NPR logo

CIA: North Korea Helping Syria Build Nuke Reactor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90115722/90115716" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
CIA: North Korea Helping Syria Build Nuke Reactor

World

CIA: North Korea Helping Syria Build Nuke Reactor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90115722/90115716" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

CIA Director Michael Hayden has been on Capitol Hill today, briefing lawmakers about a secret facility in Syria that was bombed by Israeli warplanes last September. Director Hayden said intelligence indicates the complex in Syria was a nuclear reactor in the final stages of construction and that North Korea was assisting in the project.

NPR's Tom Gjelten is covering the story.

Hi, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Seven months have passed since the Israeli raid, what are we finally hearing about it?

GJELTEN: Robert, the Israelis apparently actually had somebody on the ground. They are taking pictures inside the facility, even videotaping. And the CIA today is sharing those pictures with members of Congress. We haven't seen them yet. We should see them soon, but those pictures or video tapes 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.

Plus, there's apparently some pretty solid evidence that North Korean technicians were actually at the facility when it was bombed. Now, Robert, the intelligence people that I have spoken to say that this intelligence is pretty persuasive.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GJELTEN: They also say that the Israeli findings about this have been since corroborated by U.S. sources and by intelligence from other places. So, they say this is a pretty strong case.

SIEGEL: Well, is the CIA saying then that the Israeli raid in September was justified? Or did it stop Syria from developing a nuclear weapon?

GJELTEN: It's a difficult question to answer because there is not a smoking gun here. Even if you accept the premise that this was indeed a reactor and that the North Koreans were helping to build it, there's still a bit of a jump to say that Syria was actually on the verge of getting a nuclear bomb with North Korean help. For that, you'd have to have evidence of weaponization, and there are some skeptics about that. We're likely to hear from them.

However, Robert, there are some red flags here. One, the role of the North Koreans. North Korea has a history of transferring military technology to Syria. Two, the Syrians had not declared this reactor. And under international treaties, they were obliged to do so. So it raises the question of whether they are trying to hide something.

SIEGEL: Does the CIA say that it knew about this prior to the Israeli raid? Or did they find out about it and then confirm it, but found out about it from the Israelis?

GJELTEN: Robert, that's really interesting. No, they say they did not know about it. They say the initial intelligence came from the Israelis. And this has to be kind of embarrassing for the U.S. intelligence community because U.S. intelligence agencies are now finding themselves in the position of saying, this is important, this is worrisome, but we only found out about it because the Israelis told us about it. And given the history of intelligence failures in this country, that's going to undoubtedly raise some more questions.

SIEGEL: And those questions arise just as the U.S. and North Korea are set to be close to an agreement on the future of the North Korea nuclear program.

GJELTEN: Right, Robert. I think you have to assume that this briefing is part of the preparation for the announcement of the negotiation of that agreement. Congress will have to be brought into the loop on this agreement. They may have to approve it. But, really, 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.

SIEGEL: I understand that you're going off to get briefed on this.

GJELTEN: Yes, we're going to find out a lot more information here very shortly.

SIEGEL: Is it going to be a movie show?

GJELTEN: I hope so.

SIEGEL: Okay, thanks. And I will hear from you later.

GJELTEN: Thanks.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.