Jeffrey LewisPorter Goss, Crazy Man

Michael Levi recently pointed out a disturbing episode when Porter Goss/’ partisanship interfered with his professional judgment:

The congressman/’s more disturbing remarks in that half-hour June call with the press addressed North Korea/’s nuclear weapons program. Goss said, “Clearly not making the progress at Yongbyon and other places because we/’ve called their bluff successfully.” On purely technical grounds, this could not be further from the truth.

North Korea was making no progress at Yongbyon before 2002.

American intelligence was certain of this, because it had human monitors at the site, and because any North Korean operation of the Yongbyon site would have been obvious. But according to American intelligence, since 2002, North Korea has restarted every key facility at Yongbyon, and has produced enough plutonium for at least six additional nuclear weapons. Any lack of progress by North Korea has been because of technical hurdles, which the CIA also watches for–not because of any calling of “bluffs.”

In short, Goss/’ claim about North Korea differed sharply from American intelligence analysis. But perhaps he misspoke?

Not so. A perplexed reporter followed up, asking Goss how he qualified six new North Korean weapons as American “progress.” The congressman/’s response was startling: “What they/’ve been doing behind the curtain for a long time may be far greater than what you know–that you/’ve just quoted to me now.”

To summarize, Porter Goss made a partisan statement that was false: He claimed North Korea was no long making the progress at Yongbyon because the Bush Administration has “called their bluff successfully.” The opposite is true.

Goss/’ only defense, Mike suggests, is that “the intelligence community knows about a massive parallel North Korean program that hasn/’t been publicly disclosed.” Mike says this “strongly strains credulity.” I think we can go further: There is no parallel North Korean program. Goss told a partisan whopper, got caught, and tried to weasal out with another whopper. (Life lesson: When in a hole, stop digging.)

We can state authoritatively that there was no progress at Yongbyong though November 1999. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Chairman of the House/’s North Korea Advisory Group, in an October 1999 Report to The Speaker of the House concluded that:

It appears that the 1994 Agreed Framework has resulted in a freeze of Pyongyang/’s nuclear activities at Yongbyon and Taechon. [Emphasis added]

The report/’s alarmist summary is sometimes at odds with the tone and the substance of the more detailed chapters (See Linda Rothstein, “The Guys Who Cried Wolf,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 56:1, January/February 2000, 32-37), but the statement about Yongbyon is consistent with other assesments including a 2002 CIA description of the “freeze” at Yongbyon.

Now, the best part, we know this accurately reflects the classified judgments because the Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence–The Honorable Porter Goss (R-FL)–said so:

I normally don/’t talk a lot about these kinds of situations as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, because what we do we don/’t do publicly and a lot of it/’s classified. But I am prepared to say that I do see the product on North Korea out of the intelligence community, of course. We run that committee on a very close bipartisan basis, as you all know. I can tell you that I am comfortable that there is nothing in the classified material, that I am aware of, on North Korea that contradicts any of the findings in this report, and I think that/’s an important point. [Emphasis added]

An important point indeed. So, as of November 1999, activities were frozen, which means what North Korea was doing “behind the curtain for a long time” wasn/’t so long that it extended into much, if any, of the Clinton Administration. In other words, under President Bush, North Korea increased its stockpile of plutonium from enough for “at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons” to “at least eight” nuclear weapons.

Now, I/’ve been critical of the “at least eight” decision on this blog because of some methodological issues. The incontrovertible fact is this: facilities frozen by the Clinton Administration/’s careful diplomacy have resumed operation under the Bush Administration. The North Koreans probably have more fissile material now than four years ago.

When confronted by that fact, with no policy answer, the Honorable Porter Goss went into spin mode, blaming a man who hasn/’t been in the White House since Ricky Martin/’s “She Bangs” was in the top 10.

It/’s not just partisan, it/’s pathetic.