American intelligence briefings and leaks about the Syrian plutonium reactor North Korea was building and Israeli demolished on Sept. 6, aimed less at disclosing secrets than whipping Syria and North Korea into line.
All in all, not much solid information emerged. The initial briefings were delivered by US intelligence officials led by CIA director Michael Hayden to US lawmakers in the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Forces committees on April 24. Released later were niggardly scraps of data and a few undated stills that were apparently procured by Israeli agents who had gained access to the reactor’s innards.
Hayden contributed a couple more scraps when he met reporters on April 28 after a speech at Georgetown University:
“In the course of a year after they got full up they would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapon,” he said.
Hayden avoided mentioning “bombs,” sticking to the all-inclusive “weapons.”
This was interpreted by debkafile‘s sources as a deliberate evasion of the term “nuclear bomb,” in view of the absence of the necessary plutonium separation plant. It was therefore deduced by US and Israeli intelligence analysts that Syria was planning to use the reactor to produce radiological dispersal devices (RDD) or dirty bombs rather than a nuclear or plutonium bomb. The RDD would serve for its own use, for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a Qods Brigades to use against American or other targets in Iraq or Lebanon, or for distribution to terrorist groups operating out of Syria against Israel – chiefly Palestinian.
The next morsel came from the Japanese broadcasting corporation, NHK, which quoted South Korean intelligence officials as saying that about 10 North Koreans may have died on duty when Israel bombed Syria’s nuclear reactor.
To kill 10 North Koreans, Israel must have struck more than one site
According to NHK, the victims were officers from “Office 99,” which is affiliated to the munitions industry department of the North Korean Workers Party, and included soldiers with experience of building a nuclear facility at home. The bodies were said to have been cremated in Syria and sent to North Korea in October.
“Office 99” reports directly to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- il and is solely responsible for the export trade in weapons and military technology, which is the country’s main cash cow. According to the Japanese broadcasters, a couple of North Korean officers survived the air raid but disappeared. The South Koreans were looking for them.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources strongly doubt the authenticity of the Japanese report.
The Israeli jets which bombed the reactor attacked before dawn on Sept. 6. It is highly unlikely that as many as 10 North Koreans were already on the job so early. If they were killed therefore it must have been somewhere else, which means that the Israeli raiders struck more than one target on the same occasion, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported at the time.
What the Japanese report suggests is that Israeli jets also bombed the housing quarters of the North Korean delegation in Syria.
The disappearance of two North Koreans from the scene also opens the way to speculation. Might not the Israeli raiders have taken them captive and passed them on to the Americans?
Pushing Pyongyang, Damascus isn’t working
All these mystifying leaks are intended, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources, to push Pyongyang and Damascus into playing ball with Washington or face further embarrassing revelations.
Pushing North Korea to the limit by its exposure as a major nuclear proliferator could at worst, in the view of the Bush administration, blow up the Washington-Pyongyang talks and possibly even the Six-Party forum; or at best, bring North Korea round to coming clean on the details of its nuclear ties with Syria, and even more importantly, with Iran. This admission would give America a smoking gun against the two allies’ nuclear transgressions for the Security Council.
The Americans have plenty of unfinished nuclear business with Kim Jong-iI. The promised declaration of plutonium, estimated by US intelligence as 50 kilos. Part is unaccounted for and may have been sold to Iran or Syria; an unknown number of nuclear weapons still in stock and the reactor at Yongbyon, which was to have been fully disabled last December and was not.
So far the Bush administration’s plan to bring North Korea to heel has not worked.
Israel too miscalculated by counting on its raid goading Damascus into positive talks with Jerusalem, or persuading Bashar Assad to start distancing himself from the extremist rulers of Tehran.
It soon became clear that Assad is not one for knee-jerk reactions, but is rather guided by the long-term strategic interests he shares with Tehran.
As for the North Korean ruler, he is watching to see how the Americans fare with Iran and Syria before deciding which way to jump.
In the next article of this issue, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East experts examine the failure of US-Israel tactics against Damascus and Tehran in the light of years of unimpeded nuclear proliferation to the benefit of extremist Muslim countries.