Jeffrey LewisDistorting Intelligence on North Korea

After the Washington Post reported the intelligence community will raise its estimate of the number of North Korean nuclear weapons from “possibly two” to “at least eight”, Colin Powell tells reporters in Berlin that he is “not aware of a new number” and has “not been given any such information by the intelligence community.”

This is something the Rumsfeld crowd has been pressing for since the get go. In August 2001, Rumsfeld asserted that “North Korea possessed enough plutonium to produce two to three, maybe even four to five nuclear warheads.” The NIE estimated fissile material sufficient for only “one or two” nuclear weapons and expressed doubt about whether North Korea had manufactured warheads with the material. Then, the NIE was reportedly revised in December 2001 to say that “North Korea has produced one, possibly two, nuclear weapons.”

Rumsfeld was already laying the groundwork for a further revision in February 2003: “There/’s no question but that if they do in fact restart the reprocessing plant, that they can produce nuclear material for six or eight nuclear weapons in a relatively short period of time.”

My guess: By restarting the re-processing plant, North Korea created the excuse to up the estimate.

Greg Theilman has a great article on how the Rumsfeld crowd “often ignored the carefully considered views of [intelligence] professionals in favor of highly unlikely worst-case scenarios that posited an imminent threat to the United States and prompted a military, rather than diplomatic, response.”

PS: The UN has WiFi. This rules.