Intelligence Failure on Korean Nukes
Bill Gertz reports that the intelligence community badly botched its forecasts on the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
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. 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.
Amusingly, John Hinderaker suddenly finds himself pleased with
illegal leaks of classified information to the press.
Douglas Hanson is rightly skeptical of this report or, more accurately, this conception of what constitutes “failure” in the intelligence business.
. . . I have never received a guarantee that processed intelligence would be 100 percent accurate. So the question must be asked is: if the strategic intelligence community had accurately predicted the NK test and a hundred other so-called goofs, then what would the National Command Authority (NCA) and the diplomats have done about it?
A fair question, the answer to which is almost certainly “Nothing much.” Better intelligence would not have changed the basic fact that our options are quite limited. Unless, of course, it had come before the DPRK’s program came to fruition in 2002. That would have left open the option of preemption, an entirely different kettle of fish.
Update: I put a strikethrough through “illegal,” given that I have no knowledge of who made the leak, let alone who authorized it.