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Posted by on Oct 13, 2006 in At TMV | 35 comments

Intelligence Failure Played A Role In North Korea Nuclear Crisis (UPDATED)

Let’s see… Some talking heads will say Bill Clinton is behind this:

Recent U.S. intelligence analyses of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs were flawed and the lack of clarity on the issue hampered U.S. diplomatic efforts to avert the underground blast detected Sunday, according to Bush administration officials.

Some recent secret reports stated that Pyongyang did not have nuclear arms and until recently was bluffing about plans for a test, according to officials who have read the classified assessments.

This piece is by Bill Gertz, the Washington Times reporter who has excellent intelligence and military sources. MORE:

The analyses in question included a National Intelligence Estimate a consensus report of all U.S. spy agencies produced several months ago and at least two other classified reports on North Korea produced by senior officials within the office of the Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

The officials said there were as many as 10 failures related to intelligence reporting on North Korean missile tests and the suspected nuclear test that harmed administration efforts to deal with the issue.

According to officials familiar with the reports, the failures included judgments that cast doubt about whether North Korea’s nuclear program posed an immediate threat, whether North Korea could produce a militarily useful nuclear bomb, whether North Korea was capable of conducting an underground nuclear test and whether Pyongyang was bluffing by claiming it could carry one out.

The failures would be the latest in a string suffered by U.S. intelligence in recent years, as described in a series of government and nongovernment reports. Past stumbles have included missing chances to detect or stop the September 11 attacks, faulty assessments of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, the failure to predict the 1998 round of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, and overly optimistic predictions of the Iraqi reaction to a U.S. invasion.

Intelligence officials are hoping President Bush will make a comment supporting U.S. intelligence agencies’ performance on North Korea, something he has not done to date.

This piece underlines the divisions within the United States government right now. And most of the intelligence failures cited by Gertz happened under the present administration.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum:

There’s no way to know without seeing the reports in question, but it strikes me that (a) it’s not clear if North Korea’s nuclear program poses an immediate threat, (b) North Korea’s weapon did appear to be something of a dud, (c) they don’t seem very good at this underground testing thing, and (d) they might very well have been bluffing. What’s more, given how hermetically sealed North Korea is, I assume the NIE was practically bursting with caveats that no one really knows for sure what they’re up to.

All in all, a pretty transparent effort at buck passing. I don’t have any special brief for the intelligence community, which has made its share of mistakes in the past, but the fact is that Bush has spent more than four years waving his arms manically but doing absolutely nothing of any substance about the North Korean threat. Now he’s trying to blame his lack of policy on the intelligence community? Pathetic.

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