Just as I arrived in South Korea’s capital to report on the Korea peace process after Singapore on the last day of June, my Twitter feed exploded with outraged comments about a new US intelligence study of North Korea that was leaked to NBC News.
North Korea, according to three NBC reporters and “more than a dozen” unnamed US officials familiar with the new assessment, has reportedly increased production of fuel for its nuclear weapons “at multiple secret sites” and “may try to hide those facilities” in its upcoming talks with the Trump administration. NBC’s exclusive was quickly updated by The Washington Post, first under the provocative headline “North Korea plotting to deceive U.S. on nuclear program” on its opening page.
Basing its report on four anonymous officials, the Post said the classified report was prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in the weeks after the June 12 Singapore summit. The DIA is the prime intelligence-collection agency for the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and oversees the analysis of data provided by military satellites and the US Air Force on North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities.
“Specifically, the DIA has concluded that North Korean officials are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and missiles, and the types and numbers of facilities they have, believing that the United States is not aware of the full range of their activities,” the Post reported. Pointedly, neither the Pentagon nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all US spying, would comment for its story.
Critics of President Trump’s approach to North Korea and various “experts” immediately seized on the reports as examples of Kim Jong-un’s perfidy and Trump’s poor negotiating skills.
“Now we learn there is ‘absolutely unequivocal evidence’ Kim Jong Un is deceiving us,” Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, tweeted. “The observed activity appears inconsistent with a North Korean intent to abandon its nuclear weapons programs,” Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, told NBC.