Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

Stanley Kurtz at NRO, with a superb summary on what we know--and don't know--about that recent Israeli airstrike on a Syrian nuclear facility. As Mr. Kurtz reports, a pair of influential GOP House Members (Representatives Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida) believe the Bush Administration knows more than it is telling. In an op-ed for last weekend's Wall Street Journal, they complained about the "unprecedented veil of secrecy" thrown over intelligence reporting on the raid, leaving most members of their committees "in the dark."

Both Mr. Hoekstra and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen are among the handful of Congressmen who have actually been briefed on the raid. Judging from their op-ed (and Mr. Kurtz's account), both were disturbed by what they learned. They have encouraged the Bush Administration to "brief every member of Congress" on what has been learned, hinting that intelligence officials have confirmed that Syria obtained "nuclear material or expertise" from outside state sources, and alluding to a wider nuclear collaboration involving Iran and North Korea.

Normally, we take Congressional complaints about secrecy with a grain of salt. But Mr. Hoekstra, a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, are viewed as serious and well-respected in their areas of expertise, not usually given to hyperbole.

Additionally, Mr. Hoekstra is one of the few members of the House who seems to genuinely understand the need for secrecy in a democracy. Advocating briefings on the Israeli raid for all members of Congress--with the very real possibility of leaks--is very much out of character for Mr. Hoekstra. Clearly, the Michigan Congressman and his colleague from Florida were disturbed by what they learned in that briefing on the Israeli operation.

So why isn't the administration offering more information? Mr. Kurtz advances the same theory that we discussed last week. With the Six-Party talks now producing "results," the Bush Administration appears reluctant to acknowledge North Korea's involvement in the Syrian nuclear program, and undermine years of careful negotiations. Anxious to claim a foreign policy success, the "diplomatic wing" of the Bush national security operation (led by Secretary of State Rice) has been down-playing nuclear ties between Damascus and Pyongyang, in order to preserve the Six Party agreement.

And, as Mr. Kurtz observes, unnamed administration officials have been doing just that, casting doubt on North Korea's role in the Syrian nuclear project. He quotes a paragraph from a recent article in The New York Times on the Israeli raid, and its apparent target:

American and foreign officials would not say whether they believed the North Koreans sold or gave plans to the Syrians, or whether the North’s own experts were there at the time of the attack. It is possible, some officials said, that the transfer of the technology occurred several years ago.”

That version stands in sharp contrast to earlier accounts, which highlighted the nuclear connection between Pyongyand and Damascus, stating flatly that North Korean technicians were at the complex when it was attacked, and some of them died in the airstrike. Both Mr. Hoekstra and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen have accused the administration of "shaping" press coverage to suit their interests. Such tactics are a daily occurrence in Washington, but their use in this issue is both disappointing and potentially dangerous.

We agree with Mr. Kurtz. At a minimum, more members of Congress need to be brought into the loop on what we've learned about North Korea's ties to the Syrian nuclear program, and that information should be used (as required) to influence the debate on the Six Party process.

3 comments:

F said...

In the early reporting on this raid I saw one report that the NorKor government had lodged a protest over the bombing of a Syrian facility. I have not seen this repeated in any subsequent reporting, and given the highly unusual nature of one government protesting an air attack on another country, this sounds like a story that needs either to be corroborated or squelched. Any thoughts on this, Spook86? F

Spook86 said...

I saw the same report, and I believe that Kurtz mentions it in his NRO column. Obviously, North Korea's protest of a matter far beyond its borders raised a lot of red flags, and (not surprisingly) Pyongyang went mum on the topic.

It's also worth noting that Syrian scientists and engineers were reportedly killed in a massive explosion at a rail crossing in NK a couple of years ago. The incident received some press play because Kim Jong-il had passed through the station hours earlier, returning from a visit to China. There has been considerable speculation that the blast in the DPRK was related to a joint WMD project between Pyongyang and Damascus. One theory suggests that NK and Syrian technicians were transporting some sort of high-explosive trigger when it detonated prematurely, killing scores of personnel.

And remember, that blast occurred well before the Israeli air raid, or NK's decision to "abandon" its nuclear program.

F said...

In my overseas assignments I served in three countries with NorKor representation. I had a little interaction with their dips, but only a very little. The most interesting was in Tanzania where the publisher of a Swahili-language weekly was reprinting Kim's thoughts on self-reliance. When I asked him why, he said their embassy was paying him enough to keep his paper afloat. Turns out the money the NorKors paid him was counterfeit US dollars, but of good enough quality to pass on the local market, and he was buying Wilkinson razor blades with the money, putting them in used refrigerators, and sending the refrigerators to India (where he still had family even though he had been born in East Africa). Indian customs apparently did not think to open used refrigerators. The family in India was selling the razor blades in India for about 5 times what he paid for them in Tanzania, and banking the money locally so he could send his children to school in India. Interesting international trade triangle. F