Updated: 5/16/2006; 3:06:22 PM.

Current events
Post-9-11 events and analyses

daily link  Monday, December 13, 2004

Foreign Affairs - Did North Korea Cheat? - Selig S. Harrison:  Looks like another fine mess from Bush & Co. "Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College in the summer of 2003 .. suggests that Kelly's charges were not justified by U.S. intelligence. Pointing to a CIA report submitted to Congress in November 2002, Pollack wrote that "the imprecision in the CIA analysis underscored the difficulties of estimating the extant capabilities and ultimate purposes of the North's enrichment program" and left it unclear "how complete and compelling the intelligence data may have been." According to Pollack, the CIA report indicated that North Korea had no operational enrichment facility to declare. ... The intelligence community believed that North Korea still [would have] confronted daunting obstacles had it decided to build an enriched uranium weapon, or even to acquire the production capabilities that might ultimately permit such an option. Most officials recognized that the path to a meaningful enrichment capability remained a distant and very uncertain possibility.

Despite its limited knowledge about the uranium program, the U.S. government "opted to exploit the intelligence for political purposes." The uranium issue "furnished powerful ammunition to render the Agreed Framework a dead letter"--something enormously appealing to hawks in the administration, who had opposed Clinton-era diplomacy toward North Korea as much too soft."  It also was timed to influence South Korean and Japanese policy, which was warming to North Korea at the time.

"An examination of the November 2002 CIA report that set forth the basis for Kelly's confrontation confirms these charges of imprecision. Although the document alludes to "clear evidence" that North Korea had "recently" begun constructing a centrifuge facility (centrifuges are machines used to enrich uranium), the CIA did not explain the nature of this evidence beyond mentioning, in general terms, that Pyongyang had acquired "centrifuge-related materials in large quantities." No specific evidence was presented to support the report's conclusion that North Korea was "constructing a plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more weapons per year when fully operational, which could be as soon as mid-decade." ..

since the report came out, no evidence to support it has been supplied to South Korea or Japan--or to China and Russia, the other countries participating in the ongoing six-party negotiations. (This assessment is based on off-the-record conversations with past and present government officials in these countries, including officials in South Korea and Japan who participated in the intelligence exchanges with the CIA that preceded the Kelly visit.) China alone has gone public on the issue. Deputy Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong told a New York Times reporter on June 7, 2004, "So far, the United States has not presented convincing evidence of the uranium program. We don't know whether it exists." ..

By scuttling the 1994 agreement on the basis of uncertain data that it presented with absolute certitude, and by insisting that North Korea "confess" to the existence of a uranium program before new negotiations on denuclearization can begin, the Bush administration has blocked action on the one present threat that North Korea is known to pose: the threat represented by its reprocessed plutonium, which could be used for nuclear weapons or transferred to third parties.

The administration's underlying mistake-in the case of the North Korean uranium mystery, as in Iraq-has been treating a worst-case scenario as revealed truth. In October 2004, when Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, was challenged to justify her government's mistaken assessment about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, she explained that "a policymaker cannot afford to be wrong on the short side, underestimating the ability of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein." Similarly, General James Clapper, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, has said that "personally as opposed to institutionally, I was skeptical that they ever had a bomb. We didn't have smoking gun evidence either way. But you build a case for a range of possibilities. In a case like North Korea, you have to apply the most conservative approach, the worst-case scenario." The 1994 U.S. estimate (by the CIA and the DIA) that North Korea had "one or two" nuclear weapons at that time remains unchanged-although it has yet to be proved or disproved."

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Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 3:06:22 PM.