The Spies Have A Leading Role In The North Korea Summit The CIA is often involved behind the scenes in the run-up to a presidential summit. But U.S. and Korean spy chiefs are playing an unusually prominent role this time around.
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The Spies Have A Leading Role In The North Korea Summit

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The Spies Have A Leading Role In The North Korea Summit

The Spies Have A Leading Role In The North Korea Summit

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/613324017/616031997" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. So we are not sure yet whether President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are going to actually meet, but U.S. and Korean spy chiefs are set to have more face time today. And they have been playing leading roles in this yes-no-maybe summit. Here's NPR's Greg Myre.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: When Mike Pompeo became CIA director last year, he immediately placed his focus on North Korea.

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MIKE POMPEO: Within weeks of me coming here, I created a Korean Mission Center, stood it up with a senior leader who had just retired, brought him back to run the organization.

MYRE: Pompeo, speaking back in January, was referring to Andrew Kim, a Korean-American who grew up in South Korea. Since then, Andrew Kim has accompanied Pompei on two trips to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo and Andrew Kim were also side by side as they dined Wednesday and held talks Thursday in New York with North Korea's Kim Yong Chol (ph). He's a former intelligence chief himself and considered the right-hand man of Kim Jong Un.

LAURA ROSENBERGER: The policy process should not be being driven by the intelligence community.

MYRE: Laura Rosenberger says that's the job of the White House and the State Department. She worked on North Korea as a diplomat. She even visited a North Korean nuclear site a decade ago.

ROSENBERGER: The State Department has been in the lead for those negotiations. So even though we don't have diplomatic relations, we still have the ability to have those kinds of channels.

MYRE: To be clear, the State Department is deeply involved in summit preparations. But U.S. and Korean spy chiefs, current and former, are playing an unusually prominent role says Bruce Bennett of the RAND Corporation.

BRUCE BENNETT: If you're talking about North Korea's nuclear capabilities, that's not going to be something that the State Department is going to have the lead on. That's going to be something that the intelligence community has the lead on.

MYRE: So all these spies are in the mix, but how good is the U.S. intelligence?

BENNETT: The North Koreans are very, very good at hiding information about their programs.

MYRE: Bennett says crucial details remain elusive.

BENNETT: Some of the key experts are talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 40 nuclear weapons. There have been press reports that the intelligence community is talking about 30 to 60. I think we have to recognize the uncertainties.

MYRE: And what are the prospects for a breakthrough? Laura Rosenberger offers this warning.

ROSENBERGER: The North Koreans have shown us before a willingness to take symbolic reversible steps to pocket rewards and then cheat and walk away. And that is a trap we need to avoid.

MYRE: She notes Kim Jong Un has substantially improved his image by meeting the presidents of China and South Korea as well as Pompeo.

ROSENBERGER: One of the things that the North Koreans want most is legitimacy, and essentially, Kim Jong Un already has gotten that.

MYRE: Much harder, she says, will be getting him to give up those nukes. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

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