Today's Article
A veteran
intelligence official
tells senators that
info on North
Korea's nuke
program is
questionable at best.
The American Spark
CIA Mistake 'Prompted Korean Nuclear Race'

By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 28th, 2007

The U.S. mistake which drove North Korea to rachet up its nuclear program didn't get much play here in the
States, but other news outlets around the world--such as the U.K.'s
Independent newspaper--covered it quite
well.

"The United States appears to have made a major intelligence blunder over North Korea's nuclear weapons
programme," according to the Mar. 2nd edition of the
Independent. It added that Bush Administration officials
have admitted the mistake "may have exacerbated tensions with Pyongyang over the past four years and
goaded Kim Jong-Il into pressing ahead with last October's live nuclear test."

The mistake has nothing to do the plutonium-based bomb technology which North Korea used in its test;
indeed the country has been working on that technology for decades. But it does concern the assessment,
buried in a November 2002 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report to Congress, that North Korea also was
pursuing a parallel uranium enrichment program capable of providing the raw material for at least two nuclear
weapons per year, starting "mid-decade".

American officials therefore moved to cut off oil supplies to Pyongyang. North Korea's predictable response
was to toss out international weapons inspectors, and speed up research in its plutonium bomb program as a
mode of self-defense.

North Korea apparently though that if the Bush Administration would start one unneeded war based on flimsy
or made-up evidence, it could start another. Such are the diplomatic realities of a post-Iraq War world.

With many intelligence officials now even doubting whether North Korea has a viable uranium enrichment
program, administration officials have openly begun reconsidering their confrontational actions during the
North Korean crisis.

On Feb. 27th, veteran intelligence official Joseph DeTrani told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing
that the administration's belief about the program's existence was only at "the mid-confidence level"--in other
words, the information is questionable at best.

The next day, the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report on North Korea which stated:
"The degree of progress towards producing enriched uranium remains unknown."

Such well-known non-government weapons experts as David Kay and David Albright see such qualified
statements as the beginning of a full retraction, and an eventual admission that the CIA and other agencies
once again jumped to conclusions based on poor evidence and wishful thinking.

"The evidence doesn't support the extrapolation," Albright, currently president of the Institute for Science and
International Security, a Washington, D.C. think tank, told
The New York Times.

"The extrapolation went too far," added Albright.

The U.S. government's conclusion was primarily based on evidence that in 2000, North Korea had obtained
about 20 centrifuges for the production of enriched uranium from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the "father" of
Pakistan's atom bomb. When it was discovered that North Korea was also buying aluminum tubes--like the
aluminum tubes so widely mentioned in connection with Iraq's non-existent nuclear program--the CIA and the
Bush Administration saw a "smoking gun" that convinced them a uranium
enrichment program was well under
way.

But Albright has pointed out that the aluminum tubes were too weak to be suitable for mass-producing
centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program. The tubes the North Koreans bought were "very easy to get and
not controlled" by global export agencies precisely because they were considered relatively harmless,
according to Albright.

Many now believe that the North Koreans were in fact stalled in their nuclear ambitions for lack of raw materials.

"The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the
nuclear weapons of North Korea," said Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a member of the Senate Armed Services
Committee.

"If that was based in part on mixing up North Korea's ambitions with their accomplishments, it's important," he
said.

Such a mistake is likely to renew the questions about the reliability and independence of U.S. intelligence
which emerged after the 2003 "pre-emptive" invasion of Iraq. As the world now knows, the Bush Administration
failed to find any sort of viable biological, chemical and nuclear weapons or weapons programs after invading
the Middle Eastern country--a matter that is bone-chilling incompetence at best, and a deliberate, impeachable
offense at worst.

The North Korean case is different on one point: it is the administration itself which has initiated the
back-pedalling.

That may partly be due to North Korea's agreement to re-admit weapons inspectors. Then again, the Bush
Administration may finally prefer to admit bad assessments now rather than face crushing embarrassment
later.