"The facility was mostly completed, but still needed significant testing
before it could be declared operational," a senior official said.
On Thursday, Hayden told the congressional committees in closed-door
sessions that since the Israeli air strike North Korea was not believed to
have renewed nuclear assistance to Syria's Al Kibar facility. But the
director said the CIA could not rule out North Korean nuclear programs in
other areas of Syria.
"Until Sept. 6, 2007, the Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear
reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium," the White
House said. "We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North
Korea assisted Syria's covert nuclear activities. We have good reason to
believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last
year, was not intended for peaceful purposes."
The statement, hours after the CIA briefing, said Syria did not inform
the International Atomic Energy Agency of the construction of the nuclear
reactor. After the Israeli strike, the White House said, the regime of
Syrian President Bashar Assad "moved quickly to bury evidence of its
Officials said the U.S. intelligence community was persuaded of North
Korea's nuclear program by aerial photographs and a video provided by
Israel. The photographs displayed the contours of a nuclear reactor complex
similar to that of Yongbyon, while the video reported the presence of a
North Korean scientist at Al Kibar.
"North Korean nuclear officials were located in the region of the
reactor both early and late in 2007," a document presented at the
congressional briefing said. "Our information shows that North Korean
advisors also probably assisted with damage assessment efforts after the
reactor was destroyed."
Some members of Congress were angered by the White House release of
information hours after the CIA briefing. For eight months, they said, the
Bush administration had refused appeals for a briefing on North Korean
nuclear cooperation with Syria.
"It's bad management and terrible public policy to go for eight months
knowing this was out there and then drop this in our laps six hours before
they go to the public," Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Republican and former chairman
of the House Intelligence Committee, said. "It totally breaks down any trust
that you have between the administration and Congress."
The CIA briefing elicited skepticism among some nuclear experts. Two
prominent analysts from the Washington-based Institute for Science and
International Security -- David Albright and Paul Brannan -- said the CIA
document indicated that the U.S. intelligence community failed to obtain
information on Syrian plans to activate the nuclear reactor.
"There is no evidence that nuclear cooperation between Syria and North
Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor," Albright
and Brannan said. "Second, the United States and Israel have not identified
any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities. The
absence of such facilities gives little confidence that the reactor was part
of an active nuclear weapons program. The apparent absence of fuel, whether
imported or indigenously produced, also lowers confidence that Syria has an
active nuclear weapons program."