The remarkable thing about North Korea is how well it has succeeded in concealing basic information from the United States. That’s the charitable view. The reality is that U.S. intelligence knows so little about North Korea that even President Bush is aghast, officials say. Despite repeated directives, the CIA still knows little more than what can be interpreted from satellite photographs and electronic intercepts.
As a result, the U.S. intelligence community until last weekend remained unsure whether Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test let alone what kind of explosion was conducted. Part of the problem is that CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have little knowledge of basic geology in North Korea. This includes exactly where the suspected nuclear explosion took place and its terrain.
Intelligence analysts confirm that the CIA also knows little about North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il. With the exception of his weakness for women, the agency doesn’t even know his personal habits — such as what he eats for breakfast.
“In terms of what we won’t know, as I said, we may not know the actual yield [of the nuclear blast],” said Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served in the 1990s as a monitor at North Korea’s nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
“But I think the critical thing we will never know, unless we are very lucky in the future, is what did North Korea intend to do? There are a lot of people that are speculating, ‘Oh, well, this was a failure, because they clearly wanted to do a big test,’ or ‘Maybe this was a success because they were trying to develop a small warhead.'”