The Daily(ish) Review

The Daily(ish) Review: North Korea

Mmmm, first sip of that second cup of Nescafé Clasico. I saw on Twitter that Glenn Greenwald was criticizing the media for relaying the claims of unnamed intelligence sources that North Korea was increasing its nuclear fuel production. I disagree with Greenwald on a lot of things, and I think he does have an odd fondness for Putin's Russia (no, I'm not implying Russia owns him), but I like reading his contrarian takes on things.

Here are the Greenwald tweets I saw.

I think I found the NBC News article Greenwald referred to.

North Korea has increased nuclear production at secret sites, say U.S. officials (Courtney Kube, Ken Dilanian and Carol E. Lee / Jun.29.2018 / 3:13 PM ET)

That sounds ominous and authoritative. Let's dive in to the article. Hmm, I may need another delicious Nescafé Clasico for this one. That's my own version of increasing nuclear production.

"U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months — and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration, U.S. officials told NBC News."

- I personally believe that assessment is probably 100% accurate. I'm fort...I'm old enough to remember the Reagan years. I was around for previous adminstrations, but I only have a vague recollection of crazy gas lines, cool cars, and oddly wide lapels. That assessment about North Korean activity and behavior seems perfectly consistent with how they approach international negotiations and relations. I also think it's the beginning of a very bad article.

-...U.S. intelligence agencies...there are at least 20 entities in the U.S. government that refer to themselves or get referred to as intelligence agencies. We have no idea which ones the article is referring to. We have to trust that these reporters have access to people in the unnamed intelligence agencies who 1) in turn have access to what is some of the most closely guarded information in the U.S. Government and 2) would be willing to share that information.

"The intelligence assessment, which has not previously been reported, seems to counter the sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted after his historic June 12 summit with Kim that "there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." 

the intelligence assessment...Are the reporters referring to a specific product or report in the intelligence community? Or a more general, collective assessment, along the lines of these are the things we're seeing and hearing. It's impossible to tell here. And since it's so vague, the reporters get to make it sound even more authoritative by including the wording has not previously been reported.

"Analysts at the CIA and other intelligence agencies don't see it that way, according to more than a dozen American officials who are familiar with their assessments and spoke on the condition of anonymity. They see a regime positioning itself to extract every concession it can from the Trump administration — while clinging to nuclear weapons it believes are essential to survival."

- Same thing here. I bet that's accurate. That strikes me as the most logical thing for North Korea to do. But that paragraph above is meaningless to a reader trying to make an informed decision.

* according to a dozen American officials who are familiar with their assessments and spoke on the condition of anonymity

"In recent months, even as the two sides engaged in diplomacy, North Korea was stepping up its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, five U.S. officials say, citing the latest intelligence assessment."

- Now this has to be more credible, more authoritative. Five more U.S officials (is that different than an American official?)...or the same ones?...officials weighing in with privileged information from .... well, a latest intelligence assessment.

"While the North Koreans have stopped missile and nuclear tests, "there's no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production," said one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence. "There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.""

- An unnamed official who must be in the know because he or she has been briefed on the latest intelligence.

- "unequivocal evidence" from an unnamed official who has based his or her statements on the latest intelligence. Well, shut down this year's Pulitzer debates, because this one's in the bag.

"Four other officials familiar with the intelligence assessment also said North Korea intended to deceive the U.S."

- Four separate officials? New officials? Or do these 4, combined with the one who also had access to the latest intelligence, make up the 5 unnamed officials cited previously. These men or women need to get new names. So many officials.

"U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up their collection against North Korea in recent years, and it appears to be paying off with greater insights into a country that has long been the world's hardest spying target, officials say."

- ...intelligence agencies have stepped up their collection against North Korea in recent years...That is another meaningless, garbage statement. It could be accurate - perhaps the USG has found the means to increase meaningful intelligence collection against North Korea, but here, as written, it does not help a reader make a better informed decision about the situation. It sounds like something out of a bad movie. "OK listen, we need to step up our collection there. Make it happen. Fast."

""There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time," a U.S. intelligence official said."

- Whoa, no way. Holy smokes. Incredible insights from "a U.S. intelligence official".

"The latest U.S. intelligence assessment concludes that there is more than one secret site, officials tell NBC News."

- Is this the latest latest latest intelligence assessment, or only the latest latest intelligence assessment?

- officials...unnamed officials from unknown agencies with unknown credibility.

"The intelligence assessment comes on the heels of a report by 38north.com showing that North Korea was continuing to make improvements at its major disclosed nuclear facility at Yongbyon."

- Wait, is this the latest intelligence assessment?

"One senior U.S. intelligence official offered a different view, noting that the decision by Kim to suspend nuclear and missile tests was unexpected, and the fact that the two sides are talking is a positive step."

- I wonder if the other unnamed officials got upset with this unnamed official for interpreting the latest intelligence assessment differently.

Verdict: Everything in that article could be accurate. That doesn't mean it should have been printed or that it helps the public better understand the situation. I understand the importance of protecting the identities of sources, but in some cases it contributes to meaningless, hollow reporting. This article reminded me exactly of the types of articles The New York Times was running in the lead up to the Iraq War. Judith Miller, slam dunks, and unnamed intelligence officials, some of whom were probably named Wolfowitz and Chalabi.