North Korea Concealing Ongoing Nuclear Weapons Research

More evidence that North Korea isn't living up to the promises it made in Singapore.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that North Korea is working on ways to conceal its nuclear weapons research program at the same time that it is supposedly working on a deal to “denuclearize” with the United States:

U.S. intelligence officials, citing newly obtained evidence, have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile, and instead is considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities, according to U.S. officials.

The evidence, collected in the wake of the June 12 summit in Singapore, points to preparations to deceive the United States about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, the officials said.

The findings support a new, previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize.

The assessment stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s exuberant comments following the summit, when he declared on Twitter that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea. At a recent rally, he also said he had “great success” with Pyongyang.

Intelligence officials and many North Korea experts have generally taken a more cautious view, noting that leader Kim Jong Un’s vague commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is a near-echo of earlier pledges from North Korean leaders over the past two decades, even as they accelerated efforts to build nuclear weapons in secret.

The new intelligence, described by four officials who have seen it or received briefings, is based on material gathered in the weeks since the summit. The officials insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive assessments about a country that has long been one of the most difficult targets for spy agencies to penetrate. Some aspects of the U.S. intelligence were reported Friday by NBC News.

Specifically, the DIA has concluded that North Korean officials are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and missiles, and the types and numbers of facilities they have, believing that the United States is not aware of the full range of their activities.

Some U.S. intelligence officials have for at least a year believed that the number of warheads is about 65, as reported last year by The Washington Post. But North Korean officials are suggesting that they declare far fewer.

The lone uranium-enrichment facility that has been acknowledged by North Korea is in Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang. That site is estimated to have produced fissile material for as many as a couple of dozen warheads.

Meanwhile, the North Koreans also have operated a secret underground uranium enrichment site known as Kangson, which was first reported in May by The Washington Post. That site is believed by most officials to have twice the enrichment capacity of Yongbyon. U.S. intelligence agencies became aware of the nuclear facility in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration appears to continue to think that things are just peachy:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday that North Korea could dismantle all of its nuclear weapons, threatening missiles and biological weapons “in a year,” a far more aggressive schedule than the one Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined for Congress recently, reflecting a strain inside the administration over how to match promises with realism.

The statements by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser and historically a deep skeptic that North Korea will ever fully disarm, came as Mr. Pompeo prepares to make his third trip to North Korea late this week.

Mr. Pompeo will arrive in Pyongyang with a proposed schedule for disarmament that would begin with a declaration by North Korea of all its weapons, production facilities and missiles. The declaration will be the first real test of the North’s candor, amid increasing concern that it may be trying to conceal parts of its nuclear program. But Mr. Bolton, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,”

said Sunday that, nearly three weeks after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Trump met in Singapore, no such declaration has arrived.

Advisers to Mr. Pompeo, both outside the government and inside the C.I.A., which he used to direct, have cautioned him that North Korea will not give up its arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons until the last stages of any disarmament plan — if it gives them up at all. Many of the plans they have given him call for the North to halt production of nuclear fuel — at a moment that there are signs of increased production — but do not insist on dismantling weapons until Mr. Kim gains confidence that economic benefits are beginning to flow and that the United States and its allies will not seek to overthrow him.

It is an approach fraught with risk, and runs contrary to what Mr. Bolton, before entering the government, and Mr. Trump had said the North must do: dismantle everything first, and ship its bombs and fuel out of the country. If the North is permitted to keep its weapons until the last stages of disarmament, it would remain a nuclear state for a long while, perhaps years.

The effort to put North Korea on a schedule is particularly urgent because there is no evidence the Singapore summit meeting has produced tangible results, despite Mr. Trump’s tweeted proclamation that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Even Mr. Bolton seemed to distance himself from that assertion on Sunday.

Worrisome signs about North Korea’s commitment to disarmament have been accumulating. In Singapore, Mr. Trump said the North was destroying a major missile-engine test site, but the known sites are still standing, untouched, according to satellite photographs. Work is proceeding on a new nuclear reactor that would dramatically increase the North’s ability to produce plutonium, a potent fuel for an atom bomb.

And C.I.A. officials are watching to see whether the North reveals in the declaration a covert plant suspected of enriching uranium, the other main fuel for nuclear arms.

The plant is known as Kangsong, according to a report on the secretive facility by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington group that tracks the spread of nuclear arms. The fact that the United States knew about the plant was a closely guarded secret until a few months ago, one former government official with access to the intelligence said. The official predicted that the North would have to admit having the plant, or watch negotiations fall apart.

The Kangsong plant is suspected of housing many thousands of centrifuges — tall machines that spin at supersonic speeds to concentrate the rare form of uranium used in bombs. It has been running for years, and the group noted that it “could have made a substantial amount of weapon-grade uranium, complicating further efforts to dismantle and verify denuclearization.”

In his television appearance, Mr. Bolton set out a schedule that intelligence officials have already warned is unrealistic. Mr. Pompeo, he said, “will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future, about, really, how to dismantle all of their W.M.D. and ballistic missile programs in a year.”

He added, “If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they’re cooperative, we can move very quickly.”

Bolton’s prediction that complete disarmament could take place inside of a year is, of course, utterly absurd. Even assuming that the North Koreans are serious about the promises they made in Singapore, the amount of detail that needs to be worked out to bring about any kind of final deal is likely to take years of negotiations between the two nations, and will most likely have to involve other nations such as South Korea and China. The best analogy for what lies ahead can be found in the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the negotiations that lead to agreements such as SALT I and II, the INF Treaty, and START. In each of those cases, the treaty that was ultimately agreed to was the result of a long period of negotiations at lower diplomatic levels. In that respect, the meeting that took place in Singapore was simply the start of a process that will take years to work out. It may succeed, or it may fail utterly, but the idea that it will be concluded within a year is utterly absurd.

These reports, of course, come in the wake of the report late last week that North Korea was ramping up activity at one of its secret nuclear research sites. This report would seem to confirm that, and, of course, it comes as no real surprise that the North Koreans are apparently actively trying to deceive the United States and the world. They’ve done this before, and it was inevitable that they would try to get away with it again. As for the supposed promises that they made at the Photo Op Summit in Singapore, as I’ve noted before every promise they made in Singapore is the same as ones that they have made during previous nuclear-related negotiations such as those that took place in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. Each of those times, the promises proved to be empty, and the DPRK continued to advance its research programs with respect to both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. There’s every reason to believe that they’ll do so again and that, at any rate, they have no intention of giving up their existing nuclear weapons stockpile regardless of what President Trump and his Administration may want us to believe. Additionally, as I’ve pointed out several times in the past the United States and North Korea clearly have very different ideas of what “denuclearization” means and nothing that happened at the summit changed those different understands. Maybe things will ultimately turn out differently this time and we’ll see some real progress toward a lessening of tensions on the Korean Peninsula rather than the largely symbolic and easily reversible steps that we’ve seen take place so far. That’s not going to happen overnight, though, and it’s going to have to take a more realistic view of the grounds on which the United States and North Korea and form a viable agreement than the Trump Administration appears to have at the moment.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, North Korea, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This has to be some kind of mistake.
    Just back on June 15th Dennison assured us;

    I have solved that problem. That problem is largely solved

    The intelligence community must be wrong.
    President Dennison is a straight shooter…the most honest President ever…he wouldn’t lie to us.
    He got a gut feeling about Kim…and I trust that beyond doubt.
    I mean…that’s a hell of a gut. Who’s gut you gonna trust more? Chris Christie’s?
    And certainly Kim must have been intimidated by such a big brave alpha-male as Dennison.
    No…I’m sure the intelligence community is wrong.

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:
  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Trump is an idiot but Bolton’s not. Obviously Trump screwed the pooch, but what is Bolton’s game? I am concerned that he is still looking to military solutions and will use NK ‘cheating’ as a casus belli.

    The beauty from Kim’s POV is that he’s already made huge gains, gains he could not possibly have imagined in his wildest dreams. Now he’s in control of the narrative. He can turn the dial up, or he can turn it down, and either way he’s banked capital. All we can do is threaten, but our threats are emptier than they’ve ever been given Trump’s praise for Kim and his alienation of our allies.

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  4. CSK says:

    The Trumpkin rationalizations for this are truly, truly hilarious:

    “Kim didn’t violate the agreement. There was only an agreement to have an agreement!”

    “Trump’s giving Kim the rope to hang himself.”

    “The U.S. gave up nothing. The military exercises can be rescheduled within a matter of weeks.”

    They may be unaware that yesterday Trump said on Fox that he’d made a “deal” with Kim, and it was “possible” that it woudn’t work out, because he’d made other “deals that didn’t work out.”

    This from the guy who Tweeted three weeks ago that we could all sleep well because the nuclear threat had ended.

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  5. Kathy says:

    A quote from the movie “Aladdin” strikes me as appropriate:

    “Oh, there’s a big surprise! That’s an incredib… I think I’m gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise! ”

    On a serious note, if North Korea simply wants regime survival, then they have to let it be known at some point they’re keeping some nukes. It won’t do to keep them if the world believes they’re gone.

    I worry Kim may be after something more. Specifically forcing reunification with the South. Right now that’s not possible. But if the US-South Korea alliance were to collapse, it could be done. The periodic readiness exercises are already gone…

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  6. Slugger says:

    We still do not have an ambassador to So. Korea. This lack of simple planning and ordinary housekeeping means that there is no foundation for any real work on that peninsula. The meeting was just a photo-op at best. Kim is laughing, and China is wondering just how much they can get away with.

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  7. CSK says:

    @Slugger:

    Actually, we do have an ambassador to South Korea: Harry Harris. He was sworn in yesterday.

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  8. An Interested Party says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m SHOCKED, SHOCKED by all of this!!! Aren’t you…

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  9. Ratufa says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Obviously Trump screwed the pooch, but what is Bolton’s game?

    If you want conspiracy theories: Perhaps Bolton wants war with NK, but realized that the only way to get Trump to agree is for him to feel personally wronged So, he encouraged the meeting and is now leaking info about Kim Jong-un’s betrayal. Or, maybe Bolton thinks attacking NK would be a diversion from his other priorities, such as attacking Iran, so he encouraged the meeting and now he is being undermined by leaks from military and intelligence sources who have other priorities.

    One could go on and on trying to figure out this Kabuki, but who wants to turn into a liberal version of Glenn Beck?

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  10. PJ says:

    @CSK:

    Actually, we do have an ambassador to South Korea: Harry Harris. He was sworn in yesterday.

    Trump picked someone born in Japan (American father, Japanese mother) as the ambassador in South Korea?

    Great idea. /s

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  11. CSK says:

    @PJ:

    Harris was originally picked to be the ambassador to Australia, but Pompeo convinced Trump that Harris would be better as ambassador to SK.

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  12. inhumans99 says:

    Without googling to confirm the time frame estimates I admit I am pulling out of my rear end we had what…about 2 years time before Iran finally signed on the dotted line of the JCPOA, and then we waited around 6 months or so for our first inspection to see if they were serious about sticking to the agreement, so at least 2 1/2 years before we got to the point where we could say yup Iran is a reliable partner in the JCPOA agreement, yes?

    Clearly, putting these agreements together is hard and a time consuming process so what does the White House do when they had the perfect framework to apply to the NK deal, saving them a lot of time and effort, they rip the thing up and we get to watch as North Korea adds to their existing stockpile of nuclear weapons, wow.

    I wonder if some folks in Congress now regret being so against the Iran deal…the situation with North Korea has to be freaking some of our Congress critters out. Ironically enough post Singapore summit we are now closer to a full out conflict with NK than we were when President Trump and Kim J were content to call each other names…I (along with many others, I suspect) already miss those days, sigh.

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  13. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I listened to as much of Jones’s rant as I could stand, which was enough to gather that Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and The Atlantic Monthly, amongst others, have been plotting Civil War V.2 for months. What I’m wondering is what Jones’s true believers will think when they go beddy-bye on July 4 without the opening guns having been fired. Are they like Trumpkins in that they forget whatever their cult leader says ten minutes after he’s said it?

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  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @CSK:

    What I’m wondering is what Jones’s true believers will think when they go beddy-bye on July 4 without the opening guns having been fired.

    The same thing they thought after Jade Helm nothing-burger…oh, squirrel…and they move on to the next nonsense.

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    @inhumans99:

    I wonder if some folks in Congress now regret being so against the Iran deal…the situation with North Korea has to be freaking some of our Congress critters out.

    No. That’s the simple answer. The more complicated way of saying the same thing is that there isn’t a Republican left who can discern fantasy from reality. They basically latch onto one Billionaire hobbyist or another, typically some rabid quasi-libertarian, and then march off with certainty and enthusiasm in whatever direction they are pointed. It doesn’t matter that one day the direction is north and the next day south-south-east because the right direction is the one their patrons pointed them in.

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  16. Jax says:

    Where are our trolls?! They’re not here, defending Dear Leader and his expert deal-making skills, they must be linked up on the Alex Jones civil war theory and preparing their tinfoil hats!!!

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  17. Slugger says:

    @CSK: Sorry, I am the same age as Mr. Total Surrender to Kim, and we have problems with recall of recent events. Ask me about 1967, and I’m golden.

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  18. CSK says:

    @Slugger:

    Hey, no problem. It wasn’t exactly headline news. And it took Trump 17 months to fill the position.

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  19. Yank says:

    I am shocked and appalled.

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  20. TM01 says:

    OMG!

    Quick!

    Repeal sanctions and strengthen their economy!

    #Norms!

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  21. TM01 says:

    “Israel and another country in the region have joint teams which work to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain”

    #JCPOA
    Norm!

    Jews. Is there anything they can’t do?
    (Best (?) when read in a Homer Simpson voice.)

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  22. wr says:

    @Jax: TM01 is busy making up nonsense on the soda tax thread, hiding from his obvious humiliation here.

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  23. wr says:

    @wr: Oh, wait, now he’s here, but apparently he’s had an aneurysm, because it’s all gibberish.

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  24. An Interested Party says:

    Oh, wait, now he’s here, but apparently he’s had an aneurysm, because it’s all gibberish.

    Too much soda…he should have to pay his own personal soda tax for his health…

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: You must be a doctor in real life of something because I can’t tell the difference between this gibberish and his usual gibberish well enough to determine that he had an aneurysm. How did you know that?

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  26. de stijl says:

    @wr:

    TM01 is busy making up nonsense on the soda tax thread…

    Dude accused me of antisemitism on an Alan Dershowitz thread. He is useless. And entirely predictable.

    But he is an interesting bellwether for Rightie talking points. It is insanely focused on winning the day so much that it cannot see that the war is already lost.

    BTW, is TM01 the new pseudonym for Jenos, or is that JKB? I’ve forgotten.

    Also, who was it that claimed to be General Counsel for Jimmy Johns and was the world’s most awesome capitalist economic / political thinker?

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  27. de stijl says:

    @TM01:

    You have the self-awareness of a sidewalk.

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  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @inhumans99:

    the situation with North Korea has to be freaking some of our Congress critters out.

    Certain members of our esteemed governing institutions don’t need a reason to freak out.

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  29. TM01 says:

    How does anyone continue to think JCPOA was a good thing? Thank goodness Trump pulled out of that travesty.

    https://www.jpost.com//Middle-East/German-intel-Iran-wants-to-expand-weapons-into-nuclear-arsenal-561382

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  30. wr says:

    @TM01: Hey stupid,

    Any further development of weapons by Iran AFTER Trump broke the agreement is not a justification for breaking the agreement. In fact, it’s simply more proof that Trump’s “plan” was moronic.

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  31. CSK says:

    Here is what Trump Tweeted this morning:

    “If not for me, we would now be at war with North Korea.”

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  32. de stijl says:

    @CSK:

    John Bolton is essentially Grima Wormtongue, so Trump would think / tweet that. We have a mentally enfeebled President prone to agreeing with whomever he spoke last with.

    If Bolton or Stephen Miller is the one who tucks him in at night after Hannity signs off, next morning Trump is likely to tweet whatever subversive filth they stuck in his brain last night before beddy-bye night-night time.

    You can chart who amongst his staff and advisers is in favor and who tucked him in last night by monitoring his morning tweets. Trump parrots whatever he heard last that resonated in his brain.

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  33. de stijl says:

    @wr:

    I’m so glad you noted that Trump is the one who abrogated JCPOA and Iran did not. We need to hammer that point continually as things spiral. We didn’t need to be here. We chose this path.

    …well, our President chose this path, but we all are on it. Because Grima Wormtongue whispered into Joffrey’s ear

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  34. TM01 says:

    @de stijl:
    I didn’t accuse you of anything.

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  35. teve tory says:

    CSK says:
    Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 10:57
    Here is what Trump Tweeted this morning:

    “If not for me, we would now be at war with North Korea.”

    We didn’t go to war with NK under Clinton, Bush, or Obama, but now we’re still not going to war only because of Trump?

    My north american friends, I have here a magical amulet which will protect you from tiger attack. Tigers never attack people here, you say? That’s how good it is…

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  36. Kylopod says:

    @TM01: This is what you wrote on May 12, in response to a comment by de stijl (itself an elaboration on something which I wrote):

    It always comes back to The Jews, doesn’t it? Dershowitz would be great if he’d just stop supporting that damned Jewish State, the cause of all the troubles in the middle East.

    Right?

    Hell, I’m old enough to remember when around half (more?) of the Democrats at the DNC actually booed putting support for Israel, and the word God, back into the official Democrat Party Platform.

    Maybe it’s not Dershowitz going full Likud, but the American left going full anti-semite.

    What amazes me is how the right is always claiming the left “plays the race card” and alleges bigotry where none exists. But when it comes to Israel, they totally flip the script around. Suddenly, even the mildest criticisms of the right-wing Israeli government are taken as evidence of deep-seated anti-Jewish bigotry.

    Describing the first black president as a foreigner? Not racist. Describing Mexicans as rapists and criminals? Hey, he didn’t say all Mexicans, he said some were good people! Talking about a worldwide conspiracy of “international banks”? Get over it, snowflakes.

    But disagree with Netanyahu’s government? You’ve gone “full anti-Semite.”

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  37. Kathy says:

    @teve tory:

    I wasn’t worried about a war with North Korea until Dennison started provoking Kim last year. Then there was talk of bloody noses and strikes.

    Things de-escalated after Kim reached out, sent a team to the Olympics, etc.

    I know he has his reasons and interests to pursue, and he’s vile to a degree Dennison can only aspire to, but if we can thank someone for there not being a war, it would be the beast in Pyongyang, not the one in Washington.

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