May 12, 2005


What Are Koreans Up To? U.S. Agencies Can't Agree (DAVID E. SANGER, 5/12/05, NY Times)

America's intelligence agencies often struggle to reach consensus on what is happening in the intelligence black hole of North Korea. That has been particularly true in the past month, as officials examine satellite images suggesting that something suspicious is happening in the mountains near the town of Kilju, on the country's northeast coast.

To some, including several North Korea experts who have served across a number of administrations, the activity is the latest sign that North Korea may be preparing for its first test of a nuclear weapon.

The new American ambassador to Japan, J. Thomas Schieffer, seemed to suggest as much when he told a group of Japanese lawmakers that "I believe they have taken some preparatory steps" for a test, as an embassy spokesman quoted him saying. Japanese officials quoted Mr. Schieffer as calling a test highly likely, according to Kyodo, a Japanese news agency - a view held by some North Korea experts in Washington.

But the State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, asked if this confirmed that North Korea had indeed taken the first steps toward a test, replied, "I wouldn't quite read as much into his statements as you do."

A similar ambiguity pervades what various intelligence officials have been saying in recent days as they describe their views on broad questions like the intentions and capabilities of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's leader, and narrower questions like whether, in fact, the North Koreans have built a reviewing stand so that their leaders can feel the ground shake if a test happens.

Last week, three sources in different parts of the United States government told The New York Times that they had seen or been briefed on evidence of what looked like grandstands erected at a distance from the suspected test site, raising suspicions that preparations were in place for observers of a possible test. They acknowledged that even if there were grandstands, they could exist for another purpose.

But one agency cautioned at the same time that it knew of no evidence of any such structure. This week officials at the intelligence arm of the State Department expressed the same view. As written intelligence reports are usually shared among agencies, their inability to confirm the information was striking.

Some positions are shifting...

The spectacular failure of every intelligence agency in the world with regard to WMD in Iraq teaches one simple lesson: take the option with no downside--assume the worst and change the regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 12, 2005 5:34 PM

There is a downside to attempting to change the regime. They might already have a nuclear weapon to use on us, or Japan, or South Korea.

Posted by: Brandon at May 12, 2005 5:38 PM

Brandon: That's not going to get better with time.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 12, 2005 6:17 PM

No downside in Iraq?--interesting opinion. Any facts to back it up?

Posted by: Steve at May 12, 2005 6:44 PM

David: That doesn't keep it from being a downside.

Posted by: Brandon at May 12, 2005 6:49 PM

Steve: It's not like there have been any casualties.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 12, 2005 6:53 PM


They can't reach us. But they'd serve as an object lesson.

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2005 6:55 PM


Saddam's gone, no?

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2005 6:56 PM

North Korea is tiresome. So what to do? Kill the NORK military and leadership (very heavy air attack); tell the SOUKs that they get reunification, and subsidies to carry it out, IF they agree to become like Austria after WWII - neutral, no military, no foreigners based there. Talk to the neighbors and get agreement that a demilitarized and neutral Korea that is absorbed by national reunification, focused on cultural and economic uplift removes problems, and could offer trade benefits. Point out that this or something like it is the LEAST painful way forward while there are still have options. Point out that if they wait, the NORKs will get the nuke, use it, and we will go all black-glass on them.

Posted by: Luciferous at May 12, 2005 6:59 PM


You only think they can't reach us. You don't know that. And they certainly can reach Japan.

Posted by: Brandon at May 12, 2005 7:09 PM

Doubtful, but it's worth proving the point.

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2005 7:12 PM

North Korea is China's the goon sidekick who lets them play good cop. Going to war with North Korea risks war with China too.

I think Bush is going to focus on domestic issues and get as far as he can in foreign affairs with diplomacy and aid for good guys.

BTW, Brandon's right - they absolutely have nukes (obtained from China via Pakistan), they have missiles that can reach our bases in Japan, South Korea, and Okinawa and probably Guam also, meaning they can take out 100,000 of the US military in minutes.

Posted by: pj at May 12, 2005 8:10 PM

We shouldn't allow China to retain nukes either.

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2005 8:12 PM

OK, I'm with you now oj.

Posted by: pj at May 12, 2005 8:55 PM