Friday, January 16, 2015

Say you're a guest at a N. Korean gov't do. When the check comes, how much do you tip?


Dinner with General Kim: When he invites you, make
sure you've got your wallet on you -- possibly with cash.

"[Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper said he dined with [Gen.] Kim [Yong Chol, head of North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau] during a secret mission to Pyongyang in November to retrieve two Americans being held by the North Koreans. 'General Kim,' he said, 'spent the entire meal berating me about American aggression' and kept 'pointing his finger at my chest.' "
-- the Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima, reporting
last week
on the International Conference on Cyber
Security, at Fordham University in New York

by Ken

This is one of those stories where you get really important information but are frustrated because the reporter(s) can't answer the really interesting questions.

The story starts with the International Conference on Cyber Security last week at Fordham University in New York. In her report last week, Ellen Nakashima focused on what many people would consider the big story, FBI Director James Comey's claim of new evidence that North Korea was behind the famous Sony hacking episode. It seemed only natural, then, to bring in Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's claim earlier in the day that the man behind the hack was Gen. Kim Yong Chol, head of North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau, presumably the country's top spymaster.

Luckily, the paper's Loop-master, Al Kamen, spotted a larger story buried here -- the story of this dinner that Director Clapper spent having General Kim more or less poking him in the chest the whole time. And for his follow-up report, "DNI Clapper finds there’s no free lunch in North Korea," Al seems to have gotten at least some of his additional information from Ellen Nakashima, including the most explosive detail.

Now we want to know more about this dinner, don't we? First off, it wasn't some humdrum Korean takeout. Far from it!
The dinner in North Korea was delicious, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. recalled last week as he recounted his November visit to the Hermit Kingdom to retrieve two imprisoned Americans.

As with many things in that country, it was also a bit strange.

Clapper, in a chat at a cyber security conference in New York , noted that “the plight of the citizens of Pyongyang stood in solemn contrast to the dinner” he had there the night before he picked up the two Americans.

It was, he said, “an elaborate 12-course Korean meal. Having spent time in Korea [as chief of intelligence for U.S. forces there in the mid-‘80s], I consider myself somewhat a connoisseur of Korean food, and that was one of the best Korean meals I’ve ever had.”
"Alas," Al reports, as suggested in Ellen's report last week, Director Clapper considered that "the company was not pleasurable," and a lot of the problem seems to have been with General Kim, his host,' "who claimed to me that he was my North Korean counterpart." (Ouch! The DNI sounds kind of prickly here. Does he mean that General Kim isn't his counterpart? The fact that he judges the general to have been claiming this suggests that he considers the "claim" beneath his dignity. What's up with that, Jim?) More to the point, according to the DNI, General Kim --
“spent most of the meal berating me about American aggression and what terrible people we were,” arguing his country was “under siege” by its neighbors and blaming Washington for supporting them.

“He got louder and louder,” Clapper recalled, “and he kept leaning toward me, pointing his finger at my chest and saying that U.S. and South Korean [military] exercises were a provocation to war.”
Well yes, this sounds like kind of a drag. You'd think, though, that someone occupying as lofty a post in the intelligence community as Director Clapper would have come to Pyongyang armed with some conversational cues useful for, say, changing the subject -- like perhaps some questions about Pyongyang's local sports teams.

But the kicker came "after that sumptuous meal."
[O]ur colleague Ellen Nakashima tells us that the North Koreans presented the Americans with a bill for Clapper’s share of the dinner.

Still, there's so much more we want to know. A couple of questions we know aren't likely to get answered. Al adds as an update:
U.S. officials did not disclose how much the North Koreans charged. Nor whether they take American Express.
And wouldn't that be embarrassing if they don't take plastic and you showed up for the do without cash? I mean, who would expect?

Still, those aren't the only questions that remain open.

Like, don't you want to know whether Director Clapper's check was itemized? Or did they simply take the total tab for the event and divide by the number of diners to determine his share? You know, the way most of us would probably do it if we went to a Dutch-treat Korean banquet.

Also, was there a service charge automatically added to the bill, or was the director expected to tip separately? It doesn't seem fair to stiff the service staff just because the dinner was spoiled by the nagging host. You get back at him with, like, drone strikes or whatnot, right?

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