Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hyping the DPRK Threat

Joseph Cirincione makes a compelling case that the Bush Administration handled intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons program with the same disregard for inconvenient facts that it displayed with respect to Iraq. He writes:

What once appeared the exception now seems the rule. Officials in U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration are gingerly walking back from claims that North Korea was secretly building a factory to enrich uranium for dozens of atomic bombs. The intelligence, officials now say, was not as solid as they originally trumpeted. It does not seem that the North Korean program is as large or as advanced as claimed or that the country's leaders are as set on building weapons as officials depicted.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The original claims came during the same period officials were hyping stories of Iraq's weapons. Once again, the claims involve aluminum tubes. Once again, there was cherry-picking and exaggeration of intelligence. Once again, the policy shaped the intelligence, with enormous national security costs. The story of Iraq is well known; that unnecessary war has cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and an immeasurable loss of legitimacy. This time, the administration's decision to tear up a successful agreement--using a dubious intelligence "finding" as an excuse--propelled the tiny, isolated country to subsequently build and test nuclear weapons, threatening to trigger a new wave of proliferation.

This is just the introduction; Cirincione provides many specifics in the paragraphs that follow.

The charge of cherry-picking intelligence on the subject of North Korea's nuclear weapons program adds a new dimension to the consensus expressed by proliferation experts at a recent conference hosted by the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA: The Bush Administration has failed miserably in its handling of North Korea.