Doubts Raised Over Strength Of US Intelligence

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Financial Times
April 26, 2008 By Demetri Sevastopulo and Daniel Dombey
When the Central Intelligence Agency on Thursday rolled out evidence to support allegations that North Korea had helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, officials said they had “low” confidence that Syria was developing the reactor to produce nuclear weapons.
Some critics say that admission raises questions about the quality of the intelligence and the timing of the Israeli decision to attack the Syrian facility under the cloud of darkness in September.
Nuclear experts who have reviewed the CIA presentation – which comprised of real and computer-generated images of the reactor and a photograph of a North Korea nuclear scientist with his Syrian counterpart – included some compelling evidence to support some allegations, and other information that raised more questions that it answered.
“I don’t buy everything in the video,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mr Wolfsthal, who has spent time monitoring the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon on which the Al-Kibar facility was allegedly modelled, said the evidence appeared to support the allegations that Syria was constructing a plutonium reactor.
Mr Wolfsthal said the evidence pointing to substantial North Korean involvement was compelling. He said the photograph of Chon Chibu, the North Korean nuclear scientist, did not prove there was extensive co-operation between the countries. The CIA on Thursday said the Syrian reactor was closely modelled on Yongbyon. But Mr Wolfsthal said Yongbyon was closely modelled on an old British design that has been easily obtainable for years.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, agreed that the evidence support the assertions that Syria was building a nuclear reactor. He praised the CIA for admitting that the evidence about a nuclear weapons programme was “low” despite what he described as White House efforts to distort the intelligence.
Mr Albright disagreed that Syria could have obtained the designs for the reactor openly. He said that although the original design was based on the British reactor, the facility at Al Kibar was sufficiently similar to Yongbyon, which had seen significant modifications from the British design. But Mr Albright agreed that CIA video did not show the extent of North Korean involvement in the Al Kibar project.
Mr Albright also raised questions about the timing of the Israeli air strike, saying there appeared to be no evidence that Syria had obtained the uranium fuel necessary to feed the reactor.
Martin Indyk, a former top official on the middle east during the Clinton administration, said since there was no fuel, Syria “didn’t have a nuclear weapon on the horizon, but it’s very clear that they were acquiring the means to produce fissile material, since the reactor had no other purpose and it was done clandestinely”.
Anthony Cordesman, a defence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, criticised the CIA presentation, saying it created “far more speculation about the meaning and credibility of US reporting than should have been the case”.
“Once again, the US intelligence community has created an unnecessary mess by rushing out a half-complete product, and failing to but the information in releases in proper context,” he added.
The US intelligence community came under heavy criticism following the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Some critics have pointed to the presentation of Colin Powell, the-then secretary of state, gave to the United Nations as evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that turned out not to exist.