Return to

November 25, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

North Korea failures
Recent disclosures that North Korea is building a light-water reactor and centrifuge facility to produce uranium fuel for bombs has confirmed what critics say are significant failures of U.S. intelligence and diplomacy since 2002 to identify and halt Pyongyang's nuclear program.

John R. Bolton, former undersecretary of state for arms control, in 2007 first pinpointed the problem as a series of concessions made by State Department special envoy Christopher Hill to North Korea as part of the six-nation nuclear talks.

Mr. Bolton wrote in his memoir that "weak diplomacy in the six-party talks has allowed North Korea to consolidate and solidify its nuclear posture and take the United States down the same road as the failed 1994 Agreed Framework."

In an Op-Ed published Tuesday, Mr. Bolton blamed "deniers" within the State Department who sought to dismiss or play down North Korea's nuclear program for the recent surprise disclosure of the North Korean uranium facility at Yongbyon.

"All of this was done to support a passion for negotiation, hoping Pyongyang would yet again pledge to denuclearize. But denying and minimizing the threat of enrichment for most of the last decade was well wide of reality," he stated.

Paula DeSutter, who was Mr. Bolton's assistant secretary for arms verification until 2009, also criticized Mr. Hill and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for making the major concession of removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism without any input from arms verifiers like her.

"A lot of people in the U.S. government were wrong about North Korea's enrichment program," a former intelligence official told Inside the Ring. "Paula and John Bolton were right."

The concessions in 2007 followed a promise from North Korea to let international inspectors examine its nuclear program. North Korea eventually reneged on that and other promises after pocketing the concessions.

The focus on a negotiated solution led by Mr. Hill also eventually caused the Bush administration to give up Mr. Bolton's call for linking all dealings with North Korea on nuclear issues to strict verification of nuclear dismantlement deals. That posture was jettisoned in favor of keeping the talks going.

The Obama administration also dropped the ball. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Fox News shortly after taking office that she doubted the North Korean uranium program.

"I think that there is a sense, among many who have studied this, that there may be some program somewhere, but no one can point to any specific location nor can they point to any specific outcome of whatever might have gone on, if anything did," she said on Feb. 20, 2009.

U.S. intelligence agencies also failed to detect the uranium program, shifting their position in March 2007 to stating, as senior intelligence official Joseph DeTrani told Congress, that "confidence" in a uranium program had been downgraded from high- to "mid-confidence level."

A formal U.S. intelligence report at the time also was wrong, stating that intelligence analysts made the same shift in confidence. A classified assessment reported in the New York Times said "the degree of progress towards producing enriched uranium remains unknown."

The 2007 revised assessment coincided with Pyongyang's announcement to permit nuclear inspections, leading a former U.S. official to tell the Times that Ms. Rice in 2004 encouraged intelligence officials to soften assessments of how soon North Korea could produce weapons-usable uranium to avoid upsetting the six-party diplomacy.

Former U.N. inspector David Albright, now with the Institute for Science and International Security, followed the pack of doubters. A report by Mr. Albright in February 2007 compared the intelligence on North Korean uranium efforts to earlier intelligence failures on Iraq's unconventional arms. Mr. Albright concluded at the time that "the analysis about North Korea's program also appears to be flawed."

Mrs. Clinton, in the Fox interview, confirmed that intelligence on the issue was poor. She said the North Koreans had the "ambition" to produce highly enriched uranium but whether they have or not, "I don't know that, and nobody else does, either."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday in Bolivia that while the uranium program was known, "I hadn't known about this specific facility before."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said any failures "belong to North Korea."

"They bear sole responsibility for the fact that they are the most isolated and sanctioned country in the world, and unable and unwilling to feed their people and care for their people," he said. "The United States, working with many other countries, has offered North Korea clear choices with real benefits. North Korea's leaders understand these choices but have consistently chosen the wrong options."

A U.S. intelligence official said: "Suggestions of an intelligence failure are simply wrong. American intelligence agencies have known about North Korea's uranium enrichment activities for years."

U.S. intelligence agencies, funded at more than $50 billion a year have made monitoring foreign nuclear programs among their highest priorities.

It is not clear whether Congress' intelligence and foreign affairs oversight panels will investigate the failures, although newly empowered House Republicans have promised more investigations now that they are the majority.

Thanksgiving message
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the annual Thanksgiving Day message on Wednesday, telling armed forces personnel and their families that he is deeply grateful for their commitment and sacrifice.

"Sadly, there are families for whom the Thanksgiving table will never be made whole again," Adm. Mullen said. "For those families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice, we are mindful of your loss and our solemn obligation to stand by you. We also remember that other families have seen their warriors return with wounds, both visible and invisible. Theirs will also be a particularly poignant holiday, and I ask every American to keep them and our wounded warriors in your thoughts and prayers."

Regardless of the challenges, "we must never lose sight of the fact that Thanksgiving celebrates the blessings our nation harvests through the hardships we endure together," he said.

"From colonists seeking a better life in the New World to today's efforts to secure a better future for our children and grandchildren, Americans have always weathered the tough times with determination and a conviction that brighter days remain ahead."

The Army has responded to the post-WikiLeaks security crackdown by setting up a military video website called milTube.

The Army said in a statement that the website allows troops to securely share videos of training, ceremonies and news clips worldwide.

"Because all activity takes place behind the firewall, the video and audio are protected from unauthorized viewing and distribution," the statement said. "That makes milTube a safe military alternative to commercial video-sharing sites like YouTube."

The site appears to be designed to prevent public disclosure of some of video footage that has surfaced on the Internet in recent years, including video showing helicopter gunships blasting terrorists on the ground, missile strikes, sniper shots and other attacks.

We won
The Obama administration may shy away from words such as "war" and "victory," but former Congressman Duncan Hunter will not.

The one-time hawkish chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has written a book whose conclusion is as clear as its title: "Victory in Iraq: How America Won."

"I think it's necessary to let the American people know that their armed forces won this war in Iraq," Mr. Hunter told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough. "I think the trademark of the country has been America has been reluctant to acknowledge victory on behalf or our armed forces for any conflict since World War II. And in this case, we've clearly won."

Mr. Hunter said President Obama opposed the war and the surge in troops and "essentially blurred the victory we achieved by never using that term."

"And therefore Americans have a general idea that the war is over, but they don't understand that we are leaving in victory," he said.

The book's cover shows a Marine unabashedly proud of victory in the 2004 battle for Fallujah. His name is Cpl. Kip Yeager, grandson of legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Mr. Hunter's book takes readers from the George W. Bush-ordered invasion of 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein, to 2008, when the Bush-ordered troop surge finally tamped down an al Qaeda and Ba'athist Party insurgency.

Mr. Hunter writes the inside story of the 2007 battle in Congress to fund the surge against opposition from then-Sens. Obama; Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat; and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Hunter, who saw combat as an Army Ranger in 1970 and 1971in the Vietnam War, said he feared a repeat of that failed conflict.

The author recalled that a legislative amendment that doomed South Vietnam was introduced by Mr. Kennedy as part of a 1974 appropriations bill funding Saigon's defensive needs. Mr. Kennedy, on May 6, 1974, successfully cut $266 million from the military aid bill that was keeping South Vietnam in the fight.

"Starved for help, the South Vietnamese military, subsequent to the Kennedy funding cut, rationed its soldiers to two bullets per man per day. The war was over. Riding 800,000 tons of war supplies from China and Russia, the communists of North Vietnam rolled southward to victory," Mr. Hunter said.

In the end, Congress funded the surge in Iraq surge, and three years later Mr. Hunter proclaimed victory.

Return to