North Korean HEU: Bad Decisions

I was re-reading a Nelson Report from a few weeks back and noticed a interesting tale related to US intelligence RE: North Korea’s HEU program. Chris gave me permission to print the following paragraphs:

… directly involved players in 2002 have told us that despite the strong public face presented to both N. Korea and the Congress, there was a bitter inter-agency fight over how to interpret the intelligence on all DPRK nuclear activity, but especially over the HEU situation. And we quoted one of these sources as saying he personally witnessed the intervention of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to produce a formal assessment on the hard-line extreme of the interpretive spectrum.

Yes, you would be correct to recall a similar phenomenon, and player, in the Iraq WMD fiasco.

Commenting privately today, a concerned observer, then and now, said “the [HEU] evidence was very ambiguous. Wolfowitz took it and ran with it as hard as he could, and the upshot was that we shut down everything we planned to do with the DPRK. It was after that [Jan., 2003] they threw out the IAEA and began [what became] the run-up to the bomb test [last fall].”

This story struck me because I recently “wrote about”: decisions that stemmed from worst-casing the HEU intelligence:

Even as U.S. confidence about the suspected [HEU] program has decreased, policy decisions based on those judgments have continued to reverberate.


The belief that North Korea may have constructed an enrichment plant also apparently influenced at least some Bush administration policy decisions. A former State Department official said in a March 21 interview that some U.S. officials were “intent on making policy” based on the worst-case assumption that Pyongyang had an enrichment facility. For example, some State Department officials forcefully advocated an extremely intrusive verification scheme that would allow the United States to search for a possible North Korean enrichment facility. Several former U.S. officials have told Arms Control Today that such a plan would have been unacceptable to Pyongyang.

Former State Department Korea director David Straub, however, argued in a March 25 interview that some Bush administration officials were “intent on making policy toward North Korea based on worst-case scenarios about everything,” regardless of the enrichment issue. The entire department supported a “very intrusive inspection system, although some even more so,” he added.

The _ACT_ article also has some relevant information about the HEU program, if anyone’s interested. My last post on the subject can be found “here.”:

Happy Friday.

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