Lesson From Kim's Death: Our North Korea Intel Stinks

Little known about Pyongyang's leadership, moves
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 20, 2011 11:14 AM CST
Lesson From Kim's Death: Our North Korea Intel Stinks
This undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency shows Kim Jong Il riding an escalator as he visits a Pyongyang supermarket.   (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

(Newser) – Kim Jong Il reportedly died on a train at 8:30am on Saturday. Guess when American and South Korean officials learned about it? Some 51 hours later, from North Korea's own media reports. Though we have spy planes and satellites trained on the country, we intercepted no phone calls and observed no hubbub around his train, making the two-day secret yet another North Korea-related intelligence failure, reports the New York Times. "It seems everyone learned about Kim Jong Il's death after" the press reports, a South Korean lawmaker who leads parliament's intelligence committee told Reuters. "The US, Japan, and Russia knew after North Korea's announcement."

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The list of similar failures with the North is long—notably, a uranium enrichment facility existed there for a year and a half before being discovered, and then only because the North showed it off to an American scientist. "What’s worst about our intel is our failure to penetrate deep into the existing leadership," says one former CIA official. "We get defectors, but their information is often old. We get midlevel people, but they often don’t know what’s happening in the inner circle." (Read more Kim Jong Il stories.)

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