North Korea: Another Intelligence Failure?

Posted March 1, 2007 on 6:27 pm | In the category Iran, North Korea, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

We may need to come up with a new term to replace “Intelligence Community” when referring to what we are told about countries’ nuclear capabilities. Maybe “Idle Speculation Community” as in:  “Sources in the Idle Speculation Community (ISC) told this reporter yesterday that weapons of mass destruction might be being stockpiled by Saddam Hussein.”

The record of the ISC is not good. In the 1980’s it missed the coming dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 2001 it missed the rather strong warning signals on 9/11, and in 2002-3 it guessed wildly off the mark on WMD in Iraq.  Now, according to administration officials cited in today’s NY Times, it appears the ISC speculated incorrectly on North Korea’s nuclear program and that, in a strange irony, it seems that the Bush administration’s cutting off of oil deliveries in 2002 may actually have pushed the North Koreans to proceed with developing a plutonium-based nuclear arsenal which they did not previously have.

But the problem is less one of inadequate intelligence than of inappropriate use of intelligence in politicians’ decision-making processes.  Certainly that was the case with Iraq and now we see the possibility that the basis of the Bush policy toward North Korea from 2002 on was largely based on questionable intelligence on its nuclear program that fulfilled political desires. And we are left to idly speculate about Iran. Skepticism might be the right approach.

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