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May 19, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

NSA on North Korea nukes
The National Security Agency took credit in 2003 for uncovering North Korea’s violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework nuclear deal negotiated by the Clinton administration.

A classified internal NSA newsletter, SID Today, states that the agency’s Signals Intelligence Directorate used electronic espionage to discover that the North Koreans were secretly developing uranium enrichment capabilities.

“The U.S. knew that the North Koreans were developing a uranium-enrichment capability — an effort banned by the treaty,” Frances J. Fleisch, deputy production manager for the NSA’s China/Korea product line, wrote in the newsletter’s April 9, 2003, edition. “To the surprise of many, the North Koreans admitted that this was true and declared the Framework to be null and void.”

Disclosure of the intelligence scoop has come to light in the latest series of internal NSA documents obtained by renegade former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“How did the U.S. know what the North Koreans were doing? SIGINT!” Ms. Fleisch wrote. “The ONLY source of information on this treaty violation was SIGINT-derived from North Korean external communications. A collaborative effort involving SID’s China and Korea and the Proliferation and Arms Control Product Lines put the SIGINT pieces together.”

The NSA intelligence was backed by CIA and Energy Department technical support along with CIA operations, satellite imagery and State Department diplomatic demarches, the report states.

“Without this intelligence, the U.S. would have been unaware of the North Korean enrichment program, which, if successful, would both enhance North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs and enable it to proliferate nuclear weapons material to other nations of concern,” says the report, labeled “S/SI” for secret, special intelligence.

The Agreed Framework, in retrospect, was widely viewed as a diplomatic ruse by the North Koreans to fool the Clinton administration. The agreement was ignored, and Pyongyang now boasts of having some 10 nuclear devices and long-range missiles to deliver them.

Revealing the NSA success could undermine current agency spying on Iranian communications as part of its efforts to check on Tehran’s adherence to the nuclear agreement reached last year.

U.S. intelligence agencies have detected North Korean military forces building bases in the southwest African state of Namibia, despite United Nations sanctions. The North Koreans have been building munitions factories and other military facilities in Namibia since at least last year, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence reports.

The North Korean entity was identified as the Korea Mining Development Trade Corp. or KOMID, working through a surrogate firm, the Mansudae Overseas Projects Group of Companies, which has been known for building gigantic, North Korean-like statues in Africa.

The Treasury Department in March imposed sanctions on KOMID, calling it “North Korea’s premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.”

The Namibian activities by North Korea were also outlined in a U.N. Security Council report from Feb. 25 that linked Mansudae to KOMID.

The North Koreans are building a military base at a place called Suiderhof and, according to a U.N. panel of experts on North Korea, a munitions factory at Leopard Valley near Windhoek, “using the alias of Mansudae.” The factory is said to be producing pistols, rifles, artillery, aircraft and other weaponry.

Commercial satellite images also revealed construction by North Korea of military bases at Luiperdsvalley and Oamites, south of Windhoek, as well as a military academy and the headquarters of the Nambian Defense Ministry, activities “prohibited under the [U.N.] resolutions,” the report says.

The Nambian government confirmed that Mansudae was building military facilities but denied knowing the links between the company and the sanctioned KOMID, the U.N. said.

North Korea also is providing arms, military equipment and training to Eritrea, Uganda, Syria, Iran and Vietnam, the report states, despite the international efforts to punish Pyongyang for nuclear and missile tests.

The Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military highlights the growing problem of corruption in the People’s Liberation Army. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the anti-corruption drive several years ago, more than 40 senior officers, including two of the most senior generals, have become ensnared in illegal activities.

Former Central Committee Politburo member and Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Gen. Guo Boxiong stepped down in 2012 and in July was accused of accepting bribes and abusing his authority through the use of military promotions.

Another former CMC vice chairman, Gen. Xu Caihou, also was charged was corruption but died in March. He, too, had been caught up in the cash-for-promotions scandal.

“Anticorruption investigations in the PLA parallel a larger party-wide effort that President Xi initiated shortly after taking office to safeguard the legitimacy of the CCP, root out corruption and powerful rival networks, improve governance and strengthen central control,” the Pentagon report says. “Military discipline inspectors have targeted individual power networks and sectors historically prone to corruption, and the PLA is also revising its regulations to prevent abuse more effectively.”

The report did not elaborate on the impact of the ouster of two of the most senior PLA officers. U.S. officials say the dismissals of Gens. Guo and Xu have created a climate of fear for the large numbers of senior officers who were promoted under the two generals and who are said to be anxiously awaiting knocks on their doors and visits from anti-corruption investigators from the PLA Central Discipline Inspection Commission.

The Pentagon report said another PLA shortcoming is the lack of combat experience. “Xi’s slogan exhorting the PLA to prepare to ‘fight and win’ battles implies that the leadership is concerned about how the PLA, which has not fought a war in more than 30 years, would fare in combat,” the report said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz. Staff writer Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report.

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