Heritage Committee session, Japan’s ambassador to UNESCO, Kuni Sato, said Japan would take measures to remember the “large number of Koreans and others” who were “forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.” Although she avoided using the word “slave,” Sato promised to establish an information center detailing the laborers’ circumstances.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, said in a statement that the decision does not change the government’s stance, claiming that all “requisitioned” workers were settled when the two countries normalized relations in 1965.
South Korea’s foreign ministry still welcomed what it saw as a concession and said in a statement, “For the first time, Japan mentioned the historical fact that Koreans were drafted against their will and forced into labor under harsh conditions in the 1940s.”
The ministry also welcomed Japan’s offer to support Korea’s bid for world heritage recognition of eight historic sites representing the Baekjekingdom, which ruled for six centuries as one of the Three Kingdoms until it was defeated by a Silla and Tang Dynasty alliance around 660 A.D.
The eight sites are the Gongsanseong Fortress; the royal tombs in Songsanri in Gongju; the Gwanbuk-ri administrative buildings and Busosanseong Fortress; the Jeonglimsa Temple site; the royal palace in Wanggung-ri; and the Mireuksa Temple site in Iksan. The Gongju and Buyeo areas were the ancient capitals of the Baekje kingdom.
Neungsan-ri ancient royal tombs in Buyeo look vaguely similar to Hobbit holes.(Photo via Korea Herald/Cultural Heritage Administration)
Stone Pagoda of Mireuk Temple Site in Iksan, North Jeolla. (Photo via the Korea Copyright Commission/Public Domain)
Gongsanseong (Gongsan Fortress) in Gongju, South Chungcheong. (Photo viaAlain/Flickr)
In ancient times, UNESCO said in a statement, the Baekje sites “were at the crossroads of considerable technological, religious, cultural and artistic exchanges between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan.”
World heritage status opens up doors for tourism and financial assistance towards preservation. This also marks the 12th listing of South Korean sites that have received world heritage designation.
UNESCO voted to approve the Baekje sitesone day before the Japanese sites, apparently due to Korea’s insistence that Japan included the proper terms in acknowledging its history of forced labor.
The UNESCO agreement offers some relief in the strained relations between Japan and South Korea. Japan, especially in the weeks before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The two countries haven’t held a bilateral summit, with President Park Geun-hye refusing to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until Japan does more for the Korean “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
In a speech to the U.S. Congressback in April, Abe did acknowledge Japan’s actions in bringing “sufferings” to the peoples in Asian countries” and said he would uphold the apologies by previous Japanese prime ministers. He did not, however, outright apologize.