CIA's Hayden: Syria was on verge of becoming nuclear powerWASHINGTON -- The U.S. intelligence community, in an about-face from an assessment of less than a year ago, has concluded that Syria was close to becoming a nuclear power.The new assessment was that Syria was weeks away from operating a North Korean-built plutonium production plant near the Turkish border.
"In the course of a year after they got full up they would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons," CIA director Michael Hayden said.
That facility, the intelligence community assessed, could have produced up to two bombs in the first year of operation.
On April 28, Hayden said the Syrian reactor could have begun producing sufficient amounts of plutonium for an atomic weapon.
Speaking to reporters after an address at Georgetown University, the CIA director said information of the North Korean-designed nuclear reactor came from Israel and could not be shared with the IAEA until mid-April.
"We've made it clear we did not have complete control over the totality of the information because obviously it was the result of a team effort, Hayden said. "One has to respect the origin of the information in terms of how it is used."
Officials acknowledged that the U.S. assessment marked a near reversal of that in July 2007 when Israel provided aerial photographs of the plant and a video of the North Korean scientists inside.
At the time, the officials said, the CIA and State Department said the North Korean facility -- destroyed by the Israel Air Force in September 2007 -- was years away from being completed and even tested.
"Much of the revision of the CIA assessment came after the Israeli bombing when evidence of nuclear material was found," an official said. "We also learned a lot from the Syrian refusal to the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the site."
Officials acknowledged that the State Department, particularly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to play down the Israeli evidence. They said Ms. Rice and her aides recruited CIA analysts who asserted that the Syrian facility, termed Al Kibar, was not designed for an atomic bomb.
Ms. Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill were said to have argued that any determination of a North Korean nuclear facility in Syria would torpedo U.S.-led negotiations for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Officials said Israel did not report any uranium shipments to Al Kibar.
And we'd much rather fool ourselves rather than look like fools for a moment. Is Rice then QUALIFIED for high office? If this is the response of a republican UNILATERALIST administration, a rogue outfit, what on earth will happen when Carter II takes office? And now we know why Israel was so silent, because the Bush administration DEMANDED it. FOR POLITICAL REASONS..to not destroy negotiations with a power that has never honored an agreement?
The U.S. intelligence community eventually agreed with the Israeli assessment of a North Korean nuclear program in Syria. Officials said Hayden agreed with analysts who determined that Pyongyang violated its February 2007 pledge to halt nuclear proliferation. The intelligence community suspected that North Korea had been helping Syria's nuclear program since 2001.
By June 2007, officials said, the CIA received information from Israel that North Korea was building a suspected nuclear reactor. Officials said the Israeli aerial and ground-based photographs overcame doubts that stemmed from satellite images of the facility.
At that point, Hayden said, the U.S. intelligence community dismissed arguments that the reactor could be meant for energy production. He said the Israeli photographs also showed that the building was a nuclear reactor.
"Our team effort on the Al Kibar reactor is a case study in rigorous analytic tradecraft, skillful human and technical collection, and close collaboration with our community colleagues and liaison partners," Hayden said on April 24. Our officers put in long hours on this issue for many months, and their hard work paid off by directly advancing our nation's security and that of our allies."