Tuesday, February 5, 2008

North Korea threatened to export nuclear weapons to international terrorists in 2005, according to a U.S. intelligence report made public yesterday.

The report to Congress on arms proliferation was produced in 2006 and also said al Qaeda is developing chemical and biological weapons for use in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to seek nuclear or radiological bombs.

On Syria, the report said that the Damascus government has nuclear research facilities at Dayr, Al Hajar and Dubaya, and that U.S. intelligence agencies “continue to monitor Syrian nuclear intentions with concern.”

On North Korea, the report expressed continued worries about threats from the reclusive communist regime to export nuclear arms. In April 2005, North Korea told a U.S. academic, who was not identified further, that Pyongyang “could transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists if driven into a corner,” the report stated. It was the first time that the U.S. intelligence community disclosed the basis for concerns about North Korea”s supplying terrorists with nuclear arms.

The threat followed a statement from a North Korean official made during the six-party nuclear talks in April 2003 warning that Pyongyang could export nuclear weapons.

Additionally, the report disclosed that in May 2004, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency recovered 2 tons of uranium hexafluoride from Libya thought to have originated in North Korea. The uranium gas is used in centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium for bombs.

North Korea detonated its first nuclear device in October 2006 and the regime’s official media frequently asserts that the U.S. is preparing a pre-emptive nuclear attack.

On al Qaeda, the report said a wide array of intelligence reports had revealed that the Islamist group and other terrorists were continuing to pursue “chemical and biological capabilities for use in attacks against Western targets, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Rhetoric from these groups continued to focus on the need for spectacular attacks, but actual attempts were few during this time period and consisted of small-scale attacks using commercially available toxic industrial chemicals,” the report said.

The annual report to Congress covers the period from January to December 2005 and is known as the “721 report” after the section of the 1997 law requiring U.S. intelligence agencies to report on the acquisition of technology on weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional arms.

Al Qaeda in Iraq sought to improve its chemical capabilities, working with other Iraq-based terrorists. Insurgents carried out one “poisoning” in May 2005, by injecting watermelons with common chemicals and distributing the fruit to Iraqi solders south of Mosul.

“Some soldiers became ill, but there were no reported fatalities,” the report said.

The report identified “key suppliers” of weapons and technology as China, North Korea and Russia and noted that China supplied Pakistan, Iran and North Korea with ballistic missiles and support. Russia supplied ballistic missile goods and technology to China, Iran, India and North Korea and also sold Iskander-E short-range missiles, the report said.

On Iran, the report said Tehran “sought foreign materials, training, equipment, and know-how during 2005 focused particularly on entities in China, North Korea, Russia, and Europe.”

The report was produced before the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran made public in December that stated Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 but is continuing work on uranium enrichment and could restart the arms program. The NIE reversed a 2005 estimate that said Iran was building nuclear arms in secret.

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