"Secret" war against North Korea?

Chris R. sends me this story with the question “The PSI is only a ‘secret’ because the MSM decided they would make it a secret, right?”

Right. The Proliferation Security Initiative isn’t a secret and never was, to anyone who’s been paying attention. Which, for the past two years included…me (and Austin Bay, it turns out). And that’s about it. I’ve written probably a dozen posts at my old blog, JunkYardBlog, on the PSI. I was thrilled when President Bush would mention it in speeches, which he has done half a dozen times that I know of.

On July 29, 2004, TCS published an article of mine on the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is a collection of activities engineered by villified Bush admin official John Bolton (then in the US State Dept, now US ambassador to the UN) aimed at caging Kim Jong-Il by halting his illegal weapons trade on the high seas. My sources for that article were a handful of news accounts scattered across several publications and the PSI’s own website. Around the time that article hit the internet, I spoke with a couple of Bush administration officials off the record, who comfirmed my reporting and shared with me their frustration that the press didn’t spend a little time understanding and reporting on PSI, the administration’s signature effort at halting North Korea’s illicit weapons trade. PSI isn’t a secret and never was.

But…ssssshhhh! Don’t tell that to the Times of London. They think they’ve unearthed some grand clandestine strategy and they’re hot to publish. What’s the UK’s equivalent of the Pulitzer?

The Times titles its piece “West mounts ‘secret war’ to keep nuclear North Korea in check.” Which, as I’ve shown above, is a laugh. The ‘war’ is real, it’s just not a secret. Apparently the best way for the US to keep something secret is to try and get the press to cover it. Maybe because they think it’s a secret, they’ll publicize it and Bolton and Bush will finally get credit for one of the sharpest moves they’ve made.

A PROGRAMME of covert action against nuclear and missile traffic to North Korea and Iran is to be intensified after last week’s missile tests by the North Korean regime.

Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a “secret war” against Pyongyang and Tehran.

It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the “hermit kingdom” in the waters north of Japan.

Few details filter out from western officials about the programme, which has operated since 2003, or about the American financial sanctions that accompany it.

But together they have tightened a noose around Kim Jong-il’s bankrupt, hungry nation.

“Diplomacy alone has not worked, military action is not on the table and so you’ll see a persistent increase in this kind of pressure,” said a senior western official.

In a telling example of the programme’s success, two Bush administration officials indicated last year that it had blocked North Korea from obtaining equipment used to make missile propellant.

The Americans also persuaded China to stop the sale of chemicals for North Korea’s nuclear weapons scientists. And a shipload of “precursor chemicals” for weapons was seized in Taiwan before it could reach a North Korean port.

According to John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations and the man who originally devised the programme, it has made a serious dent in North Korea’s revenues from ballistic missile sales.

(Sssshhhhh! Dont’ tell the Times about Caspian Guard, the PSI’s sister effort. It’s aimed at…sssshhhh…Iran. They might publicize that non-secret secret war too.)

The line about the “bankrupt, hungry nation” is a nice touch. North Korea is both, but that’s entirely the fault of its leadership. As Nicholas Eberstadt says, North Korea bears the distinction of being the only nation in history to have undergone a widespread famine even in its urban areas during peacetime. That’s quite a feat. But when you run an entire country as a prison colony, industry collapses and scarcity follows.

But back to the “secret” war against North Korea, as reported by the Times:

There has been almost no public debate in the countries committed to military involvement. A report for the US Congress said it had “no international secretariat, no offices in federal agencies established to support it, no database or reports of successes and failures and no established funding”.

Well, that might be because the press hasn’t bothered to report much on PSI, other than scattershot notes that mention it in passing. This article is the first I’ve seen in the Times about it, and it’s a strange report. Out of one side, the Times notes how successful PSI has been, while out of the other side it runs up scare flags about how PSI hasn’t been “debated” and how “covert” it is.

It also seems to blame PSI for Kim’s missile launches:

Kim told Hu Jintao, the Chinese president in January that his government was being strangled, diplomats in the Chinese capital said. “He has warned the Chinese leaders his regime could collapse and he knows that is the last thing we want,” said a Chinese source close to the foreign ministry.

The risk being assessed between Washington and Tokyo this weekend is how far Kim can be pushed against the wall before he undertakes something more lethal than last week’s display of force.

I suppose PSI is to blame for the 1998 launch over Japan too–which occurred before PSI even existed?

None of which is to say that the article is useless. It offers some useful insight into Kim’s machinations and his past dealings with fellow rogue states Iran and Libya.

It just doesn’t expose any “secret” Western war against North Korea. That war, which is a war of interdiction being fought under the aegis of the Proliferation Security Initiative and includes the US, UK, Japan, Australia, France, the Netherlands and half a dozen other member states, has been a matter of public record for years. The Bush-hating press just failed to report on it until now.

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