Why is so little known about the Democratic Republic of North Korea?
Why is so little known about the Democratic Republic of North Korea? As a hard intelligence target, there are few that can compete as a “denied territory”, where conventional collection techniques are limited to external electronic surveillance and overhead reconnaissance.
The priorities are obvious: nuclear proliferation, ballistic missile development, war planning and future political intentions. Is the leadership intact? Who are the prominent personalities? Do North Korean rockets really work? To what extend have foreign scientists enabled the to regime to construct viable reactors or manufacture weapons-grade uranium or plutonium?
North Korean scientists do not travel so there are no opportunities to interview them while on visits to third countries. I.Q. Khan and Russian proliferators have been debriefed, but they cannot supply up-to-date information. International inspection teams can find some of the answers, but their monitoring has been suspended.
The opportunities for penetrating Pyongyang at a senior level appear zero, so the west is dependent on talking to defectors and refugees, a less than reliable source, as CURVEBALL proved before the invasion or Iraq.
Although CURVEBALL turned out to be an Iraqi refugee and a chemical engineer, he was also an alcoholic who had recently undergone a breakdown, and a fabricator who had been granted political asylum in Germany. This was the human source most notoriously cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell when he addressed the United Nations demonstrating Baghdad’s possession of WMD.
If ever there was an object lesson in over-reliance on unverified sources, CURVEBALL is it. The antidote to over-reliance on unreliable material is known as source validation, a process intended to corroborate otherwise unsupported information, but the procedure requires some independent reporting, a commodity in short dupply in the DRNK.
Local diplomatic premises, usually a convenient base from which to run electronic eavesdropping and human operations, are subject to intensive surveillance and harassment, and contact with potential local sources is impossible. Opponents of the regime usually escape through Peoples’ Republic of China, but the PRC’s Ministry of State Security, perhaps the only external organisation with any influence inside the DRNK is never going to cooperate with its western counterparts.
Geographically isolated, with a paranoid, time-warp existence and a catastrophic economy, the DRNK represents a military threat to the south and, of course, to its ancient adversary, Japan. However, it is far from clear that a change at the top of the regime will herald any thaw in relations with the outside world.