U.S. spying blind spots: Pakistan nukes, North Korea

Olivier Knox
Yahoo NewsAugust 29, 2013
U.S. spying blind spots: Pakistan nukes, North Korea

America stands to spend $52.6 billion this year on an intelligence community that includes 107,035 employees — and can’t say whether Pakistan’s nuclear program is secure or what North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un is up to.

Those are some of the stark findings in a new Washington Post report that provides an unprecedented look inside the vast and growing "black budget" of the nation’s spy agencies, as well as some of their troubling blind spots.

The report, based on information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, also provides new details about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The Post says the intelligence community has five “critical” blind spots:

1. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons: America’s spies aren’t sure whether Pakistan's nuclear components are secure when they are being transported.

2. North Korea: The United States “has all but surrounded the nuclear-armed country with surveillance platforms,” the Post reports. That includes ground sensors to monitor seismic activity (a way to detect underground nuclear tests) and other methods meant to detect the construction of new nuclear sites.

“U.S. agencies seek to capture photos, air samples and infrared imagery ‘around the clock,’” the Post says. But there are troubling “gaps” in U.S. knowledge about North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and “analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,” the Post reports.

3. Russia: A quarter-century after the CIA failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, American intelligence is not sure how Russian leaders would respond “to potentially destabilizing events in Moscow, such as large protests and terrorist attacks,” the report says.

4. China: The report said the “blank spots” include “the capabilities of China’s next generation fighter aircraft.”

5. Hezbollah: But the Post sheds little light on the precise concerns about the armed Lebanese movement, which opposes Israel.

The Post does offer some new details about the May 2011 bin Laden raid. It says that eight hours after American commandos killed the world’s most hunted man, a forensic intelligence laboratory run by the Defense Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan had confirmed his identity through DNA from his corpse.

Months later, in September, American intelligence agencies “scraped together” $2.5 million to work through a backlog of data pulled from bin Laden’s laptop. The cash paid for 36 computer workstations and overtime for staff, including linguists.