Is it just me, or is there an odd disconnect between the current attacks on the intelligence agencies’ evaluations of Iraq and the way similar intelligence on North Korea is discussed? Today the New York Times reports on the most recent intelligence from North Korea, which suggests that Kim il-Jong may be operating not one but two plutonium plants, with the second plant–if it exists–in an unknown location.
Given the way the Times has savaged intelligence involving Iraq, one might expect it to express skepticism about reports now coming from the same agencies about North Korea. But the Times’ attitude seems more reverent than skeptical. While the Times acknowledges the inherent uncertainties of ntelligence involving a closed society like North Korea, and quotes the reservations of intelligence officials–the recent evidence is “very worrisome, but still not conclusive”–the Times’ article leaves no doubt that the North Korean nuclear threat is serious and growing. With respect to North Korea, the Times even admits what it refuses to acknowledge in Iraq–the ease of hiding small quantities of weapons of mass destruction: “The worst case is that the spent fuel rods have been moved to a previously undiscovered reprocessing plant, where the plutonium has been extracted and already shipped around the nation in five- to eight-kilogram packages for weapons production.”
Why the difference? Presumably the reason is the stance of the Bush administration. Where the administration acts aggressively on intelligence, the Times attacks the intelligence so as to undermine the administration. Where the administration refrains from definitive action, as in North Korea (so far), the Times’ line is that the President is sweeping a grave danger under the rug.
In an organization where truthfulness is no longer valued, there is no reason to expect consistency. Still, if war with North Korea should become necessary, it will be interesting to see whether the Times remembers its own role in hyping the North Korean threat.
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