Gao, Mali: Photography by C4ADS

Counterproliferation Cell


The Sentry: Conflict Financing
Environmental Crimes Fusion Cell
Special Projects

Counterproliferation Cell

The Counterproliferation Cell works to expose how illicit state and substate actors exploit global systems of trade, finance, and transportation to procure goods or raise funds in support of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons programs. As a secondary question, we examine how illicit actors use emerging technologies to drive nuclear instability or degrade situational awareness. Currently, thematic priorities are maritime sanctions evasion, chemical weapons procurement, and global trade in dual-use goods with jurisdictional emphases on North Korea, Iran, and Syria.


July 16, 2019

North Korea acquires high-end luxury goods through the same overseas smuggling networks as other contraband. As a result, their detection and seizure could be a means to drive action against the Kim regime’s core procurement operations. High-end luxury goods share key features with dual-use goods for North Korea’s weapons program: they are scarce, specialized products with high monetary value and great symbolic importance for the Kim regime. However, unlike dual-use goods, luxury products like armored Mercedes vehicles are easily identifiable on publicly available trade records and at port. While some previous reports have examined entities involved in diversion cases for both luxury and dual-use goods, most research has analyzed North Korean luxury goods acquisition in the context of regime enrichment. This report extends proven C4ADS methodologies for tracking North Korea’s illicit commercial operations to global luxury goods supply chains.


December 12, 2017


Recent United Nations Security Council resolutions 2371 and 2375 and United States Executive Order 13810 have dramatically increased restrictions on North Korean overseas economic activity. Though North Korea has employed an array of overseas networks to counter international sanctions, the need to adapt had fundamentally changed the regime's international economic exposure. Today, the regime is dependent on the flow of hard currency to function. Maintaining this access and evading sanctions have required the regime's foreign exchange banks to offshore critical financial infrastructure overseas. The resulting illicit overseas networks play a vital role as proxies for the North Korean banking and foreign exchange systems. However, being integrated into the international systems of banking, commerce, and logistics leaves these networks exposed to international law enforcement actions.



June 12, 2017

North Korea employs a global array of overseas networks to circumvent international sanctions and continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons. These networks are engaged in schemes as diverse as cybercrime, military equipment sales, currency counterfeiting, narcotics, and even wildlife trafficking. They make up a complex overseas financing and procurement system designed to raise the funds and materials North Korea needs for its regime security and weapons programs. As sanctions have tightened, these networks have grown increasingly important to the regime. Moreover, they illustrate how North Korean officials have gained a deep understanding of international trade, finance, and transportation and how to nest their illicit activities within them. In this report, we conduct a system-level examination of the North Korean overseas financing and procurement system. Our paper finds that this system is centralized, limited, and vulnerable, and that its disruption should greatly increase the pressure on the Kim regime to return to the negotiating table.



September 19, 2016

North Korea’s overseas trading networks are evolving, and Pyongyang’s expansive business dealings with China, its biggest trading partner, are driving changes in the character, scope, and methods of these networks. As a result of these changes, North Korea and the entire Northeast Asian region face greater instability as regime elites in Pyongyang become increasingly willing and able to procure the strategic resources they need for regime security and weapons development.  


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