CIA: North Korea Helping Syria Build Nuke Reactor

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Satellite image of suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria. i

This Aug. 5, 2007, satellite image shows a suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria. Israeli aircraft bombed the facility on Sept. 6. Since then, the site has been "cleaned up," making any proposed investigations difficult. AP/DigitalGlobe hide caption

itoggle caption AP/DigitalGlobe
Satellite image of suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria.

This Aug. 5, 2007, satellite image shows a suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria. Israeli aircraft bombed the facility on Sept. 6. Since then, the site has been "cleaned up," making any proposed investigations difficult.

AP/DigitalGlobe

CIA Director Michael Hayden briefed U.S. lawmakers Thursday about evidence that a secret facility in Syria was a nuclear reactor in the final stages of construction and that North Korea was assisting in the project.

The intelligence is said to include photographs and video of the complex, which Israeli warplanes bombed last September.

Tom Gjelten, NPR's U.S. diplomacy and military affairs correspondent, tells Robert Siegel it has been reported that Israel had someone on the ground in Syria who shot photos and video inside the facility.

"Those pictures or videotapes are said to show pretty definitively that the facility that was being built, in fact, was a nuclear reactor and that it was modeled very closely after a nuclear reactor in North Korea that was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons," Gjelten says, referring to the North Korean facility at Yongbyon.

Intelligence sources say there is persuasive evidence that North Korean technicians were actually at the facility when it was bombed in a raid seven months ago. Those sources also say that the Israeli findings about the Syrian reactor have been corroborated by U.S. sources and by intelligence from other countries.

So far, Gjelten says, it would be a jump to say that Syria was on the verge of getting a nuclear bomb with North Korean help. That would require evidence of weaponization, of which there is none yet.

Nonetheless, there are some red flags. North Korea has a history of transferring military technology to Syria. Also, Syria had not declared the reactor, which it is obliged to do under international treaties. That raises the question of whether Damascus was trying to hide the facility.

The CIA says it did not know about the Syrian facility until it received initial intelligence from Israel.

Gjelten notes that this is an embarrassing development for the CIA and will undoubtedly raise more questions about the effectiveness of the U.S. intelligence community.

The issue of North Korean involvement in the Syrian reactor arises just as the U.S. and North Korea are said to be close to an agreement on the future of the Asian nation's nuclear program.

Hayden's briefing of lawmakers Thursday is likely a part of the preparation for the announcement of that agreement's negotiation, Gjelten says.

"Congress will have to be brought into the loop on this agreement; they may have to approve it. The administration couldn't go any further with that without telling Congress what it knows about what North Korea has been doing in the area of proliferation," he says.

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