September 13, 2007

That Glow In Pyongyang-Damascus Relations

The Washington Post reports that evidence of a nuclear partnership between North Korea and Syria has received top-level attention in the Bush administration. In what appears to be a reverse of the problems of 9/11, the data has bypassed much of the intelligence bureaucracy and gone straight to the top:

North Korea may be cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility in Syria, according to new intelligence the United States has gathered over the past six months, sources said. The evidence, said to come primarily from Israel, includes dramatic satellite imagery that led some U.S. officials to believe that the facility could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons.

The new information, particularly images received in the past 30 days, has been restricted to a few senior officials under the instructions of national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, leaving many in the intelligence community unaware of it or uncertain of its significance, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some cautioned that initial reports of suspicious activity are frequently reevaluated over time and were skeptical that North Korea and Syria, which have cooperated on missile technology, would have a joint venture in the nuclear arena. ...

In talks in Beijing in March 2003, a North Korean official pulled aside his American counterpart and threatened to "transfer" nuclear material to other countries. President Bush has said that passing North Korean nuclear technology to other parties would cross the line.

The story began when Syria complained of an Israeli overflight in the north end of their country, later adding that the Israeli jets had "dropped ordnance" on Syrian territory. The Israelis refused to confirm or deny the allegation, a rather significant silence considering the nature of Syria's claims. Yesterday, word started getting around about a potential "unconventional weapons" site -- and oddly, North Korea protested the attack in general terms.

Up to now, Syria has been seen as a low risk for nuclear proliferation. They don't have a lot of cash for nuclear research, although they do have a small reactor system for that purpose. They also know that the US would find Syria a much easier target than Iran if Bashar Assad decided to indulge in the same kind of brinksmanship as Teheran. The rewards haven't outweighed the costs, at least not until now.

Kim Jong-Il needs cash badly, and it's not unthinkable that he would sell his nation's low-rent experience for some hard currency. Even though the DPRK couldn't successfully test its own nuclear weapons, the research would still be valuable to another nation looking for a nuclear starter kit. With Israel pressuring Syria from the south and the US to the east in Iraq, Assad may have scrounged up enough money to get Kim to start transferring his program, which is about to come to a close on the Korean peninsula.

An Israeli strike would have ended all of that. The US may be breathing a little easier after what looks like a second Osirak strike by the Israeli military.


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Comments (13)

Posted by kingronjo | September 13, 2007 12:45 PM

Perhaps the N Koreans are just adding to the nuclear program that Baby Assad started with the WMD program Saddam shipped him prior to his fall?

Because I am a conservative, and hence have a memory, I remember during the buildup to the Iraq war the convoys heading OUT of Iraq and into Syria. Wouldn't it make sense that Syria, if they were going to help their Arab brethren repel the Great Satan, would be running convoys INTO Iraq?

Perhaps one day if Assad goes the way of Khaddafi we will have another MSM "nevermind, lets move on" moment from them when he gives up his WMD program and a lot of the components have "Made in Iraq" stamped on them. But by then the damage is done and if things go the way for Iraq that Viet Nam went (thanks to that generation of surrender at any cost Dems) it will be too late for the Iraqis.

Posted by Hope Muntz | September 13, 2007 1:19 PM

Hopefully it won't be the last Osirak, either.

Posted by Noocyte | September 13, 2007 1:32 PM

All I can say is thank the many gods and their domestic staffs for Israel.

Actually, there is one more thing I can say, in the form of an open question: if this turns out to be what it seems, for what kind of response would it call? This would most emphatically not be a small matter. Indeed, it would be precisely the sort of thing which the 1/20/01 SOTU speech (and many others since) identified as grounds for preemptive action.

I can just hear the inevitable Liberal (and other noxious isolationist) drone: Another Illegal War To Benefit Corporate Cronies And Boost Flagging Approval Ratings, yadda-yadda-yadda...

Still, knocking down Assad's operation would ease things along the Iraqi western border, and would send a mighty big flare over the east...

Posted by Tom W. | September 13, 2007 1:52 PM

Those damn Israeli cowboys! How jejune of them.

This is a very depressing sentence:

"The new information, particularly images received in the past 30 days, has been restricted to a few senior officials under the instructions of national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, leaving many in the intelligence community unaware of it or uncertain of its significance, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity."

Hadley did this because our intelligence services are riddled with disloyal "progressives" who would instantly leak the information to a disloyal publication such as the New York Times, or to disloyal politicians such as 90 percent of the Democratic party.

Our nation is in real trouble. How the hell can we win wars if our spooks and politicians see their president as the real enemy, who must be defeated at all costs?

Posted by coldwarrior415 | September 13, 2007 2:17 PM

Syria and North Korea have had cozy relations for well over a decade. Nothing new here at all.

The port of Latakia, for example, has been used many many times by NK for various arms and technology shipments to customers in the Middle East dating back to the 80's. Syrian high-level officials make P'yongyang a regular stop, including members of the Syrian General Staff in recent months.

A bit of background -- about the time of the Gulf War, Iran began to play around with payments to North Korea for equipment and technicians sent to Iran by NK. It got to the point where NK demanded cash first, equipment later, rather than allow the Iranians to put it on account. [At one point the Iranians sent a shipload of very low-grade oil to North Korea (circa 1991) in payment for several shiploads of military hardware, oil that appeared to have been skimmed off the waters of the Persian Gulf, most likely Kuwaiti oil that Saddam dumped in the Gulf. When it arrived in North Korea, the "oil" caused so much damage to NK refineries that most were shut down for months as they had to be taken apart and cleaned of the "oil" that fouled just about everything.]

At that point, despite the anti-US commonality between Iran and North Korea, NK became more circumspect in their dealings with Iran. Sure they had dealiongs, but with the cash up front demands from P'yongyang, the Iranians balked and NK lost a good bit of business along the way from Teheran. Teheran looked elsewhere -- China, Russia, and parts of the European Community, and most recently Venezuela, got what they needed and need, and cash was often waived. North Korea was left in the lurch.

Unlike Iran, Syria has always proven to be a steady, albeit low-key, ally of P'yongyang. And has paid cash, usually more than the market rate, for all sorts of equipment, technicians, technical training, and the like. The government of Assad has been more businesslike, and more reliable, than dealing with enigmatic mullahs. NK prefers it that way.

That NK would be on the ground in Syria, involved with Syria on nuclear fuel cycle programs and potential nuke weaponry should be no surprise.

Since Iran cheated themselves out of the NK market, and Pakistan since the demise of A.Q. Khan has had much more sunlight placed on its dealings with NK, Syria has no such scrutiny. Why? Syria while a threat to lebanon and Isreal is not seen as a hard-core threat to the US, after all, it is a small country with a relatively small military, and has been cowed several times into innaction by the mere threat of Isreal, and at a lower level, by the US, Syria has been deamed largely "contained."

The most disheartening thing for this NK watcher is that in the 90's, when a good deal of NK's dealings with Syria, Iran, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern regimes was brought to light within the Intel Community, the reaction then was that it was no big deal, that NK had made assurances to the Administration, that atheistic NK would not be welcomed by religious {Islamic] regimes, and a host of other excuses were given from the 7th Floor and other offices in DC.

Operational directives to follow or thwart NK's activities in the Middle East were given second and third priority, Bosnia being a first priority for most of the 90's. Eventually NK operational directives from the 7th Floor were reduced to the most rudimentary level.

With the establishment of the ODNI, NK intel programs were given little funding as compared to the rest of the world, unlike terrorism that eats up about 4 of every five dollars appropriated by Congress, and most of the NK-dedicated operations officers within the new National Clandestine Service were siphoned off to fill roles and desks within ODNI, or left the Agency, DIA and other interested outfits with a paucity of knowledgeable experienced officers.

Sad to say there are more NK conversant sergeants within USFK than there are within the US Intel Community by a ratio of about 100:1.

Our ability to identify, track, intercept and thwart NK's still active military and nuclear sales abroad is at a lower level today than it was in 1990.

The current focus? Seems to be that ODNI is trying to spot, assess, develop and recruit NK intelligence officers abroad...sort of like trying to go to the Vatican and convert members of the College of Cardinals to Islam. Lots of cable traffic, lots of funding spent, lots of Stations can report thay are active, but actual recruitments? About the same as they were a decade ago...pretty slim. Covert action programs? Few. NK simply does not possess the gravitas as terrorism or Russia or China.

Until this Administration and future Administrations get serious about NK, instead of looking at it as an anachronistic remnant of Communism, or looking at the follies and foibles of Kim Jong-il as light entertainment, we will have many many more NK's abroad and in P'yongyang, working the world selling whatever NK can produce [mostly cheap expendable, but still deadly, military hardware, and nuke technology] hustling for a buck or two, and making allies such as Syria, to keep the US busy elsewhere and US eyes and capabilities off the Korean Peninsula.

As an aside, we have hundreds of Arabic speakers being graduated each quarter from DLI and other language programs within the military and the Intel Community. The number of Korean language students is still very very small.

Seems the old management by crisis dictum is still alive and well within the Intel Community, which has expanded by half or more since 9/11 in personnel and budget, yet has fewer boots on the ground making face-to-face meetings with bad guys than we had in the 80's and early 90's.

Takes a special person to be an effective intel officer against the NK target....sad to say most have retired, died or have otherwise left the Community in recent years...few promotions, no high-profile "atttaboys!" coming from the 7th Floor or the White House...just the day-to-day grind of spotting, assessing, developing and attempting to recruit a very very hard target...a target that MOST in DC haven't a clue about and a target for which fewer have any interest.

And we are surprised? Amazed? Bedazzled by something as simple as Syria and NK working together? We shouldn't be...but Hadley and others at NSC and too many within ODNI appear to be trying to minimize this or keep it well under wraps not because it is "new" or necessarily "secret" but because we know so little about NK at this late stage of the game, and there are few souls in the Community willing to admit it.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 13, 2007 2:51 PM

Gotta say, when the WaPo flashes real news like this, I see that perhaps the government is preparing the way for lots of Americans to understand "the set up."

We've known for awhile that Iran's been sending in troops, and munitions, into Irak. To kill Americans, if they can. ANd, others, too. Killings seems to get those "if it bleeds, it leads, headlines." From the fish wraps.

Can we take out the north korean, iranian, and syrian menaces? Seems we're building up to something, here.

Hope so. But unlike Irak, whatever it is that gets done is gonna have to be FAST.

In Israel, after the 2nd Lebanese War, Halutz, who was Israel's Defense Head; as well as a believer in AIR FORCE POWER; had to resign.

So, this sits out there. YOu can give syria another punch, I'm sure. Just to keep her out of Lebanon's hair. But the borders through Irak have been porous. And, the Euphrates doesn't stop at borders ... Like the Nile. It cuts through.

What sorts of military strikes can we do that would be meaningful?

It seems that syria's WMD plans fell awry. And, there won't be russian refunds, either.

In Iran? So much of the terrain is mountainous. And, actually inaccessible. The nuclear sites are well dug in. But their supply lines to the rest of the world? Probably not.

The other "secret" that's been kept hidden from view, is that Ahmangarbage-can-in-a-dinner-jacket" is at the tail end of his popularity. The women kept in burkas long enough now, that most only have distant memories of college. And, the men? Well, they feel the force of the police who rip at them for going un-bearded. Or in "western" styles. Doesn't exactly build up comraderie.

And, Iran's police are there to protect the stable of masters. But if the army were given too many guns? Well, like Turkey. There's always that threat that the government can get shot down.

Even with the recent news that Turkey was ammenable to Israel; oddly enough, I think doesn't come from the muzzy leader. But was cooperation between the military in Turkey; and their counterparts in Israel. Where it's easy to talk "Turkey." Lots of Israelis are "fluent."

It's into this mix that if we sail ahead is gonna depend, heavily on both our navy and air force. Ground troops?

Well, in the case of Israel's recent syrian adventure, the must hush-hush part goes to the ground troops. They didn't leave a single shred of evidence that they were there! But they guided in the missiles. Of that I have no doubt.

How long would Bush have to act? Once he gives the orders? Less than a full week's time. From start to finish.

Oh, he can start as soon as he wants. He won't have everyone behind him. But over on the left? Man, I think you're gonna see less than "cohesion." Those limosine liberals haven't got the foggiest instruction to give to their chauffeurs. So may they drive into each other. AMEN.

Posted by pilsener | September 13, 2007 3:01 PM

I understand the "revealing sources and methods" argument, and rarely buy into it.

IF the U.S. has such intelligence, why not publicly share it with the entire world? Wouldn't revealing the activities put great pressure on NoKO, Syria, the UN, the EU,

Revealing such intelligence cannot possible harm our very cold relations with Syria, NoKo, the UN, and the EU.

IF the U.S. has pictures or documents, put them on the internet with a request for additional information or alternative explanations. This isn't a court of law, this is the court of public opinion. I, for one, retain a very poor opinion of U.S. intelligence agencies - show us the goods.

Posted by EagleJim | September 13, 2007 3:49 PM

I've seen several reports on the Israeli raid over the last couple days. None of them have given any reason to suspect that Israel bombed a Syrian nuke site. Although the article above seems to "assume" that it was a nuke site, and not a Iranian shipment of armaments being transhipped through Syria and destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon, let's not jump to that conclusion. Let's, rather, "assume" that the possible nuke operations in Syria are still on-going. Let's keep alert and keep investigating.

Posted by Tom Holsinger | September 13, 2007 6:12 PM


1) If NK sold its nuclear tech data to Syria AND

2) NK did so as part of a "fire sale" because it really is giving up its nuclear weapons program due to Chinese insistence;

(both of which assumptions have some support in the news)


Syria has no reason whatever not to sell the same nuclear weapons tech data to anyone with the cash.

Ultimate Conclusion

In which case we have rampant nuclear proliferation under way and our only options are to either make such horrible examples of the first proliferators (Iran AND Syria) as to deter other tin-pot kleptocracies from trying to build their own nukes, or give up our freedom for security from terrorist nukes, and live in the world described in my Case For Invading Iran 30 months ago here:

"... Syria has many times the per capita and absolute GDP of North Korea, and Egypt several times the per capita and absolute GDP of Pakistan. If North Korea and Pakistan can develop nuclear weapons, so can Syria and Egypt, and also Saudi Arabia, all three of whose regimes are shaky. And they won’t be the only countries to develop nuclear weapons after Iran does - many more will join the nuclear “club” within a few years, some within months.

All of those countries having nuclear weapons will create a security nightmare – at some point terrorists will be able to buy or steal some (assuming that Iran doesn’t first give a few to favored terrorist groups). It is likely that at least some will use their nuclear weapons on each other, or in a domestic coup or factional fight. The latter might first happen in Iran.

Few have any idea of the degree to which international trade and prosperity relies on free movement of goods between countries. Container cargo is an ideal means of covertly transporting terrorist nuclear weapons. Once the first terrorist nuke is used, international trade will be enormously curtailed for at least several months for security reasons, and the entire world will suffer a simultaneous recession.

It won’t stop there, though. These same security precautions, once implemented, will significantly impede future economic growth – a ballpark estimate of reducing worldwide growth by 20-30% is reasonable. Consider the worldwide and domestic effects over a twenty-year period of a one-quarter across the board reduction in economic growth.

This will be just from security precautions against terrorist nukes –not physical destruction from such use nor, more importantly, the consequences of nuclear wars between or within third world states. Physical destruction from these will be bad enough, but that pales compared with the social and consequent economic effects – enormous tides of refugees, economic collapse and outright anarchy over wide areas.

We cannot avoid that washing over us from abroad even if we manage to avoid terrorist nuclear attack at home, and we are unlikely to be so lucky. Scores if not hundreds of thousands of Americans will likely be killed, and many more injured, from terrorist nuclear devices used in America when so many politically unstable countries possess hundreds of the things.

We better than most can economically afford the thoroughly intrusive security measures required to protect against terrorist nukes when the threat can come from anywhere, as opposed to Islamic extremists alone.

But the price of domestic security, when foreign security fails due to a failure of leadership and will by President Bush, will be something much more precious – our freedom.

Freedom everywhere will suffer due to those same security precautions. The greatest loss of freedom will come in those countries which are freest, i.e., especially America. Especially us.

THIS is what is really at stake – the freedom which makes us Americans ..."

Posted by lexhamfox | September 13, 2007 6:29 PM

Hmmmmm.... anonymous source right?

Posted by patrick neid | September 13, 2007 7:17 PM

Personally I don't care what they bombed. It's the thought that counts!

Jeez, I sound like a liberal.

It's always good to remind people that they exist because we let them. Killing a few leaders would go a long way to changing hearts and minds.

Posted by Montag | September 13, 2007 11:47 PM

Let's turn this around, shall we? Suppose a group of unfriendly people wanted to institute "regime change" in the U.S. by bombing a few targets. Let's say they kill 3,000 of our people figuring that Bush is so unpopular that this humiliation will push him over the edge and the American people will demand that he be impeached. Who do you think the public will blame, Bush or the Nogoodniks who sucker punched us?

Oh, wait, that already happened didn't it? And people rallied around Bush like he was the Messiah or something, demanding revenge. So what do you think will happen if the U.S. attacks Iran or Syria, killing thousands of people and absolutely humiliating every patriot in the country? And remember, as Samuel Johnson said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." You're all living in a fool's paradise.

Posted by coldwarrior415 | September 15, 2007 3:15 AM

Yes, according to Boswell, Johnson did say "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But one, if one is educated at a rudimentary level, has to look beyond the simple oft used, quite often misused, comment of Johnson.

Johnson wrote extensively on patriotism, saw patriotism as a noble thing, love of one's country as a supreme virtue. What Johnson was referring to was the "false" patriot (the scoundrel), the citizen who hides behind patriotism to whittle away at a national consciousness, or use patriotism to usurp the ability of a nation to call its citizens to arms against a foe. In current context, one merely has to look at Code Pink, and, and the rabble that clings to their every utterance as if it were the divine word of God, and those who for whatever reason (seems reason is lost to them anyway) refuse to take a stand against the likes of them...therein lies the false patriot...the scoundrel.

But the key issue here is North Korea farming out its nuke programs to subcontractors...

It does so for cash which is needs and to get the focus of the US off the Peninsula. North Korea is indeed looking for other locales to conduct their nuke programs, since their regular subcontractors have been exposed, and Syria seemed to be a lucrative ally for NK, until the events of this past week. This subcontracting has been ongoing for two decades.

If the NK's open up Yongbyon to UN and other outside inspections nothing of note will be found. We have already gathered enough samples of by-products of nuclear reprocessing and plutonium production to show that Yongbyon was used for this purpose, but NK long ago moved most of its program elsewhere, especially after the cratering tests conducted along the riverbed adjacent to Yongbyon over a decade ago, and the cat and mouse games it played with the IAEA in the 90's.

Inside NK, a good deal of their nuke research has been taking place far from Yongbyon, in the Kangye corridor in the north central part of the country, a proscribed military area where most of the population had been removed years ago. This part of North Korea is presently NOT listed as part of the six-nation accord to open up NK's nuke program to outside inspections.

Other parts of the program could well be offshore, such as in Syria, and perhaps other countries, though the list of possiblities is shrinking. Two of the Pakistani nuke tests a few years ago were NK weapons, or NK designed weapons, but the Pakistani angle fell apart after the A.Q. Khan exposure, and Paki-NK cooperation is at a nadir. [Might change if Benizir Bhutto returns to power, since she became very very close to Kim Il-song and Kim Chong-il when she was in charge of Pakistan in her last incarnation.]

Subsequent pressure by the US and other nations to push for more sunlight on Pakistan's programs overall has for the present made Pakistan an unlikely place for NK mischief.

Iran proved to be an unreliable nuke ally since Ahmedinijad took over, and the NK-Iran relationship was falling apart prior to that. The damage has already been done since the North Koreans had several hundred technicians all over Bushehr and other parts of Iran late in the last decade. Iran is more dependent on China and Russia and apparently a few European nations for expertise...better programs, higher quality, and better trained technicians than NK anyway...Iran knows this, and so does North Korea.

Where else is there that hasn't parted company with NK that has the infrastructure to build and sustain a nuke program? Who out there is willing to go nuke on the cheap? [Going cheap means a degradation in reliability and safety, so that further limits possibilities for cooperation, especially for a regime that has the funding to look to China or Russia or elsewhere.]

There were a few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that NK had a keen interest in a few years back, but logistics and lack of infrastructure precluded these countries. Now that Israel with the assistance of Turkey has put Syria on the hotseat, in the spotlight, that leaves few other locations for NK to support subcontractors. One might take a look at Venezuela, however, as a next port of call for the Nk's. Chavez and Kim Chong-il have already exchanged letters and are on very good terms..and their relationship shows no sign of fading.

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