CIA: Syrian site was North Korean plutonium-producing nuclear reactor

posted at 11:15 am on April 23, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The CIA will tell Congress today that the North Koreans had begun to build a nuclear reactor at a site in Syria bombed by the Israelis last year. The timing of the briefing appears related to the expected resolution of the six-nation plan to disarm the DPRK in the next few weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times. It may create new political difficulties for the Bush administration, but more likely it is intended to fulfill a Congressional demand for information to clear hurdles for ratification of the agreement with North Korea:

CIA officials will tell Congress on Thursday that North Korea had been helping Syria build a plutonium-based nuclear reactor, a U.S. official said, a disclosure that could touch off new resistance to the administration’s plan to ease sanctions on Pyongyang.

The CIA officials will tell lawmakers that they believe the reactor would have been capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons but was destroyed before it could do so, the U.S. official said, apparently referring to a suspicious installation in Syria that was bombed last year by Israeli warplanes.

The CIA officials also will say that though U.S. officials have had concerns for years about ties between North Korea and Syria, it was not until last year that new intelligence convinced them that the suspicious facility under construction in a remote area of Syria was a nuclear reactor, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing plans for the briefing.

By holding closed, classified briefings for members of several congressional committees, the administration will break a long silence on North Korean-Syrian nuclear cooperation and on what it knows about last year’s destruction of the Syrian facility. Nonetheless, it has been widely assumed for months that many in the administration considered the site a nuclear installation.

Members of Congress have demanded a briefing on this subject for months. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, had actually wanted testimony before the entire Congress to demonstrate the danger of proliferation that North Korea represents. Now, with the Bush administration pressuring Pyongyang to come clean on all of its nuclear activities, it appears that the White House is ready to go public in an attempt to force Kim Jong-Il into compliance.

This answers a question that really hadn’t generated much doubt. Israel doesn’t usually risk air strikes into hostile Arab nations unless the stakes are significant. Even more revealing, Syria didn’t register any strenuous public objections after the clearly provocative attack on its nation. That could only mean that Syria had something so important to hide that it didn’t want international attention drawn to the site. That either meant a nuclear-weapons site or Saddam’s missing WMD.

Now we have our answer. It looks like Israel prevented another Osirak from completion, and with it a deadly shift in the balance of power in the Middle East.

How does this affect the status of the agreement with Kim? It won’t generate meaningful opposition from Congress, which will be disinclined to oppose a multilateral agreement for peace and normalization after years of Democratic accusations of war-mongering against Bush. The agreement itself doesn’t take effect until the DPRK meets its obligations. This looks like a shot across Kim’s bow, letting him know that if he doesn’t start the disclosure process, the US will do so itself in a manner which may cause him problems with his other clients.


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Any mention at all in the report on the Saddam stuff? I seem to recall a couple of weeks ago that an Israeli newspaper was saying that was also part of what they discovered.

Of course, even if such stuff had turned up, no one would believe it anyway. They would say it was planted by undercover Halliburton operatives.

Del Dolemonte on April 23, 2008 at 11:23 AM

Once again, Israel is doing out dirty work for us, and this at a time when Rice and Bush have taken the near total appeasement line with the Islamists trying to destroy Israel.

georgealbert on April 23, 2008 at 11:23 AM

Please. We have to keep our priorities straight. Global Warming first, rogue reactors second. Thank God adults are in charge at the U.N.

Limerick on April 23, 2008 at 11:29 AM

Once again, Israel is doing out dirty work for us, and this at a time when Rice and Bush have taken the near total appeasement line with the Islamists trying to destroy Israel.

Actually, that man in the pictures was Jimmy Carter. Bush and Rice haven’t gone anywhere near Hamas or Hezbollah.

unclesmrgol on April 23, 2008 at 11:30 AM

Israel; Doing the jobs other free nations wont do.

Swinehound on April 23, 2008 at 11:30 AM

That either meant a nuclear-weapons site or Saddam’s missing WMD.

Or both. The reactor may have been built from parts moved from Iraq.

db on April 23, 2008 at 11:31 AM

More please.

TheUnrepentantGeek on April 23, 2008 at 11:35 AM

yeah what happened to that Israeli report about saddam’s wmd?

jp on April 23, 2008 at 11:38 AM

Pay no attention to that Korean Nuclear Reactor behind the Syrian curtain.

rightside on April 23, 2008 at 11:39 AM

I’m sure Obama could have talked the Syrians out of using nuclear weapons or at least could have talked them into sending medical aid to us, once they used them against us.

NoDonkey on April 23, 2008 at 11:40 AM

we shouldn’t be bombing these poor, innocent people, we should be sending them millions of dollars in foreign aid…right Jimmah?

pecan pie on April 23, 2008 at 11:46 AM

Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of the “deal” with North Korea. It was mentioned that North Korea had to be more open with their nuclear activities as part of any deal. Maybe this was to wet out appitite. Is North Korea selling out one of its old partners for some sort of normalcy with the U.S.? Or is North Korea selling Syria out so they don’t have to give up something more dear to themselves?

uskorea on April 23, 2008 at 11:50 AM

uskorea on April 23, 2008 at 11:50 AM

Good questions. Syria rolled out the Baghdad Bob spin on this at the same time the Norks condemned it.

Limerick on April 23, 2008 at 11:53 AM

Oh, never mind. I’m sure it was just a peaceful nuclear reactor, used to generate electricity to light the homes of Israel’s oppressed “victims” manufacturing bomb vests for women and children.

kirkill on April 23, 2008 at 11:54 AM

Back to Kim, I have zero expectations of true compliance. In something resembling this order, probably broken negotations (maybe broken by Congress, but no bets), some posturing by Kim, some posturing in defense of NK by China, and some period of quiet accompanied by frantic NK searching for a new way to get around compliance.

Kim will only resume negotiations when he thinks he’s found a new way to hide non-compliance. And he’ll probably wait until after the US election, to see if he will be negotiating with Obama and perhaps his old buddy Jimmah.

NeighborhoodCatLady on April 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Axis of Evil.

mattyj86 on April 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM

The Syrian silence said more than any Israeli explosions.

profitsbeard on April 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM

“I Yam What I Yam” – - Popeye The Little Man from the DPRK, yes that tyrant, who deserves the same fate as Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Entelechy on April 23, 2008 at 11:56 AM

deserves the same fate as Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Entelechy on April 23, 2008 at 11:56 AM

What? To be made into Puppy Ceauşescu? :-)

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on April 23, 2008 at 11:58 AM

But Assad is such a kindly looking fellow. He looks a little like the slow talking turtle in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Now you don’t get any kindlier than that. Doesn’t that mean all syrians are kindly turtle necked fellows?

pc on April 23, 2008 at 11:59 AM

I wonder if Pelosi will stomp out of this briefing too. It sounds so technical and all.

Limerick on April 23, 2008 at 12:01 PM

There was no WWIII started over this, in fact, the Syrians were very hush-hush about it. There is a message here. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities might not provoke the reaction that the Iranians claim it would.

Jimmy the Dhimmi on April 23, 2008 at 12:04 PM

The real problem with NK proliferation is where else have the Koreans done this. Turkey, Saudi Arabia,etc. Islamic World Countries. Note the list for Other World Countries

davod on April 23, 2008 at 12:05 PM

Speculation (and more?) a few years ago had Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons going to the Bekaa (sp?) Valley in Lebanon (long occupied by Syria).

Other reports had Saddam’s nuclear technicians working in Libya to develop “the Arab bomb.” Khaddafy gave up the project after we took over Iraq.

MrLynn on April 23, 2008 at 12:07 PM

Axis of Evil.

mattyj86 on April 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Remember when everyone mocked President Bush for calling these countries part of the Axis of Evil? Yeah, he was right.

Where are the people who say that a preventative action like the one undertaken by the IAF solves nothing??? Oh, that’s right, still complaining that technically this solves nothing.

And Saddam’s WMD material is in Syria. It’s pretty much conventional wisdom over there that that’s where it is.

mjk on April 23, 2008 at 12:07 PM

I loved the opening of the last paragraph: “by holding closed, confidential meetings”, especially since it was preceded by a reporter telling everyone exactly what the CIA will say tomorrow.

I picture some CIA egghead, who, everytime his supervisor gives him a secret briefing, trips all over himself sprinting to the phone to call his media pimp. I wish the CIA was even remotely capable of accomplishing half of the nefarious deeds attributed to it by the left. It’s a badly broken organization riddled with incompetents and borderline trators..

joewm315 on April 23, 2008 at 12:09 PM

I for one am not surprised at all. There were the endless caravans of large trucks leaving Iraq and going to Syria before the war. No one seemed to say very much about that when in happened or since. Doesn’t fit the liberal mind set that these people are not dangerous and that only President Bush is. They would set the world on fire before admitting that Bush was correct.

Jimmybob on April 23, 2008 at 12:13 PM

georgealbert:

Israel was doing ISRAEL’S work first, as well she should.

On another topic. If Iran strikes Israel, Israel should respond by destroying every single major Islamic city in the Middle East. Contrary to the Hildabeast’s statement, there will be NO necessity for the USA to intervene. Time for Israel to get serious and disclose her nuclear capability and precisely what she will do should she be struck by WMD’s.

Gloves should come off in the Middle East.

On yet another topic: who is funding the destructive environmental movement undermining our nation’s capacity for energy independence? I have no doubt there are tens of millions being funneled into the environmental movement including Algore’s own coffers by the Islamic nations.

Charles Martel on April 23, 2008 at 12:13 PM

joewm315 on April 23, 2008 at 12:09 PM

It has been 30 years since the Vela Incident and the CIA still can’t make up their minds if it was a nuclear test or not. Good luck getting the CIA to give a thumbs up, thumbs down analysis on this Syrian incident. It will be like the NIE, maybe yes, maybe no.

I have no faith that the CIA is competent. The entire organization needs to be taken over by the DIA. I trust our West Pointers much more then the Yale and Columbia crowd.

Limerick on April 23, 2008 at 12:17 PM

I still believe that the timing of the strike was not so much to destroy equipment (in which case, you do it just before a site goes active), but to kill the highly trained people involved. A personnel strike would explain why the U.S. and Israel itself has had little to say about it. Delivering death based on technical expertise isn’t something any ‘respectable’ country would announce loudly.

michaelo on April 23, 2008 at 12:22 PM

HMMMMM, I smell a CLINTON in the wood pile. I demand a full investigation, hearings in CONGRESS!!!! ISRAEL had to do something wrong. What about CIVIL RIGHTS??? What about SOVEREIGN BORDERS???

pueblo1032 on April 23, 2008 at 12:29 PM

On another topic. If Iran strikes Israel, Israel should respond by destroying every single major Islamic city in the Middle East. Contrary to the Hildabeast’s statement, there will be NO necessity for the USA to intervene. Time for Israel to get serious and disclose her nuclear capability and precisely what she will do should she be struck by WMD’s.

Here’s the thing: Everyone knows that Israel has nuclear weapons. Everyone knows what the Israelis will do if threatened with imminent destruction. The Israelis have a legendary policy referred to as the Samson option which simply stated is that if they are threatened with destruction, they will nuke every major Arab city in the Middle East. So technically they already have that policy that you suggest.
So why should the Israelis acknowledge what everyone already knows? That is not the Israeli modus operandi, it never has been, it never will be. Unlike lots of other governments/governmental organizations, the Israelis know when to keep their traps shut…

mjk on April 23, 2008 at 12:45 PM

Wasn’t it Noam Chomsky who ridiculed Bush’s inclusion of North Korea into the “axis of evil” because it wasn’t a nearby Muslim state? Or was it Bruce Cummings? Or both? Who was right? duhhh…

bspoogeferd on April 23, 2008 at 12:46 PM

Ed:

The agreement itself doesn’t take effect until the DPRK meets its obligations. This looks like a shot across Kim’s bow,…

In that case, it’s a shot fired from a BB-gun. US Korea policy has been effectively captured by State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, which is far more interested in keeping our “partners” happy and in maintaining “dialog” than in pursuing American national interests. US policy towards North Korea in the second Bush term has been utterly feckless, making excuses for each North Korean violation of prior agreements and pretending that, this time, we’re going to get tough with them.

Bah.

irishspy on April 23, 2008 at 12:51 PM

On yet another topic: who is funding the destructive environmental movement undermining our nation’s capacity for energy independence? I have no doubt there are tens of millions being funneled into the environmental movement including Algore’s own coffers by the Islamic nations.

Charles Martel on April 23, 2008 at 12:13 PM

I had not thought of that and you are probably right. I was thinking that it was the George Soros types.

Johan Klaus on April 23, 2008 at 1:21 PM

is this the same CIA who sold us on the Weapons of Mass Destruction?

RMC1618 on April 23, 2008 at 2:03 PM

Interesting story given that Israel and Syria are close to ending hostilities. Turkey formally announced that Israel was prepared to end the occupation of the Golan in order to secure peace with Syria. There is a long history of failed negotiations between the hostile neighbors but this looks and sounds different from prior entreaties and suggests that Israel is prepared to make a serious offer and the Syrians are prepared to take that offer seriously. It would be a major breakthrough for regional stability if it led somewhere.

lexhamfox on April 23, 2008 at 2:34 PM

davod on April 23, 2008 at 12:05 PM

Strange, they haven’t listed the United Kingdom as an Islamic country…yet.

Trafalgar on April 23, 2008 at 2:54 PM

This is why Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons even if you believe that deterrence would limit their usage.

(1) They will share the technology;

(2) They will create a nuclear arms race in the Middle East leading to the desire by other countries to acquire weapons;

(3) We will have nuclear material in unsecure hands leading to the possibility of terror groups who are NOT deterred by massive retaliation acquiring the material.

Take the Iranian facilities out President McCain.

SteveMG on April 23, 2008 at 4:44 PM

“Interesting story given that Israel and Syria are close to ending hostilities. Turkey formally announced that Israel was prepared to end the occupation of the Golan in order to secure peace with Syria.”

The Golan Heights was originally part of the Palestine mandate. The Brits illegally transferred it to French Syria in 1922.

Israel is a small country and the Golan Heights overlooks a large part of the country. Handing back the heights is a strategic mistake.

davod on April 23, 2008 at 5:36 PM

is this the same CIA who sold us on the Weapons of Mass Destruction?

RMC1618 on April 23, 2008 at 2:03 PM

Yep-and the CIA was headed at the time by a Clinton appointee, George Tenet. All Bush’s fault, indeed…

Del Dolemonte on April 23, 2008 at 6:57 PM

Davod… what was illegal about the transfer from the British Mandate to the French Mandate? Certainly more legal and more widely recognized than the Israeli annexation of the late 80′s. Seems prudent given the make up of the population and it was in fact done legally. Modern warfare erases any strategic advantage holding the Golan and that is why they are doing this. It is strategically more important to remove the principle source of the longstanding agitation between the two neighbors.

lexhamfox on April 24, 2008 at 1:20 AM

What was illegal was that the mandate was a League of Nations mandate not a British/French mandate. They had no authority from the League of Nations to do what they did.

Why was the Isreali Annexation in the 80s considered illegal? When dis we arrive at the proposition that land taken in a defensive war had to be returned to the perpretrator.

Modern warfare does not negate the strategic advantage of holding the heights. You really need to look at a topograhical map to see why the Heights is a stategic asset.

The Golan Heights is not the principal source of agitation between Syria and Israel. The Israelis have offered to give the Heights back in the past, in return for a peace treaty. Syria always refused to sign a peace treaty.

I would imagine though, with the current Israeli government, they are as likely as not to pull out of the Heights as a gesture of good faith. Whereupon the Syrians will take over without a peace treaty and hand over it over to Hezbollah.

davod on April 24, 2008 at 9:42 AM