So, Walter White may have been in North Korea as opposed to Albuquerque

$60K per kilogram, from North Korea to NYC. The total haul was 100 kilograms, and the root of it is sketchy — North Korea purportedly burned all their meth labs, but are still producing and the new levels are extremely pure, Heisenberg-level -ish (99 percent). There’s a whole issue with Joseph Hunter, formerly of the U.S. Army, who now might be the head of a group of contract killers and goes by the name “Rambo.” Da FUQ? North Korea is obviously a very sheltered society, but a 2007 report prepared for Congress talks about the rise of meth in the area.  There’s also kind of a big, albeit unsubstantiated, rumor that North Korea has encouraged its foreign diplomats to become drug dealers.

This could be approaching ‘meth epidemic’ status, and the new arrests are shedding a broader spotlight on it.  The whole thing runs fairly deep, including British citizens — Scott Stammers and Philip Shackels — storing it in Thailand the Philippines. This is some legit Breaking Bad type stuff, as these people seemed generally OK before the incidents. Every report — be it from the DEA, a legit news source, or somewhere else — is quick to indicate the North Korean meth was 96-99 percent pure. It’s a growth industry over there, and the value of this bust, even at five people, is to curb a potential floodgate.

Here’s the inevitable reference to Breaking Bad, and here’s even more detail. This isn’t the first major international incident involving North Korea and drugs; check out the Pong Su incident as well. Drugs might be the primary way that the isolated nation makes money in the modern era, and the criminal legacy goes all the way to the top of the country. In sum, North Korea is hardly a clean country on the drug front.

Here’s a bit more (not a ton) about the purity of North Korean meth; it’s hard to pinpoint the exact process — the 96 to 99 percent figure seems accurate by most accounts — because North Korea is so isolationist. The story seems to go that the main labs were burned down, but other labs were kept, either on bases or in clandestine areas of the country, and those are the labs producing 99 percent meth. Purity doesn’t always matter in the real market, as also discussed here. Still, 96-99 percent pure meth is extremely rare, and could demand a higher price. It makes you wonder if China, or more specifically Chinese chemists, are involved in this whole sequence in some way. Or maybe, ya know, Walter White didn’t die (SPOILER!!) but moved over there.

Can the U.S. and North Korea collaborate to reduce the meth trade?  That’s the hope. The precursor chemicals needed for meth — Breaking Bad fans probably know a thing or two about that — have a deep tie to China, as exemplified in this story. Is that area of the world potentially responsible for most of the global meth trade? Yes and no. In actuality, the curbing of the trade — and the curbing of available, accessible chemicals inherent to the trade — have caused even more cottage industries to spring up. What better place to run a cottage industry than a country that’s essentially only barely on Google Maps? (P.S. The entire synthesis of meth process goes back to 1919 Japan.)

(Just felt like embedding that.)

This five-person bust is a good first step, to be sure. Cutting down on meth production and smuggling out of North Korea will seemingly be harder, given the limitations of knowledge about the country and its procedures. We have enough issues with meth in the U.S., so keeping an eye on the rest of the world is a challenge — but there are people whose jobs include doing that, and let’s just hope they keep doing ’em.

Ted Bauer