Don't take our word for it: listen to what Donald Gregg--senior CIA officer, national security advisor, former ambassador to Seoul, and past president and CEO of the New York based Korea Society--has been saying for the last 15 years or perhaps more. In any number of the KS' public gathering, he never shied away from saying the wide net of US intelligence has come up with next to nothing on what's going on in the DPRK.
And in spite of Gregg's step by step approach of building 'confidence measures' to the North, his work is more or less scraped by the Society, yet he labours on through a programme at Cornell's Maxwell School in keeping a toe in the almost closed door of US DPRK 'private' contacts.
Gregg, however, is the exception. A more cautious approach to intelligence failure got some relief on the PBS News Hour: Margaret Warner interviewed former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, now of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute. No stranger to North Korea--30 visits, Warner mentioned, he, let's say, was more modest in answering her 'vanilla' questions on why the US knows next to nothing about the DPRK. 'I don't know' or 'I cannot say'.
Carlin thought technically speaking in the field of spookery, the US is quite on top, but it suffers from a poverty of good analyses, even when what's going on in the DPRK, at times, is as plain as the nose on your face. An example, Carlin along with Siegfried Hecker, eminent nuclear scientist, visited North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex in 2010. To the US visitors surprise, they found an up to date, state of art reactors in an advanced state.
Hecker's findings has to give one to pause since, surely, wot, a panoply of spy satellites, drones with cameras, & the like, the US should have detected fieverish activity at Yongbyon. Maybe they did bring home the bacon, maybe they didn't. Still, you cannot hide behind national security, to tar and feather the DPRK without proof.
Let's now consider the very below level of analyses, beginning with Victor Cha's opinion piece in the 'New York Times' [20 December 2011], 'China's newest province?' The Georgetown scholar and former Bush White House advisor on Asian Affairs postulates, and repeats the buzz that has been making the rounds in the black rooms of northeast and southeast intelligence, that by the next Lunar or Chinese New York, that is, within the fortnight of the auspicious year of the Dragon [23 January to 6 February 2012] that high ranking, senior DPRK cadre will dump Kim Jong eun, institue a trioka of leadership, and turn to China for support and guidance.
Cha's 'analysis' contradicts what's happening in North Korea: Kim Jong il laboured long and hard to assure his succession by his youngest son, Kim Jong eun; he knitted together a consensus of the military, the core cadre, and the party faithful to this end, long before his death. The matter of succession and from the ground up education of Kim Jong eun had been assured. Notwithstanding, Cha and his ilk's disbelief in anything North Korea says, report after report from Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, etc. outline the modality of succession and the regency of the young Kim, about whom little is known.
As for China, strategically speaking, it always supported North Korea, and no better proof of this is the sending in of Chinese volunteer fighters to struggle alongside North Korea troops to 'rollback' the US UN led troops to the 38 parallel during the Korean War, which, technically never ended, found a 'pis aller' solution in an armistice agreement which is entering its 60 year.
Even China, who patiently and at times grows stays moments of short temper with its neigbour and ally, even China was kept in the darkness of Kim Jong il's death until it was annouced on DPRK television. So, to say, as Cha asserts, Cha has great influence over North Korea, is an exaggeration; China has influence for sure but not as wide and as deep as Cha and other Pyongyangologists like to think.
As to why China backs up North Korea, GuamDiary suggest a reading of Alan Whiting's 1960 Rand Corporation study, 'China crosses the Yalu'. Whiting's analysis is spot on, and in spite of China's improved relations with the US and South Korea, it solidly remains cogent and meaningful today. Russia, too, has revised its assessment of North Korea, and argues for the West's accomodation with Pyongyang, to little success.
You have to wonder, too, how the US and South Korea can shake in their boots at the death of Kim Jong il. Is their fear real? or feigned? It is more or less predicated on self fulfilling claims that North Korea is irrational, and what's more armed with advanced rocketry and primative nuclear devices will set the region on fire and reignite war in the divided Korean peninsula. Hence the endless flow of ink by the US North Korean clerisy's setting off bells and whistles of warming. Give us a break! The image intelligence analyses comes up with, based on the heavily subsidised industry of scholars, spooks, journalists, so on, is one of what the former US senator William Fulbright labelled, 'the US as a cripple giant'.
The fear may be real but unfounded. And any good Freudian would simply say it 'projection' of what the US and the ROK would like to do to North Korea. And there is truth in that: the riposte of North Korea in November 2010 to live fire, joint US South Korea military exercises along the Northern Limit Line within spitting distance of the DPRK's territorial water. Despite a stern warning from Pyongyang that it would answer any violation of its sovereignty, Washington and Seoul dismissed the claim without a by your leave. And what happened: the North replied in kind shelling the military outpost on Yeongpyong island. And quickly did the US stay South Korea's aggressive hand, lest a war broke out.
And therein lies a tale. So distrustful are the US and its ally South Korea, they are unwilling to take, say, Kim Jong il at his word. Like his father, Kim Il Sung, before him, he pushed for negotiations with the US without preconditions, only to be rebuffed. Moreover, North Korea with a hand of low cards, is better at playing poker on the 'tapis vert' of the bargaining table. So unsure is the US of its abilities to negotiate skilfully, they prefer to threaten to the point of opening hostilites with the North.
And this attitude is no more better reflected in the opinion and editorial pages of the right wing 'Wall Street Journal'. They brought out two heavy hitters: Melanie Kirkpatrick, former deputy editor of Murdock's WSJ and now senior fellow at the very conservative Hudson Institute, and John Bolton, whom Newt Gingrich would nominate as his secretary of state were he elected president. These two dance on the grave of Kim Jong il. Doomsday scenario play in their minds, as they descend into belittling a man they disliked if not hated. The language borders on the cartoonish, and does little else but not advance a policy other than fire and brimstone.
Kirkpatrick and Bolton are not so extreme as you might think, they simply say what others do in milder language, but the message remains the same: throw brickbats and vituperate in the comfort of policies that do not and cannot work, or change. And taking a new tack is out of the question for now.
Then there's Lee Sung yoon, research fellow of the National Asia Program, at Princeton and Sue Terry, a senior research scholar at Columbia's Weather East Asian Institute, calling for 'containing the young Kim'. Hidding behind the ready excuse of 'not rewarding North Korea for bad behaviour', you wonder how more successful they in their reading of the innards of US metaphysics of North Korea, could be than in those who long trod this hoary road of failure when they faced Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong il.
You don't reward North Korea. The death of Kim Jong il allows the Obama administration to deny food aid to relieve starvation in North Korea. Why? It's a new ballgame. Is it really?
Or the tin marshal approach of George W. Bush which resulted in allowing the DPRK to test a nuclear devise, solely on the pig headed analyses and mule headed insistance that only the terms the US poses are acceptable, to put it crudely.
Where is the understanding of North Korean history? or the fiercely, proud ulta nationalism that keeps the country alive and behind the Kims & co.?
And what do American taxpayers get for the billions squandered on intelligence services when it comes to North Korea? A mess of potage coloured to a cul de sac ideology. And ain't that the pits?