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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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  • Tommy

    Oh yes, Joe! The fact that our intelligence is poor in North Korea is all Bush’s fault. Heaven knows that decades of dismantling our human intelligence apparatus is all the result of Bush not putting enough emphasis on it back when he was governor of Texas and he should have been able to reverse it in half a decade as president, especially in a place as incredibly easy to gather such intelligence as North Korea.

  • Rudi

    Read the Moony Times article please before you rant!!!!

  • Joe

    No, Tommy I never said it is ALL Bush’s fault. On 911 and other matters the fact is that under several adminsitrations we have had an intelligence mess. It’s GOP partisans who immediately go into “it’s all Clinton’s fault’ that are totally alienating independent voters and others. In case you haven’t noticed, although he vacations a lot at his ranch he has been occupying the White House for six years. If you and others want to keep on with the mantra that if something happens it he has zero responsibility then keep at it. It truly is chasing people away from the GOP including many members of the Republican party. See my post on David Broder. He’s simply saying what we have detailed here — about how many Republicans including those who were associated with the first Bush administration are dismayed about what they see. This was the crew that ran in 2000 talking about how vital it was to be adult-like and take responsibility. They finger point. It is getting old. Also, if you wish to read absolutes into what I write, then go ahead. I broke my rule in responding to your comments but it’s clear you have a mantra. I’ll give you mine: we have problems in this country that require bipartisan solutions and that means looking at them and not just fingerpointing to blame one party. Unless Bill Clinton has secretly been in control of the White House he hasn’t been president for six years and the person who sits in the Oval Office gets credit for good things on his watch and also will get the blame for bad things on his watch. And the polls show that is happening right now.

  • Rudi

    The CIA has been a waste of MONEY for 40 years. The CIA DIA are only concerned about budgets and bizarre programs. They have been wrong on Iran1979, USSR1989, Iraq2003 …….

  • Excellent response Joe.

  • SnarkyShark

    Excellent response Joe.

    I second that!

  • Kim Ritter

    Amen to that, Joe.

  • Rubyeyes

    It always amazes me the Republicans will blame Clinton and then when faced with a little accountiblity of their own sacrifice up the intelligence agencies as failing.

    If the intelligence agencies are failing now, nearly 6 years after Bush took office, isn’t it quite conceivable they were failing during Clinton’s presidency as well?

    Regardless Clinton’s policy of trying to negotiate with North Korea, negotiations which included South Korea, Japan and China is materially no different than what Bush has done with North Korea and his six party talks.

  • You can trace the ineffectiveness of the CIA directly to the post-Vietnam Carter-era leashing of our intel agencies by Congress. 1977, if you want to be precise. Tough to blame that on the last two admins.

    The Clinton-era Gorelick “wall” didn’t help, but that’s a side issue compared to the major infrastructural nutting of ’77.

  • grognard

    Oh God, now it is Carters fault, how far back do we go? I can’t wait for someone to point the finger at George Washington for his lack of support for intelligence operations due to that “stay out of European entanglements� strategy.

  • Rubyeyes

    Well considering Republican’s have held the presidency 18 of the last 26 years what else are they gonna do?

  • AustinRoth

    ‘How far back do we go?’ Well, I actually would take it back 1 1/2 adminstrations farther.

    It was the domestic spying abuse by the CIA under orders from the Nixon administration that led to the Carter era reforms. There is no doubt those went too far and damaged national security, but due to the underlying problem they were enacted to resolve, until 9/11 no politician could realistically try and ‘un-reform’ without outcries from civil libertarians.

    So now we see the opposite in the Patriot ActI and II, plus other actions by the Bush administration, a reaction too far the other way. That is especially scary, given the fact that the CIA’s track record is, how shall we say it, one of being less than fully accurate in all the details.

    Not that that should really matter. I mean, it isn’t like anyone could act on false CIA intelligence and cause someone to be locked up without charges indefinetly, incommunicado, with no access to legal remedies, right?

    I mean, certainly not here in America.

  • Kim Ritter

    If the intelligence agencies are failing now, nearly 6 years after Bush took office, isn’t it quite conceivable they were failing during Clinton’s presidency as well?

    Good point, Rubyeye, and one I’ve never heard the Democrats bring up in their defense before. Maybe you should e-mail it to the Clintons, LOL! Yes, it is possible, but I didn’t hear Clinton blaming the CIA, the FBI, Bush I , Reagan, Nixon etc for his foreign policy woes in North Korea or Iraq. He could have easily done so. This administration takes the cake in finger pointing and attempting to avoid accountability at all costs. Its the only time in recent memory that those who failed spectacularly-Bremer and Tenet, were awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom.

  • Rudi

    AR You are right about Nixon and Carter. However, the actual CIA record, ignoring all Administrations, is pitifull in regards to forecasting world events. They missed Bay of Pigs, allowed Nixon abuses, missed Iran Islamic Revolution, fall of USSR……
    And now they are using LSD on terrorists – LOL.

  • Kim Ritter

    But they did catch the Cuban missile crisis-which would come in handy right about now. I remember reading, however, that rogue nations like Iraq and North Korea learned to bury their nuclear reactors so they couldn’t be detected by satellites.

  • C Stanley

    The Clinton administration had intelligence on suspected underground nuclear activity (as well as work on missile technology) in 1999. Here’s a briefing from Perry to Congress:

    PERRY: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary.
    In June of ’94, just over five years ago, the United States was close
    to a military conflict with North Korea over the nuclear program they
    had centered at a facility called Yongbyon. We were literally within a
    day of imposing severe sanctions on North Korea — sanctions which
    they said would be equivalent to an act of war. We were within a day
    of making major additions to our troop deployments in Korea, and we
    were about to undertake an evacuation of American civilians from
    That crisis was resolved through the Agreed Framework. The Agreed
    Framework called for a freeze of the nuclear activities at Yongbyon;
    it called for a dismantlement of those facilities in time; and it
    called for a path to normalization between the United States and North
    Today, Yongbyon remains frozen. This is a facility that, in the last
    five years, could have produced enough plutonium for — literally —
    dozens of nuclear bombs. The dismantlement still awaits construction
    of the Light Water Reactor, so it is still several years away and,
    therefore, production of plutonium could be restarted at Yongbyon if
    the Agreed Framework were to be aborted.
    The third element of the agreement — normalization — was, to use the
    words of Robert Frost, was “a road not taken.” Now it seems that we
    are headed for another crisis like 1994. Intelligence has indicated
    suspect nuclear sites; it has indicated the production and deployment
    of long-range missiles in North Korea.
    [emphasis mine]All of this has taken place
    over the past year.
    All of this came to a head late August of last year when the North
    Koreans flew a long-range missile over Japan, in a failed attempt to
    launch a satellite. The result of that was strong public reaction,
    both in the United States and Japan. In this environment, the Congress
    called for an outside policy review, and the President asked me to
    undertake it. I agreed that it was time for a serious solid review of
    our policy in North Korea. Much had changed in the five years since
    this crisis, and I recognize now, as I recognized then, that the
    stakes were very high. After nine months of intensive effort, which
    included very close consultation with our allies, this study is now

    Now do you see why some of us keep bringing up Clinton’s Korea policy? They may have said that they didn’t trust NK and that they understood the importance of verification, but when it came down to it, they knew he was cheating but they didn’t know what to do about it.

  • Kim Ritter

    But is it any more productive to bring this up than to bring up who was to blame for 9/11? I’ve never claimed that Clinton’s policy with NK was great or even good, just that I believe we are pursuing the wrong one now. Bush basically telegraphed his intentions for regime change in the Axis of Evil speech. After that we invaded the country that didn’t have WMDs’ , ignored NK for two years giving them an opportunity and the motivation to accelerate their WMD program. When we joined the six-party talks we were too rigid to make them work.
    Yes, NK was cheating on the agreement under Clinton, but NK was not a top priority under Bush until after 9/11. Obviously, Kim made good use of that time.

  • Timeline of Administrations:

    Republican: 1969-1976, 1981-1992, 2001-current
    Democratic: 1977-1980, 1993-2000

    since that argument is in full swing now.

    Years of Administrations from that time period:
    Republican: 26 years
    Democratic: 12 years

  • AustinRoth

    Kim –

    But they did catch the Cuban missile crisis

    Actually, that was the NSA, but we didn’t even acknowledge its existance back then, as it was so Top Secret.

  • Timeline of Congresses:

    Republican: 1995-current
    Democratic: 1969-1994

    Republican: 1985-1986, 1995-current
    Democratic: 1969-1984, 1987-1994

    since that argument is in full swing now.

    Republican: 11 years
    Democratic: 25 years

    Republican: 13 years
    Democratic: 23 years

  • Andrew

    Here’s a quick primer on American politics: The executive sets and operate foreign policy.

    If you’re going to try snark, you should be amusing, but you’re utterly un-funny.

  • Andrew,

    I’m putting out numbers and year in which each party held a majority in the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch. Take it as you want but if you’re going to try to discredit me for no reason, then STFU.

  • Rubyeyes

    C Perez it only weakens the arguement that it was Clinton’s fault. He only had 2 years of a Deomcrat controlled congress.

  • Kim Ritter

    Austin Roth-Thanks, I stand corrected. So what have they caught- or have they just been useful in executing foreign coups and helping leaders friendly to the West keep their insurgencies under control?

  • Rubyeyes,

    I’m not taking sides on this issue. Both foolio parties are at fault. Neither the Donkeys or Elephants are infallible.

  • C Stanley

    When I brought up the Clinton admin knowledge of intel on NK cheating, it was only to show that this didn’t come out of the blue. It was in response to the previous statements made about intel picking up threats like the Cuban missile crisis, because the implication was that the NK nuclear testing came out of the blue and that isn’t the case. Intel is always imperfect even under the best case scenario; each administration gets some good information from it, some bad, and of course also sometimes doesn’t get info that would have been helpful in hindsight.

  • Tommy

    Indications are that there isn’t a hint of radiation in the air after this explosion.

    A total dud perhaps?

    Too bad they aren’t monitoring the wind for traces of conventional explosives.

  • Kim Ritter

    CS – Yes, I get the point now- I reread my earlier post and then yours made more sense to me. I think I remember Clinton saying in an interview that he wished he hadn’t dropped the negotiations, but that he had really wanted to devote his attentions to the conflict btwn Israel and Palestine, which wasn’t a success either. Maybe he has adult ADHD- he started a lot of things that he couldn’t finish.

  • C Stanley

    LOL about the ADHD comment; it does seem to fit. I really am not a Clinton basher; he did some good, some not so good IMO. And on NK, I don’t think there were any good options then or now, but I do think that the Republican Congress was critical of his NK policy then for good reason, and that the Bush administration saw it the same way and changed course. For the most part, I’d say they were right to change course but that Bush’s reaction was an OVERREACTION. That is what I see as the problem in general in our politics is that when one side errs in one direction, the other side overcorrects and causes an equally bad situation to develop.

  • Please note I didn’t blame it on Carter, grognard. I just pointed out when the knives came out and sliced up the intel agencies, and I was quite specific about who did the slicing. Congress did it. It was in 1977, and both houses of Congress were held by the Dems. And every single admin and Congress since then let it stay that way or made it worse, until after 9/11. And not all that much has changed since then.

    Plenty of blame to go around. Lotsa material for everyone to play Comparitive Political Demonization to their heart’s content. After all, we KNOW the Other Side’s Guys are Evil Incarnate, while Ours have Pure Hearts and Moral Fiber. Right?

  • C Stanley

    I think you and Austin Roth made an excellent point about the CIA cuts and failure of subsequent administrations and congresses to correct the overcorrections. In another thread on NK I mentioned my belief that overcorrection is often our bane in politics. Often its the reaction of one party to another, but sometimes its both parties that join in an overcorrection mentality (as in the post Watergate scenario). No one wants to be accused of going back to the scenario that was judged to be incorrect or harmful, so no one has the courage to use common sense in making policy corrections.

  • Kim Ritter

    CS- Yes, I agree. When the Bush administration took over they were very anxious to cast aside the policies that Clinton had in place (Anything But Clinton) whether they worked or not. Remember they spent the 8 months before 9/11 developing a policy on terrorism? I don’t think they stopped to see what might work for them and what needed to be tweaked. I’ve read that Bush still bore a lot of antipathy for Clinton for defeating his father-fits in with his black/white view of the world.

  • C Stanley

    I agree with your analysis here and I do see a lot of fault in the Bush administration in this regard; however, my concern too is that the Dems have been guilty of the same thing and I foresee them taking an “anything but Bush” course of action in the years to come.

  • Kim Ritter

    CS- Touche, LOL! For every partisan action there is a more partisan reaction! I agree this is a possibility that we can ill-afford at this moment of heightened tensions. Maybe this is where moderates can make a difference-by choosing candidates that can work in a bipartisan way.

    One problem is that I see that Bush diplomacy, which seems to advocate a forceful presence for America over consensus, has not been particularly successful-with the possible exception of Libya. So if the Dems were to win the WH, I don’t know what part of the past 6 years of foreign policy they should keep.

    I do agree that changing total direction is bad for the country, but I think Bush is unusual in that he abandoned everything in the wake of 9/11 that had been done -even the policies of Reagan and the first Bush. Examples would be containment of Saddam , use of overwhelming force in military conflicts. and direct talks with enemy powers. In the case of his terrorism policy, he abandoned everything Clinton had started, took 8 months to form a new policy- but the new policy was very similar to Clinton’s.

  • C Stanley

    I don’t really agree with you that Bush 43 abandoned the policies of Reagan and Bush 41. The way I see it, he turned back to those policies without realizing that they weren’t going to work so well in a post-Cold War era. I see the reality as this: we’re a victim of our own success in the Cold War. At that time, it was possible to contain threats from third world dictators by aligning the allies who were under the US sphere of influence. These allies always considered it in their best interest to support US interests, because they feared expansion of the Soviet Union more than they feared US overreaching it’s power. Once the USSR was out of the picture though, the European allies felt more secure in protecting their nationalistic interests and making their own choices in dealing with issues like Islamic terrorism (which to them relates much more closely to their issues of immigration and assimilation, as MvdG often points out). For the most part, Europe teeters on desire to make the Islamic problem go away by appeasing and knowing that in the end this probably won’t work.

    I think that it is unfortunate that GWB’s personality acts as a red herring in assessing our relationship with Europe. It’s easy to say that his brash cowboy justice mentality is disliked and disrespected by Europe, and that he forced the issue so that we were forced to mainly go it alone. I believe there were many factors in Europe’s abandonment of unquestioning support for US foreign policy though, and in many ways, GWB’s personality served as a convenient excuse to cover for their real reasons.

    So, my general point, again, is that we need to craft a whole new way of dealing with global issues post Cold War. I think that the neocons vision of that was for the US to feel free to exert its power and influence unilaterally, but what we’re discovering is that we needed our allies a lot more than we thought we did because even a superpower has its limits.

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