"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.
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."
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 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.
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
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."