- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

The best information you can get from a closed society is that brought out by defectors. Such information may also be faulty. But it is interesting that defectors from North Korea and Iraq, two of the most anti-American countries, recently have appeared with stories of missile developments that confirm what the intelligence community has been saying.

North Korea is the least transparent country in the world today, so it is a major event when a missile expert escapes. The South Korean press has reported the defection of Lim Ki-song, a 59-year-old North Korean senior missile scientist, his 31-year-old son, and a 32-year-old nephew, an officer in the North Korean army. According to the bizarre story, they made an elaborate escape that included faking their deaths by burning their house with two corpses inside. The authorities thought they were dead, giving them time to cross the border into China late last year.

With the help of contacts in China they assumed false identities and by mid-January had made their way to Shanghai. There they reportedly applied for asylum in the United States and because of their intelligence value were quickly flown to this country. Press reports say Mr. Lim studied missile technology in Russia in the 1960s, worked for years on North Korea's missile programs, and in the mid-1990s was sent to a Chinese missile base where he observed operations for launching ballistic missiles at Taiwan.

During his recent stay in Shanghai, Mr. Lim reportedly said North Korea's intentions to develop nuclear weapons have not changed at all, despite promises to the U.S. to the contrary. He also said development has been completed on a missile with a range in excess of 6,000 kilometers (3,720 miles presumably the two-stage version of the Taepo Dong-2), adding that missiles of that range "are ready to be launched with the push of a button." He boasted that North Korea's missiles already are "world class," adding that the country can produce as many as it wants. "The poor economy," he said, "is the only holdback."

These claims confirm recent statements by U.S. officials that North Korea can conduct a flight test of the Taepo Dong-2 at any time. The Moscow daily Izvestiya reported the Taepo Dong-2 was ready for launch on Feb. 16 to celebrate the 58th birthday of leader Kim Chong-il, but it was canceled at the last minute. The Taepo Dong is of concern because the two-stage model can reach Alaska, while a three-stage version could carry a nuclear warhead all the way to the U.S. mainland. And in a test flight 18 months ago, North Korea showed that it has three-stage missile technology.

The main source of the defector story, Seoul daily Chosun Ilbo, cites contacts in Beijing as saying North Korea is seeking large-scale economic aid from the United States, Japan and South Korea by appearing to be cooperative, while actually continuing to develop missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.

The story of the defector from Iraq, by correspondents Marie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi, ran last month in the London Sunday Times. The 37-year-old soldier, whose name is being withheld at his request, spent 20 years in the Iraqi army, mainly in a special security unit. In 1990, shortly before Desert Storm, he says he helped load four trucks with chemical weapon warheads and drove them to a ballistic missile launch site, but they were never used. He said in recent years his unit has been concerned mainly with hiding weapons from U.N. inspectors.

The defector trained with chemical weapons as recently as last summer, when he picked up six warheads at a remote desert location where chemical weapons personnel loaded them with sarin and GF nerve gas. In the exercise, he delivered the warheads to the Baghdad region and the next day returned them to the remote location. He said he was told they were binary weapons and for safety reasons the ingredient that turns the chemicals into poison gas is added just before launch. The authors cite an expert who read the defector's testimony and said he is both knowledgeable and credible.

This defector's statements tend to confirm the comment in the January CIA report to Congress on weapons of mass destruction that Iraq may be hiding chemical munitions, perhaps in the thousands. The firsthand account also strengthens the belief that Iraq has been producing new chemical weapons since throwing out the U.N. inspectors in December 1998. Just last week Iraq's vice president again said Baghdad will accept no new U.N. inspectors.

The only logical conclusion to draw from these reports is that missile defenses, both for this country and for U.S. forces and allies abroad, are needed as soon as possible.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.

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