North Korea Increasing Production Of Fuel For Nuclear Weapons

The supposed promises made at the Singapore Summit don't appear to be working out in the real world.

Less than a month after the supposed breakthroughs at the Singapore Photo Op Summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, intelligence agencies are reporting that the DPRK has increased nuclear production at several of its ‘secret’ facilities:

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months — and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The intelligence assessment, which has not previously been reported, seems to counter the sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted after his historic June 12 summit with Kim that “there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

Analysts at the CIA and other intelligence agencies don’t see it that way, according to more than a dozen American officials who are familiar with their assessments and spoke on the condition of anonymity. They see a regime positioning itself to extract every concession it can from the Trump administration — while clinging to nuclear weapons it believes are essential to survival.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In recent months, even as the two sides engaged in diplomacy, North Korea was stepping up its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, five U.S. officials say, citing the latest intelligence assessment. North Korea and the U.S. agreed at the summit to “work toward” denuclearization, but there is no specific deal. On Trump’s order, the U.S. military canceled training exercises on the Korean peninsula, a major concession to Kim.

While the North Koreans have stopped missile and nuclear tests, “there’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” said one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.”

Four other officials familiar with the intelligence assessment also said North Korea intended to deceive the U.S.

U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up their collection against North Korea in recent years, and it appears to be paying off with greater insights into a country that has long been the world’s hardest spying target, officials say. NBC News agreed to withhold some details of the latest intelligence assessment that officials said could put sources at risk.

“There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time,” a U.S. intelligence official said.

It’s long been understood that North Korea had at least one undeclared facility to enrich nuclear fuel, aside from Yongbyon, its main nuclear site.

“When North Korea constructed the enrichment facility at Yongbyon in 2009, the North Koreans did so at a pace that suggested this was not their first rodeo, i.e. not the first time they had assembled large cascades of centrifuges,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.


The latest U.S. intelligence assessment concludes that there is more than one secret site, officials tell NBC News. The question is whether Kim will be willing to admit it.

“This is why people want North Korea to declare all its facilities up front,” said Wit, a former Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Stimson Center who founded a web site devoted to North Korea,

The intelligence assessment comes on the heels of a report by showing that North Korea was continuing to make improvements at its major disclosed nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

“The observed activity appears inconsistent with a North Korean intent to abandon its nuclear weapons programs,” said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst and North Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation. “There seems little reason to continue expansion plans if the regime intended to dismantle them as would be required under a denuclearization agreement.”

As noted, it’s long been suspected that the North Korean nuclear program consisted of far more than just the site that they had disclosed to the public, and which became apparent in any case when it was used as the site for the six underground nuclear tests that were easily observable via seismic readings and other detection methods. The prevailing theory is that these facilities are located somewhere in deep caverns underneath the mountainous region in the northern part of the DPRK. This would be consistent with the Iranian program, a large part of which was, we have learned since the JCPOA went into effect, located in mountainous areas of the country that would have been (or would be) difficult to take out completely even with an intense aerial attack. It’s believed that Pakistan and India did the same thing when they were developing their own nuclear weapons programs.

All of this runs contradictory to what the President claimed at the conclusion of his summit in a series of tweets:

As many people who are far more experienced in this field than I, such as Daniel Drezner, observed in the wake of the Singapore summit, it was clear by the conclusion of the rather brief meeting between the President and the North Korean dictator that very little had changed in terms of the realities of the situation in the Korean Peninsula. Indeed, as Drezner noted in his comments immediately after the summit, there’s no evidence at all that the situation in either United States or North Korea had changed significantly:00

Over the long run, Singapore changed none of the fundamentals of the situation. North Korea still has a track record of agreeing to things and then reneging on its agreements. So, for that matter, does Donald Trump. It seems extremely unlikely that a regime that believes its security is intertwined with its nuclear capabilities will surrender them. It seems even more unlikely that hawks such as national security adviser John Bolton are going to roll over and not try to provoke Pyongyang again. Most important, there is no evidence that the fundamental policy preferences of the key actors (North Korea, China, the United States) have changed on this issue.


The Singapore summit produced great theatrics. Beyond that, everything that was said in Singapore could be easily revocable. So embrace the season of conciliatory rhetoric between president Trump and Kim Jong Un. Just realize that even if the rhetoric begins to curdle, the fundamental situation will not have changed all that much.

In other words, notwithstanding the claims of the President and his supporters, there was basically no substance to what came out of the summit in Singapore, and when it was concluded there was still plenty of doubt ahead on whether or not anything of substance will result from all of this. In part this is the case because 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. It’s also worth noting that everything the North Koreans have supposedly agreed to exactly the same things they agreed to in Singapore multiple times in the past, such as in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. Each of these pledges was either a lie or proved to be entirely fruitless. Only someone who is incredibly naive would believe without evidence, as the President is asking the rest of us to do, that this time is any different. Perhaps this time will be different, but it’s going to take a lot more than smiles and mutual praise to change that.

In any case, as I’ve said before, the idea that the DPRK is ever going to completely give up its nuclear weapons program is incredibly naive and defies logic. The lessons of recent history, arising out of the different treatment of nations such as Iraq and Libya compared to, for example, Iran, Pakistan, and India, makes it clear that nations that voluntarily give up a deterrent force such as nuclear weapons are essentially signing their death warrants. No amount of “security guarantees” that the United States and South Korea might be willing to give to the Kim regime are going to match the guarantees that come with actually possessing a credible, albeit small, nuclear weapons arsenal. This latest news is seeming proof of that, as well as being proof of the fact that very little actually changed in Singapore.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. gVOR08 says:


  2. teve tory says:

    crossposted from other thread:

    NK hasn’t ‘sploded a nuke since last September. Wonder what Trumpers will say when Kim ‘splodes another one?

    My money says it’ll be the fault of Obama and/or Hillary.

    Donald J. Trump

    Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer – sleep well tonight!

    6:01 AM – Jun 13, 2018

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Kim dropped a nuke on Honolulu the Trumpaloons would still believe Trump solved everything with his absurd display in Singapore.

    Trump gave up military exercises and status, drove a wedge between us and our allies in the region, strengthened China and got precisely fck-all in return. The Great Dealmaker.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    I suspect that as long as Sean Hannity doesn’t say anything about it, Trump will hand wave everything away as “fake news”….

  5. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Hey now. The Chinese gave him some trademarks, and Kim gave him a much needed propaganda to boost his standing at home for like…3 days. Of course, that was wiped out by Childstealinggate, but you can’t win every deal, amirite?

  6. Yank says:

    Lmao, where is Mbunge?

    I told you this would happen. There was a reason why every President in the last 25 years have never took a meeting with NK.

  7. CSK says:


    Don’t forget the half-billion dollar investment the Chinese made in the Trump Resort and Golf Club in Indonesia.

  8. TM01 says:

    Well then.

    I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t lift sanctions and send them a pallet of cash.

    I guess being totally naive is only ok when talking about Obama and His Norms.

    BTW, it seems as if the iranian hard liners are getting stronger and more secure in their power every day. LOLJK

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Butbutbutbutbut trump makes the best deals.

  10. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “If Kim dropped a nuke on Honolulu the Trumpaloons would still believe Trump solved everything with his absurd display in Singapore.”

    And when forced to confront the smoldering remains, they would insist it was all the fault of Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters for not believing hard enough in Trump and thus forcing Kim to annihilate Hawaii.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t lift sanctions and give them back their own money,

    FTFY, of course we did get dismantlement and inspections by the IAEA of their nuclear facilities. You conveniently leave out that part, no wonder tho, Sean Hannity does too and he does all your thinking for you.

    As for:

    the iranian hard liners are getting stronger and more secure in their power every day

    As everyone with half a brain predicted would happen if trump abrogated the JCPOA. Or maybe we should all just say,

    “Told you so, you naive, idiotic, sycophant.”

  12. teve tory says:

    NK isn’t even in violation of anything to do this since trump didn’t get them to agree to a single specific thing. We thought he gave NK concessions for free, turns out he gave them concessions in exchange for them increasing their nukes.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) The famous ‘pallet of cash’ was Iranian money. You’ve been told this more than once. Continuing to repeat something you know to be false makes you a liar or a stooge.

    2) Trump did FAR worse than send money, he agreed to Kim’s assertion that joint exercises are a provocation, and then we canceled them, materially weakening joint US/SK military readiness.

    3) Trump let Kim out of his cage. Kim is now a world leader, he takes meetings, chats on the phone, receives delegations from all the countries that want to do business with him.

    Trump got played. He got played because he’s too stupid and too lazy to do his homework or listen to advice. He is daily doing serious damage to American power and prestige and you, big ol’ patriot that you are, can only respond by brainlessly regurgitating bullshit.

  14. wr says:

    @TM01: “I guess being totally naive is only ok when talking about Obama and His Norms.”

    So are you now admitting that Trump was totally naive and didn’t get what he claimed he did? And then insisting that this is all right, because Obama was the same — even though you despise Obama?

    Oh, and hardliners gaining strength in Iran AFTER Trump ditched the deal when they weren’t while the deal was in place? That doesn’t actually argue for your side.

    Really, you should just stick to throwing insults. Because when you try to construct an argument, you just embarrass everyone around you.

  15. teve tory says:

    1) The famous ‘pallet of cash’ was Iranian money. You’ve been told this more than once. Continuing to repeat something you know to be false makes you a liar or a stooge.

    He’s been told this so many times that he appears to have some kind of legitimate medical brain damage.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @teve tory: He suffers from trumpine spongiform encephalopathy.

  17. teve tory says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: It takes the fun out of it though if he has actual mental impairment.

  18. Paine says:

    Surprising absolutely no one with the slightest bit of knowledge of how the Norks behave. But on the bright side, Trump got a nice PR win out of it.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @TM01: Now that really surprised me. I thought you would go with “but who are you going to believe–Trump [who is making America great again] or some perv from Lying Hillary’s sadistic rapist husband’s administration?” Using

    said Wit, a former Clinton administration official

    for your evidence.

    I would praise you for upping your game, but it didn’t improve enough.

  20. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    Delighted you reproduced Trump’s Tweet about sleeping well. I just checked over at Trump headquarters,, and there doesn’t seem to be one word posted about Kim increasing nuclear production at the “secret”sites. Not. One. Single. Word.

    But this is what the Trumpkins do: They either ignore anything that contradicts what they want/need to believe, or they dismiss it as fake news.

  21. teve tory says:

    @CSK: I just checked there. Top story is something about Malia Obama’s clothing. Hugh Hewitt’s MSNBC show–WTF was that about–has apparently been cancelled. Oh, and Obama’s a narcissist.

    You know, we make fun of how unethical and misinformed the handful of Trumpers who come here are, but if you marinate in Right Wing Nonsense all day you couldn’t possibly come out sensible.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    It’s hilarious that anyone would bring up Iran when talking about this situation…in both cases, the Orange Toddler fucked up, so that is the only comparison that needs to be made…

  23. bk says:

    We share the roads with people like TM01. Scary.

  24. Jsut Another Ex-Republican says:

    @bk: At this point I actually hope some commenters here are Russians or bots, as the idea of actually encountering them is nausea-inducing.